Sunday, February 22, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: February 22, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
-- Washington Post story, February 21, 2015, by Dan Balz and Robert Costa.

Comment: This is an evasion. Don't we typically take people's word for their religious faith until they do something grossly in violation of that religion? Should we ignore Walker's claims that he is a Christian until we've talked to him personally? (In the background is Obama's refusal to say that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terror groups are Islamic, despite the fact that they call themselves Muslim. This is a fair point to criticize Obama for, but just because Obama fails to take ISIS's religious declarations at face value doesn't mean that it's OK for Walker to do so, as well.)

The selective nature of taboos in American political and media culture has been exposed this week. Democrats are free to impugn their opponents’ decency and patriotism while Republicans never are allowed to do so.

Speaking at a “private” dinner for Scott Walker (note: only Democrats are permitted to have truly private events), Rudy Giuliani violated one of the taboos of American politics with these words:
"I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America."
There is a norm in American politics to presume that all issues and disagreements are between people who are patriotic and love America, except for Republicans and conservatives. In other words, only Democrats must be presumed to be patriotic and full of love of country. For example, Democrats are free to attack the Tea Party, which they have lumped together with terrorists. The Republican-controlled House was even called “terrorists” in White House offical communications. And when running for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama labeled President Bush “unpatriotic” for his deficit spending.

But Democrats must be presumed to be decent, patriotic, and motivated purely by love of country. And when they are not, they cry foul, as did Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who called Giuliani’s words “ugly.” For the record, Rep. Wasserman Schultz a few months ago agreed that the GOP is worse than Ebola and the Islamic State. But apparently that is not ugly in her mind. There was no widespread media controversy over her words, as compared to Giuliani’s.
-- Pundit Thomas Lifson, February 20, 2015.

Comment: Lifson is accusing the media of being hypocritical in its coverage of Giuliani's comments about President Barack Obama. Keep in mind it would be ad hominem reasoning to say that, because criticism of Walker's comments has been hypocritical, therefore the criticisms of Walker are unfounded.

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Josh, given your sorrow for Rudy Giuliani do you think the president has any regrets about saying President Bush was unpatriotic for adding $4 trillion to the debt?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Ed, I don't know that sorrow is the word that I would use.

HENRY: You said you feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani.

EARNEST: Yeah, I do. I do feel sorry for him.

HENRY: You feel sorry, but does the president have any regrets, regardless of what Giuliani said? As a candidate, Senator Obama said that President Bush was unpatriotic.

EARNEST: I think -- again, I haven't seen the actual comments. I don't know if you have it there in front of you.

HENRY: He said that the president, I'm paraphrasing this part, had added about $4 trillion to the debt and then he said, quote, "that's irresponsible, that's unpatriotic." I see a difference from Giuliani because he's talking about an issue. But nonetheless, questioning the patriotism of the president of the United States.

EARNEST: I think that what the president was doing was he was questioning the specific wisdom of that decision and questioning whether or not that was in the best interest of the country.

HENRY: He didn't say it was unwise, he said that's unpatriotic.

EARNEST: Right, but again, he was talking about that, he wasn't talking about a person. And, again, I think there's a lot that the president also had to say in the State of the Union and the level of our discourse. There is no doubt that we are going to have significant disagreement across the aisle. And that is ultimately what a democracy is all about, where we go in and debate issues. But the president as you'll recall said during the State of the Union said we should have a debate that's worthy of the United States Congress and worthy of the country. There are significant challenges facing this country and sort of resorting to a politics in which we question each others' basic decency is not consistent with the reason that a lot of people got into public service.
-- White House press briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest February 20, 2015. The quote in question comes from July 32008, when then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), said that President George W. Bush had been "unpatriotic" in adding $4 trillion to the national debt.

