Friday, January 30, 2015

"Only My Opponent Does It" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Only My Opponent Does It"
""A pragmatic progressive" political party is the ne plus ultra of American political fantasy. It expresses unarguable values: Progress is what we all want, and all politics should be pragmatic. The question is: Why don’t we have it? Why do we have a conservative movement based on frantic spin and outright mendacity, but no true progressive movement opposing it based on facts?"
"How about a Common Sense Party? It seems it’s been a long, long time since political parties have evidenced common sense."
-- Letters to the editor of The New York Times (by David Berman and Nina Bousk, respectively), published December 16, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Berman is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Republicans and conservatives (but not Democrats and progressives) resort to "spin" and lies. He also indulges in "pragmatic" rhetoric. Bousk, meanwhile, indulges in "common sense" rhetoric. What positions are common sense? Does anyone decide to take a position that isn't common sense?

"Confronting evil. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points Memo. We are living in a country that is rapidly changing. Rules of civility are pretty much finished. While America has always embraced robust debate, now there are elements on both the left and the right which are using disgraceful tactics to demean those with whom they disagree. Some examples: The Supreme Court's now going to hear the gay marriage issue. Some of those who support expanding the definition of marriage are accusing those who oppose it of being human rights violators, bigots, homophobes. So if you hold the belief that traditional marriage should have a special place in society, you're a hater according to the haters. Likewise in criticizing President Obama. There are fanatical left-wingers who say those who disagree with Mr. Obama are doing so because he's black. It's a racial deal. That kind of tactic should be condemned by all Americans. Let me give you a very vivid recent situation that is simply unacceptable. … Sports writer Jason Whitlock … injected race into the Kansas City Chiefs murder-suicide. Whitlock said that unnamed forces in America want guns in the black communities so that people of color could destroy each other. Whitlock went on to call the NRA, quote, "the new KKK". … Hate speech now happening all the time. There comes a point when all good people must say "enough". That point has now been reached in America. … This stuff has got to stop."
-- TV pundit Bill O'Reilly, December 10, 2012, on The O'Reilly Factor.

Comment: First, O'Reilly seems to be implying that there used to be a time when civility prevailed and people didn't demean those with whom they disagreed. Is that true? When was it? Second, while O'Reilly is correct that, as a matter of defiance, we should confront and criticize incivility, O'Reilly leaves the impression that it's only one side that is engaging in it. He mentions, in the abstract, that both sides do it, but the examples of incivility that he cites are all from the "left". Part of the problem of incivility is that people only point it out specifically and denounce it when their opponents do it, not when it's coming from their own side. In other words, O'Reilly is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Standing up for civil debate on an impartial basis is what will keep civility from being "finished".

"What do you do to a school yard bully? You punch them in the face. Do you think any of these people on talk radio, if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No, they’re cowards. They're bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that. Mitt Romney -- and we said it non-stop for two years -- he would never stand up to these bullies. And so they framed his campaign and he got his tail whipped."
-- TV pundit Joe Scarborough, December 10, 2012, on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Comment: Scarborough is criticizing talk radio (and other) pundits who say things that amount to name-calling. So, in a sense, he's advocating civility. However, he's resorting to violent rhetoric and (it seems) saying that people should resist these pundits by retaliating in kind. He is also faulting GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) for failing to police the speech of his supporters. This is a fair criticism, though it's a mistake -- of the "only my opponent" variety -- to think that only Romney was guilty of that failing (President Barack Obama also failed to police the rhetoric of his supporters, as well).

"You know, Penny, we're not going to save the country, we're not going to balance the budget until your side cuts it out, and if people like you, I think you're a reasonable person, but you feel a compulsion to come on this program and defend this. Treasonous, treacherous, let the bodies pile up on the beach."
-- Commentator Sean Hannity, December 7, 2012, speaking to Democratic strategist Penny Lee on his TV show. Hannity is referring to remarks made by former Special Advisor to the White House Van Jones on December 5, 2012.