Comment: Giuliani is guilty of questioning the patriotism of President Barack Obama this week, and Obama is guilty of questioning the patriotism of Bush back in 2008. Henry and Earnest seem to think that, because Obama was talking about the patriotism of a policy -- the policy of borrowing money -- rather than the patriotism of a person -- President Bush -- that what Obama says is somehow OK. But it isn't. It's just as much of a derisive caricature to call the policy unpatriotic as to say that the person is. More, it's hypocritical, as well, given that President Obama has added just as much money to the national debt.

McAuliffe says the Republican party is defunding the Department of Homeland Security "for partisan political reasons … I don't have time for partisan politics. … Tying this whole issue on the immigration to the DHS funding is nothing but a partisan political maneuvering. We shouldn't do that, we shouldn't do it with our budget, and we clearly shouldn't do it with the Department of Homeland Security. It is too vital for our nation's security interest. As I say, as a governor, it will have a tremendous impact on our economy, and it will hurt people. They're not going to get paid."
-- Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), February 20, 2015. McAuliffe is referring to House GOP members voting to deny funding to DHS in order to undo President Barack Obama's executive action on illegal immgration.

Comment: McAuliffe is demonizing Republicans, essentially saying they are putting party ahead of country. It's one thing to say the GOP has adopted a bad policy, it's another to say that the GOP is doing it for "partisan" reasons. The House GOP believes Obama's executive action is bad for the country, too, would it therefore be OK for them to accuse Obama of partisan motives?

Across the board, the modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there, even if it’s not what your prejudices say should be happening. What are you going to believe, right-wing doctrine or your own lying eyes? These days, the doctrine wins. … Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, conservatives predicted disaster: health costs would soar, the deficit would explode, more people would lose insurance than gain it. They were wrong on all counts. … Along with this denial of reality comes an absence of personal accountability. If anything, alleged experts seem to get points by showing that they’re willing to keep saying the same things no matter how embarrassingly wrong they’ve been in the past.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, February 20, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is accusing Republicans of not caring about truth (or maybe being out of touch with reality). It's true that Republicans have made predictions about the policies of Obama and Democrats that haven't come true (though it may be too early to judge the predictions on health care reform), but Obama and Democrats have made false predictions, as well. (On health care reform, it was said that people would be able to keep their existing health insurance and that premiums could drop by as much as $2,500.) Like Republicans, Democrats have refused to own up to the falsity of their predictions on economic issues, military affairs, etc. Does this prove that Democrats also don't care about truth or are out of touch with reality?

"I don't think that net neutrality is net neutrality. … Here's the thing. I don't want to make this simplistic. I'm going to be accused of being simplistic. But who is it that wants to fix this? Who is it that wants to "reform" this? Who is it that's running around saying it's broken? Who is it that's running around saying it's broken so he can get his fingerprints on it? Who is doing this? Barack Hussein O. The One. That's all you need to know. As far as I'm concerned, that's all anybody needs to know. … Look it, all you need to know is Obama wants it; you should oppose it. It's that simple."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 20, 2015, referring to Internet reforms proposed by President Barack Obama.

Comment: Limbaugh is dismissing an idea simply on the basis of who is supporting the idea, which is ad hominem reasoning. As much as he predicts that he'll be criticized for being "simplistic", that does nothing to change the fact that his reasoning is flawed.

"What undermines the global effort is for the President of the United States to be an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists … ISIS is the face of evil, and these latest atrocities, our heart breaks. And to see 21 Coptic Christians murdered, beheaded by radical Islamic terrorists, to see 45 people lit on fire, this is horrific and it is deliberate and it is targeted at Christians. It is targeted at Jews. It’s targeted at Muslims in the region who do not accede to the radical Islamist view."
-- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-RX), posted February 19, 2015.

Comment: Cruz disagrees with President Barack Obama because Obama refuses to identify the terrorists as Islamic. This is a fair point, as the terrorists identify themselves as Muslim, but Obama is nonetheless ordering military strikes against these very terrorists, so in what sense could he be called an "apologist" or defender of people he has ordered his military to kill? This is at least an exaggeration, if not outright demonizing.

"I'm right about this. I have no doubt about it. I do not withdraw my words. … We haven't even mentioned some of the other communists and leftists who educated him as a young man. But all we need is Reverend Wright. Seventeen years in that church and that man condemned America over and over and over again, and he remained a member of that church."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), February 19, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Giuliani is using guilt by association rhetoric.

BECKY QUICK: You were at a dinner last night where Rudy Giuliani spoke, you were sitting just a few chairs away when he said, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." What do you think about those comments, because they are raising a stir this morning.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people — Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between — who love this country. I think we should talk about ways that we love this country, and that we feel passionate about America, whether it's about making sure everyone can succeed and live the American Dream, or whether it's talking with.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: But did you agree with those comments? Were you offended by those comments? What was your reaction when you heard them?

WALKER: I’m in New York, I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), February 19, 2015, on "Squawk Box".

Comment: This is an evasion, perhaps the "not my decision" evasion. The point is, Giuliani is speaking, not simply for himself, but attributing a deplorable mindset to President Barack Obama. Given that Obama can speak for himself, does Walker think it's OK to speak for Obama and declare that Obama doesn't love the country or the people in it? Would it be OK if someone did the same to Walker? Walker seems comfortable speaking for lots of other people -- "Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between" -- and saying that they love the country, so why can't he do the same for Obama and therefore repudiate Giuliani?

"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), February 18, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Giuliani is demonizing Obama, questioning his patriotism. Whether it's in reference to the country, the poor, minorities, etc., the slur is basically, "You don't care about things that decent people care about, therefore you're not a decent person." Giuliani and Republicans don't like it when Democrats accuse them of not caring about minorities or the poor (nor should they like it, because it's wrong), they shouldn't do essentially the same thing to others. Giuliani has said his comments were based on Obama's failure to denounce attacks by Islamist terrorists in Libya and France in 2015 the same way he addressed racial unrest in Ferguson, MO, in 2014. But that line of criticism against Obama doesn't require questioning his love of country.

RUSH: … It's getting dangerous out there. She said, "We're killing a lot of 'em, and we're gonna keep killing more of them, and so are the Egyptians, and so are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. We can't win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need -- in the medium to longer term -- to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups." … the left thinks that everybody should love them. They love themselves, and they think they can make everybody love them. They think with doctors, nurses, clean water, and good speeches, that they can turn the most vicious hatemonger into somebody that loves them. And that's what the seminar is about.

RUSH: … I mean, Marie Harf and Obama think getting ISIS people jobs is the best way to counter extremism. Maybe, in addition to doing that, you could bring in the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe bring in the Chamber of Commerce as a weapon of mass destruction against ISIS. I mean, the Chamber of Commerce, vast networking and fundraising ability to recruit all sorts of franchisable businesses. You could have the Chamber working with the State Department to teach ISIS how to set up Starbucks, McDonald's, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Uber, Domino's, AutoZone, even Walmart could be all funded, and look what we could do. We could establish American economic beachheads right in the middle of the ISIS encampments using Obama's White House jobs summit and the Chamber of Commerce to help get it done, all based on Marie Harf's contention that all we need to do to defeat ISIS is get them jobs.

RUSH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. This is Marie Harf, last night The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, who said, "Some of the best-known terrorists out there came from wealth and privilege, Marie. Osama Bin Laden, a lot of these, Ayman al-Zawahiri is a doctor from Egypt. These people have a lot of money, Marie. They have higher education. They have degrees. Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, 9/11, had all kinds of money, all kinds of college degrees, bin Laden himself. What do you say about that?"

HARF: We cannot kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. How do you get at the root causes of this? Look, it might be too nuanced an argument for some, like I've seen over the past 24 hours, some of the commentary out there, but it's really the smart way. The Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this.