Comment: Hannity is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Certainly, Democrats, liberals, and progressives need to do more to maintain a standard of civil debate and to criticize those on their side who resort to name-calling and incivility. But so do Republicans and conservatives (and Hannity himself). Hannity is misrepresenting the situation to make it seem like only one side is at fault.

"Senator Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and chief torch-and-pitchfork-carrier for the Tea Party, is resigning only two years into his second term to cash in on his public service with a high-paying job at that quintessential bastion of Washington establishment, the Heritage Foundation. Does this represent the institutional co-opting of the Tea Party by the Republican base? Or are we watching the Tea Party snap up the last scraps of Republicanism that linger within any sort of proximity to the mainstream of American political thought? I’m hoping for Option A, as that would neutralize the highly damaging threat that the Tea Party poses to American civil discourse."
-- Editorial page editor and columnist Andrew Rosenthal, December 6, 2012.

Comment: How is the Tea Party movement particularly bad for civil discourse? Aren't other groups also a threat? Such as unions? Or even columnists for The New York Times? Rosenthal is singling out the Tea Party movement in a way that indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[F]olks, here's the thing that is a hard, cold reality to me. I've been doing this 25 years. I think back to previous years, in fact, eras of this program. And we did our feminist updates, and what were the feminist updates? We chronicled and laughed at what was being done in universities. We laughed at some of the radical, cockeyed ideas that radical feminists and feminazis were doing. … While all this is being built, and while it's happening, we're pointing out the intellectual holes in the data. We're pointing out the faults in the so-called logic of the argument. In the meantime it was taking hold with a whole bunch of young people starting with Ted Turner's Captain Planet cartoon series on Saturday morning, to who knows what else was happening. … It's really been fascinating in one regard. It's disappointing in another, scary in another. But they bought and believe as fervently as anything you believe the stuff that we were laughing at, deservedly so. … But now these people all come out, these young tech bloggers, even some in the sports media, doesn't matter where you go, this young, hip, pop culture demographic, not only do they believe all the stuff we were laughing at, they have a moral superiority about their countenance. What they believe is morally superior to say what I believe, what they believe and what they live and how they live is morally superior. So they kind of look down their noses at people. They do not and will not consider opposing arguments because the people who make them have been discredited with character assassination and so forth. … Let's put it this way. When you've got a majority of people this country who can be made to believe that Mitt Romney hates dogs with a commercial of a dog in a cage on the roof of a station wagon with ostensibly the Romney family inside on the family vacation, then I would suggest we've got a problem. Take whatever other insult or mischaracterization or character assault on conservatives that you can believe and there is a moral superiority to the people who believe this stuff. It's not that they believe it, it is that there is an arrogant condescension about them. They're close-minded. There's no other possible way to explain things that are happening other than what they believe."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 30, 2012.

Comment: This is a caricature of some sort. Perhaps it's the "only my opponent" caricature. Is it really the case that liberals and progressives -- but not conservatives -- believe that their ideas are morally superior? And only liberals and progressives are condescending, arrogant, insulting and close-minded about it? And conservatives don't resort to character assassination?

"Romney was successfully defined via negative advertising by the Obamaites in the campaign. When Romney was busy raising money, Obama couldn't run ads or even a campaign on his record. There's not one positive thing Obama could say about his record, so the Democrats did what they always do. They set out to demonize their opponents, which is standard operating procedure for them. They demonize all their critics, try to discredit them and so forth, clear the playing field of them. … we had ads and a campaign strategerist, the lovely and beautiful Stephanie Cutter, claiming that Romney was a felon and that he was a corporate criminal and he had all these secret bank accounts and that he didn't care about you. None of it was true. … who are these people that believe these ads? … Look, folks, we gotta be honest. Hard work is not what an Obama voter is interested in. So the message doesn't resonate. But still, who are these people that believe this drivel, these lies, who are these people that believe all of this rotten stuff about George W. Bush that was put out? We don't run ads like that about people, do we? We never attacked Obama's character, his humanity or any of that stuff, and we could have … We didn't go anywhere near that. We are always aboveboard."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 8, 2012.

Comment: First, Limbaugh is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature by claiming that only Democrats -- and not Republicans -- resort to demonizing and "negative" politics, and that Republicans never attacked Obama's character. Of course they do, and of course they did. They're not "always aboveboard". Second, Limbaugh is using "negative politics" rhetoric, but to his credit he's defining the term to mean "demonizing" (he's just wrong that Republicans and conservatives don't engage in demonizing). Third, Limbaugh is demonizing people who voted for Obama by saying they are opposed to hard work. Lastly, Limbaugh is saying that Romney and the Republicans lost the 2012 election because they wouldn't stoop to the misbehavior that (allegedly only) Obama and Democrats do, which is "virtuous loser" rhetoric.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests.
-- President Barack Obama, November 7, 2012, addressing his supporters while declaring victory in his race against Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: This is typical rhetoric about civility, in the sense that Obama is lamenting incivility in the abstract without owning up specifically to his own failings with respect to civil debate. Politicians and pundits frequently speak about civility in a way that leaves people with the impression that they themselves aren't part of the problem, that it's someone else who has to clean up their act (the "only my opponents" caricature). That's one of the reasons people are so cynical about politics in general and the possibility for civil debate in particular. Also, Obama himself has frequently railed against "special interests", but here it sounds like he's dismissing the influence of special interests.

"I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me -- so am I."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Politicians frequently denounce campaign tactics in the abstract, without making any mention of whether they and their own campaign share any guilt. Apart from taking responsibility for being part of an "avalanche of advertising", this is what Obama is doing here. These kinds of denunciations in the abstract could be seen as implicitly making the "only my opponent" caricature: "I know there's a lot of misbehavior out there, but I'm not acknowledging that I'm engaging in any of it", which leaves your opponent as the most likely suspect. This might also be "unnamed antagonist" rhetoric.

And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.
-- Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), November 7, 2012, addressing his supporters while conceding defeat in his race against President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is more "unify the country" rhetoric, as well as "politicizing" rhetoric. What does it mean to "put people before politics"? Without specifics, isn't this an empty platitude? What is Romney himself going to do to put people before politics? Will he apologize for his acts of incivility during the campaign? Or is he just going to leave people with the impression that incivility is a problem created by someone other than himself (the "only my opponents" caricature)?

As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it." Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer." "Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked. "You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"
-- President Barack Obama, October 11, 2012, during interview with Douglas Brinkley for Rolling Stone Magazine.

Comment: If Obama believes Romney has engaged in distortions, misrepresentations, and exaggerations, then he should just say so and defend that claim. There's no need for him to refer to Romney with profanity, implying that Romney cares nothing about the truth. Plus, given that Obama has also engaged in distortions, misrepresentations, and exaggerations, would Obama apply the same profanity to himself? Probably not. Finally, do kids really have good instincts? Isn't much of the point of kids' education teaching them things that they don't know instinctively, things that they need to know if they're going to thrive and prosper (or at least avoid drinking cleaning fluids?)?

RADDATZ: "I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, “the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.” What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone? Vice President Biden?"
BIDEN: "I would say to him the same thing I say to my son who did serve a year in Iraq, that we only have one truly sacred obligation as a government. That’s to equip those we send into harm’s way and care for those who come home. That’s the only sacred obligation we have. Everything else falls behind that. … I would also tell him that there are things that have occurred in this campaign and occur in every campaign that I’m sure both of us regret anyone having said, particularly in these -- these special new groups that can go out there, raise all the money they want, not have to identify themselves, who say the most scurrilous things about the other candidate. It’s -- it’s an abomination. … But there are things that have been said in campaigns that I -- I find not very appealing."

RYAN: "First of all, I’d thank him to his service to our country. Second of all, I’d say we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military which compromises their mission and their safety. And then I would say, you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame. You see, if you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It’s what he’s doing right now. … And what do we have from the president? He broke his big promise to bring people together to solve the country’s biggest problems. And what I would tell him is we don’t have to settle for this."
-- Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Ryan.