RUSH: So she doubles down on it and blames us for not having the smarts to understand her brilliance. You can't kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. So we should use no deterrents whatsoever. We should make no effort, doesn't matter, it's a losing effort, it's a losing cause, and we can't appreciate the nuance in this. But it's the smart foreign policy now that's identified as the Obama foreign policy. And it's a smart way Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this by finding ISIS jobs, an unemployment program or a jobs program for ISIS.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 17, 2015, and February 18, 2015. Limbaugh was referring the comments made by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf in two separate interviews on February 16, 2015, and February 17, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh is knocking over a straw man, distorting Harf's comments. In particular, he is using the "silver bullet" caricature. At no point did Harf say all that was needed to defeat ISIS and other terror groups is jobs. In fact, President Barack Obama's administration has frequently used military action, which Harf referred to with her remarks that "we're gonna keep killing more of them" -- remarks which Limbaugh himself directly quoted. Obama's anti-terror policy may include things other than military action, but it is simply false for Limbaugh to say Obama wants "no deterrents whatsoever". Maybe Obama's policies on terrorism aren't good enough, but it's not acceptable to misrepresent them, as Limbaugh and many other pundits have done. (Also, recall that President George W. Bush paid Sunni militants fighting alongside US troops against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007.) Harf's rebuttal is also flawed: people don't believe economic aid will be as effective as military action, a position that shouldn't be dismissed as an intolerance for "nuance".

The Texas decision clearly defines who is against immigrants in the U.S. Latino voters will remember; 2016 is not that far away.
-- Tweet from pundit Jorge Ramos, February 17, 2015. Ramos is referring to a decision by a federal judge in Texas to place an injunction on President Barack Obama's executive action on illegal immigration.

Comment: Ramos is demonizing people who oppose Obama's executive order on illegal immigration. Being opposed to providing work permits to illegal immigrants is not the same as being opposed to immigration and all immigrants. It's entirely compatible with being in favor of increased legal immigration, for instance. Ramos is essentially accusing his opponents of being xenophobes.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Distortions in the Debate on Terrorism

The recent discussion about terrorism has been foundering on a particular set of rhetoric. Let me see if I can summarize and then clear up some of the distortions and confusions.

1. "The Obama administration believes all we need to defeat terrorists like ISIS is a jobs program."
This is a reference to comments made by deputy US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf. But it's also a blatant distortion (in particular, it's the "silver bullet" caricature). Harf -- and the Obama administration more generally -- have laid out a program for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Certainly, one component of that program is jobs, but it's only one component: there's also US military action strikes (as Harf said, "We're killing a lot of them. And we're going to keep killing more of them."), US advisors training Iraqi troops, and other forms of aid and cooperation.

So it's false to depict Harf or the Obama administration as saying ISIS or other militants can be defeated with only some jobs programs. But that's exactly what some pundits (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannnity) have been doing. Maybe Obama's policy isn't adequate, that's a fair point to argue. But it's not acceptable to misrepresent that policy, and it's simply false to say that violence has been ruled out in favor of a jobs program.

Remember the Iraq Surge was caricatured by many critics in 2007 as just "sending in more troops", when there in fact it involved significant changes in deployment and objectives for troops, as well as non-military components as well. There was even a jobs component: the US paid the salaries of members of the Sahwa / Sons of Iraq movement, a movement made up of Sunni militants fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), often times militants who had months earlier been fighting alongside AQI against US forces.

Harf and the Obama administration could also be accused of indulging in the "silver bullet" caricature: who has actually said that we can "kill our way out of this war", and that no extra-military strategies are needed?

2. "Islam's scripture and history with violence demonstrate that it is inherently brutal and flawed."
It's certainly true that Islamic history and the Quran contain episodes of horrific violence. But, if violent history and scripture are sufficient reasons to declare a religion inherently brutal, flawed, evil, or false, then every major religion is going to wind up in that bin. Is this really the correct conclusion to reach? No.