Comment: Neither candidate makes any mention of standing up to the name-calling coming from their own party. Biden laments some misbehavior, but won't identify any specific instances. Ryan only criticizes the misbehavior of his opponents. Neither candidate is willing to criticize their own side, leaving us with the impression that it's mostly their opponents who are guilty. Raddatz, too, said little or nothing during the debate to rebuke the name-calling or unproductive rhetoric coming from Biden and Ryan.

RYAN: "Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, where 87 percent of the legislators he served, which were Democrats. He didn’t demonize them. He didn’t demagogue them. He met with those party leaders every week. He reached across the aisle. He didn’t compromise principles."
-- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden.

Comment: Ryan is making the point that -- contrary to Romney -- Obama and Democrats demonize and demagogue. But this is the "only my opponent does it" caricature. Romney has definitely demonized his opponents in this presidential campaign (as have Obama and Biden), and -- though I don't have any documented instances -- I would be surprised if he didn't do so as well during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

"Candidates always have disagreements, arguing over the meaning of events or evidence. But Mr. Obama has taken ordinary political differences beyond anything we've seen. Every day, it seems, he attempts to disqualify his opponent through deliberate and undeniable falsehoods. ... Voters expect politicians to stretch the truth. But when the offender is as persistent with mistruths, half-truths and no-truths as Mr. Obama is, voters expect the other candidate to blow the whistle. ... Mr. Romney must call out the president. That is not so easy: Mr. Romney can't call Mr. Obama a liar; that's too harsh a word that would backfire. Mr. Romney must instead set the record straight in a presidential tone -- firm, respectful, but not deferential."
-- Republican strategist Karl Rove, September 26, 2012.

Comment: Rove is correct that Obama has distorted and demonized his opponents. But to suggest that Obama is doing this at an unprecedented level -- how would you measure this? At any rate, Rove seems to be engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature, as well as the "they'll say anything" caricature. Also, Rove effectively says that Obama is a liar, right? So why would it backfire to use the word "liar" in describing Obama if it's accurate?

Regarding Republicans, "[w]hat else is a turnoff is their poisonous campaign. Suffocate the airwaves, suppress the vote, poison the debate, people throw up their hands and say, 'I just don't even know if I want to participate in this'. And when they walk away -- right-thinking people walk away -- the special interests achieve a victory. So we have to keep the campaign positive, about what our president could do".
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), September 26, 2012.

Comment: A lot of people are turned off by the incivility in political debate, but this incivility is hardly coming only from Republicans. For Pelosi to suggest otherwise is the "only my opponent" caricature. Also, Pelosi is disparaging "special interests".

Scott Pelley: The folks at home are so concerned about Washington's apparent inability to get big things done. How can you assure the American people that you are willing to go halfway and make a compromise with these people that you have, apparently, such acrimony with?
Barack Obama: Well, Scott, I've gotta tell you, there may be acrimony directed towards me, but you know what, that's not unique to my presidency. I'm willing to go more than halfway. And I've displayed that. I think that throughout my political career I've shown not only an instinct but a desire to find common ground.
-- September 14, 2012, CBS News' Scott Pelley interviewing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Obama makes it sound as if there is acrimony coming at him from his opponents (i.e., Republicans), but none coming from him toward his opponents. This is a caricature (in particular, the "only my opponent" caricature). There may or may not be feelings of acrimony on either side, but both sides have behaved with acrimony, frequently demonizing one another and distorting one another's positions. Obama is both a victim and a perpetrator of this misbehavior.

"[Lately President Barack Obama has] been trying out a new tactic. It’s a classic Barack Obama straw man: If anyone dares to point out the facts of his record, why then, they’re just being negative and pessimistic about the country. The new straw man is people hoping for the decline of America. … I want my children to make their own choices, to define happiness for themselves, and to use the gifts that God gave them and live their lives in freedom. Say things like this, and our opponents will quickly accuse you of being, quote, “anti-government.” President Obama frames the debate this way because, here again, it’s the only kind of debate he can win – against straw-man arguments. No politician is more skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries. Nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), September 14, 2012, addressing the Values Voter Summit.