Consider, Islam and other religions also have history and scripture involving acts of great justice and compassion; why not take those episodes as showing the essential nature of those religions? The point is, the world's major religions contain both good and bad, and the majority of religious adherents tend to ignore or abstain from the bad.

3. "We shouldn't label terrorist acts "Islamic": such violence is not truly Islamic, and it unfairly demonizes Islam and Muslims."
The Obama administration continually refuses to claim that acts of terror by ISIS and other groups is Islamic, insisting that the violence is not indicative of "true Islam". This raises a complicated (and probably endless) debate about who really is or isn't a proper Muslim. I don't see much hope of settling that issue with Islam any more than any other religion.

But leaving that aside, the fact is that most of the acts of terror done today are done by people who proclaim it in the name of Islam than any other religion. That doesn't mean Islam is inherently violent (see point 2 above), and it's certainly worth noting and investigating why, in current times, people are more likely to commit violence in the name of Islam as opposed to Buddhism or Hinduism or Christianity. Such an investigation might help us understand (see points 4 and 7 below) and prevent acts of terror in the future.

Or, as a caller to Rush Limbaugh's show pointed out Feb. 20, 2015, how is pointing out that some terror is done in the name of Islam any different from pointing out the motives in a hate crime?

As an aside, would the Obama administration ever say the same thing about misbehavior said to be done in the name of the conservative movement or the Republican Party? Would he say that it's not truly done in the name of being a conservative or Republican?

4. "You can't understand evil. Pointing out that terrorists have grievances amounts to saying that terrorism is justified."
Evil is a human behavior. It's frequently cruel and even irrational behavior, but is there any reason we can't understand it just as well (or poorly) as other human behaviors?

Keep in mind, explaining why someone does something in no way means justifying what they did, or saying what they did was right.

Pointing out someone's grievances is a way of understanding that person's motives. Again, you can understand someone's motives for behaving a certain way without arguing that their behavior was moral or good or justified in any way.

For example, I can explain Bernie Madoff's behavior in bilking people out of their money: he wanted to get rich. I've explained his behavior, but at no point have I said what he did was OK.

The same goes for grievances. You can point out the grievances someone has without saying their grievances are legitimate. Even if you believe their grievance is legitimate, you can do so without arguing that they were justified in behaving violently on the basis of that grievance.

Take another example: Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with the murder of three people in Chapel Hill, NC, over a parking dispute. Suppose we find out he was really treated unfairly in some parking matter: that is, he had a legitimate grievance. Are we therefore committed to saying that it was legitimate for him to act on that grievance by killing three people? No, of course not.

5. "In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama equated Christianity with ISIS."
This is false. Obama didn't "compare" Christianity to ISIS in the sense of saying they're both just as bad. Rather, he made the argument that I made above, saying that if a history of violence (such as ISIS's) is sufficient to declare the religion that violence is related to (Islam) inherently flawed, then the same conclusion must be reached about any and all other religions that also have a history including horrific violence. And Christianity, like every other major religion, has a history that includes horrific violence.

6. "It's wrong to blame poverty for terrorism, because many terrorists (like Osama bin Laden) were rich."
This is something along the lines of "you don't know what it's like to be me" rhetoric. You don't have to poor to be motivated by poverty, any more than you have to be a slave to be in favor of abolishing slavery.

That's not to say that bin Laden was motivated by poverty (let alone that he chose an acceptable way of protesting poverty, even if he was motivated by it). But rich people can be motivated by poverty just as much as poor people.

More, there are certainly poor people who are fighting on the side of ISIS, just like there were poor people fighting on the side of AQI, who were peeled off of AQI (in part) because the US paid them money (see point 1 above).

7. "By blaming poverty for terrorism, you're failing to lay blame where it belongs: with the terrorist."
Again, saying that poverty plays a role in terrorism doesn't mean you're absolving the terrorists.

Does saying Islam plays a role in terrorism absolve the terrorist? No. In either case, you can point to data showing that terrorism is currently more likely to be tied to poverty or Islam or whatever else while at the same time insisting that this is not a justification for terrorism (see point 4 above).

Knowing these connections that terrorism has to other things can help in predicting and thwarting acts of terror. If you know that terrorism is more likely to come from certain affiliations, that can help you figure out how stop it before it happens, in the same way that crime statistics can be used to prevent crime.

Rhetoric: "Blaming the Victim"

When someone in politics offers an explanation for why something bad happened, they are often accused of "blaming the victim".

Is this a fair accusation? Is there ever a case where someone "brought it on themselves" when something bad happens to them?

One of the issues with this kind of rhetoric is the distinction between predicting and justifying. For instance, if I leave my front door unlocked, that increases the likelihood that someone is going to steal something from me. If I leave my door unlocked and someone steals something from my house, you could say that I "brought it on myself" by failing to lock the door.

But that's not to say I deserved to be a victim of theft in the sense that stealing from me was justified. Even if I leave my house unlocked, it's still wrong to steal from me. It's just that, knowing that there are people out there who will do the wrong thing and steal from an unlocked house, I failed to take a sensible precaution to stop those people. I should expect that, when I don't lock my house up, I'm more likely to be a victim of wrongful behavior. You could say I left myself vulnerable to mistreatment.

The "unlocked house" case is a clear case, in my view, of where it would be acceptable to blame the victim (me) for mistreatment. This isn't to absolve the thief: they're still wrong to have taken things that didn't belong to them. But I'm also at fault in the sense that I could easily have taken steps to thwart the thief.

How many other cases are there where it's acceptable to "blame the victim"? Consider some other instances (the victim is italicized):

  • Country A has a foreign policy that upsets people in country B, and people in country B respond with acts of violence or terrorism against country A;
  • You privately had nude pictures taken of yourself, and those pictures were leaked to the public;
  • person enters an unfamiliar neighborhood late at night and is robbed;
  • A person is alone and drunk in public late at night and is robbed or physically or sexually assaulted;
  • woman is dressed in a revealing outfit and is sexually harassed or assaulted;
  • US citizen visiting a hostile country such as North Korea or Iran is arrested on trumped-up allegations of being a "spy";
  • Person A verbally insults something that person B cares about greatly -- e.g., their family or religion -- and person B responds by beating up person A.

Which of these are cases where the victim could justly be said to have "brought mistreatment on themselves" (again, not saying that it was OK for them to be mistreated, but that they behaved in a way that left them vulnerable to being mistreated)?

"You know, what he's trying to do is show people he's strong on gun rights. Years ago he came out to say that he could understand why you would want to limit assault rifles in inner cities like the one he grew up in Detroit. And people freaked out and they said, that's not a policy that a Republican contender can go with. So he's trying really hard to show these people that he has something to say. And while the rest of the party largely says that every 2.6 weeks we have a mass shooting, that “stuff happens”, this is something that Carson can say without offending sort of the gun lobby and pro-gun Republicans. By saying, look, you should be fighting back. It sounds sort of brave, even if it's largely victim blaming."
-- Jane Timm of MSNBC, October 7, 2015. Timm was commenting on remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson about the Umpqua Community College shooting. On, October 6, 2015, Carson said he "would not just stand there and let him shoot me … I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him'".

Comment: Timm is accusing Carson of saying the victims at Umpqua "brought it on themselves". While it might be difficult to get people to rush an armed gunman, isn't it true that it would have resulted in fewer lives lost? Is it "blaming the victim" to say that?

Women who walk around drunk and provocatively dressed should expect to be sexually assaulted, Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, has suggested.

The former chart topper claimed in a Sunday newspaper interview that scantily clad women were likely to “entice a rapist” and that it is their “fault” if they are attacked.

She discloses in a new memoir how she was abducted and sexually assaulted by a motorcycle gang in Ohio in the early 1970s – but concludes it was “all my doing” because of the way she was dressed and the fact that she was under the influence of drugs.