Comment: It's true that Republicans are sometimes accused of rooting for failure (though it's also true that some Republicans have made the same accusation about Democrats). And it's true that Obama does use straw men (i.e., caricatures and name-calling) against his opponents (though, once again, so do Republicans). Ryan, in other words, is using the "only my opponent" caricature against Obama (though it's true that Obama uses this against Republicans, too!). The "classic tactic" really on display here is to be outraged at misbehavior when your opponent does it, while giving yourself and your own side a free pass for doing the exact same thing.

George Stephanopoulos: What have you learned as you've studied all this about President Obama as a debater? What are you looking for?
Mitt Romney: Well, I think he's going to say a lot of things that aren't accurate. … I think that the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to -- how shall I say it -- to say things that aren’t true and -- in attacking his opponents. I’ve looked at prior debates, and in that kind of case, it’s difficult to say, ‘Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?" And that's the challenge you always have.
-- Anchor George Stephanopoulous interviewing GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), released September 14, 2012.

Comment: It's true that President Barack Obama has said things that aren't true, but it's not as if the same thing doesn't apply to Romney himself. In other words, Romney is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Plus, how is this lack of accuracy "the challenge you always have" if it's peculiar to Obama?

OBAMA: There's a broader lesson to be learned here. You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That it's important for you to make sure that the statements you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
KROFT: Do you think it was irresponsible?
OBAMA: I'll let the American people judge that.
-- President Barack Obama, interviewing President Barack Obama, September 12, 2012, during interview with reporter Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes". Obama's remarks concerned GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney's (R-MA) criticism of a statement released by the U.S. embassy in Egypt, which Romney mistakenly described as occurring after (rather than before) an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.

Comment: This is an evasion. Obama has said Romney spoke carelessly and without the facts in his command, so he's effectively saying that Romney was irresponsible even if he hasn't used the word "irresponsible". Obama is using the "not my decision" evasion to avoid saying something he's basically said anyway. How would he be infringing on the opinion of "the American people" if he issued his own opinion on the matter? The American people can still make a judgment about it even if he offers his own, right? Plus, Obama is engaging in a caricature, making it sound as if Romney -- but not Obama himself -- hasn't learned that it's important to have your statements backed up by facts (and, is Obama saying he only learned this after he became president?).

"I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me -- so am I."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Politicians frequently denounce campaign tactics in the abstract, without making any mention of whether they and their own campaign share any guilt. Apart from taking responsibility for being part of an "avalanche of advertising", this is what Obama is doing here. These kinds of denunciations in the abstract could be seen as implicitly making the "only my opponent" caricature: "I know there's a lot of misbehavior out there, but I'm not acknowledging that I'm engaging in any of it", which leaves your opponent as the most likely suspect. This might also be "unnamed antagonist" rhetoric.

"Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have, too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats. … And every one of us -- every one of us and every one of them, we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time, and hopefully we’re right more than twice a day. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. Both Republicans and Democrats routinely resort to name-calling and say hateful things about their opponents. And each side routinely complains that they have been too accommodating to the other party and not tough enough with them, and that the other party never admits its faults. There is so much invective coming from each party that it is, in practical terms, impossible to figure out which party does it more.

"I'm the newcomer to the campaign, so let me share a first impression. I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power. They've run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they've got left. With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money— and he's pretty experienced at that. You see, some people can't be dragged down by the usual cheap tactics, because their ability, character, and plain decency are so obvious— and ladies and gentlemen, that is Mitt Romney."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), August 29, 2012, at the Republican Party National Convention.

Comment: Democrats are desperate to keep power? This is similar to the way that Howard Dean demonized Republicans on February 26, 2008. Ryan is also making the "fear-mongering" accusation as well as the "divisive" accusation. I think there's an implicit "only my opponent does it" caricature here, as well.

"We win when we make it about what needs to be done. We lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing."
-- Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), August 28, 2012, giving the keynote address at the GOP National Convention.

Comment: To say that it's the Democrats who engage in "scaring and dividing" and not Republicans is the "only my opponent does it" caricature. There's ample evidence that this is a game that both sides play. It's also another fear-mongering accusation, along with an accusation of "dividing".

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