She also claimed that pop stars who call themselves feminists but use their sex appeal to sell records were effectively just “prostitutes”.

Charities said her remarks highlighted how victims of sexual assault wrongly blame themselves for their ordeals.

Her comments came in an interview with The Sunday Times, which published extracts from her autobiography entitled “Reckless”.

The book details an incident when she was 21 when she was picked up by a motorcycle gang who promised to take her to a party but instead took her to an empty house and sexually assaulted her.

But she said: “If I'm walking around in my underwear and I'm drunk? Who else's fault can it be? – Er, the guy who attacks you?

“Oh, come on! That's just silly.

“If I'm walking around and I'm very modestly dressed and I'm keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I'd say that's his fault.

“But if I'm being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who's already unhinged — don't do that.”

She added: “You know, if you don't want to entice a rapist, don't wear high heels so you can't run from him. If you're wearing something that says 'Come and ---- me', you'd better be good on your feet… I don't think I'm saying anything controversial am I?"

She went on to argue that many women who describe themselves as feminists were anything but in practice.

Asked whom she meant, she said: “Women who sell what their product is by using sex – that's prostitution.

“A pop star who's walking around, parading themselves as a porn star and saying they're feminists.

“They're prostitutes.

“I'm not making a value judgment on prostitutes, but just say what you are.”
-- Entertainer Chrissie Hynde, as related in an August 30, 2015, story by John Bingham in The Telegraph.

Comment: "Prostitutes" is sexual rhetoric, though Hynde leaves open as to whether or not it should be taken as derisive. She is saying that the victim is to blame in many cases of rape.

"We're afraid of the police of what they can do and the power that we think that they wield as far as if something happens to me from a police officer, will it be covered up? Will there be justice for me, whatever? With the cops, we don't live in these neighborhoods, we just know what we see on television or what other people have told us. And we're just as frightened as these people, you know, but we have guns. And when you deal with human nature, human nature, not just this is an officer who's dealing with things professionally, he's still a human being. And when that fear kicks in, you never know what can happen. I just made an analogy the other day about how someone can tap you on the shoulder, scare the mess out of you and your first reaction is to turn and you might smack them. Imagine if you have a gun in your hand? It's the same thing. Now, With this thing that happened in Ferguson just now with the two officers, sad, very sad. I hate to say that that FBI report kind of played into this and these things shouldn't be happening, but you reap what you sow in a sense. If that FBI report would have never came out and the scandal or whatever and how they're basically giving people -- paying the city by giving people tickets and things like that. That is incredibly insane but we knew this already, this is common knowledge in the ghetto. When they come in the hood -- I mean, guys used to sit out and drink beer in public, stuff like that, never a problem at times. But when they are trying to make quotas everybody sticks it in their pocket."
-- Rapper Method Man, posted March 13, 2015. His remarks concerned protests on March 13, 2015, against the Ferguson, MO, police department (which has been cited for racial discrimination by the federal government), protests in which two police officers were shot.

Comment: With the phrase, "you reap what you sow", Method Man seems to be explaining that someone (though it's not clear who) "brought it on themselves". Is he referring to the officers who were shot, or law enforcement in general, or someone or something else?

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Code Words and Dog Whistle Politics" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Code Words and Dog Whistle Politics"
"Notice both TIME Magazine and The Atlantic are calling the 401(k) tax deduction now a subsidy. It's a government subsidy. That's important because that means it's the government's money. You didn't earn it, the government allowed you to have it, and calling it a "subsidy" is a dog whistle term for people. "Why are we subsidizing the rich?" is the shout from middle America and central California. "Why are we subsidizing the rich, Mabel?" So a tax deduction is now a subsidy."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 29, 2012.

Comment: This is "dog whistle" or "code words" rhetoric.

But yet we find candidates like Newt Gingrich who want to throw fuel and matches and fire to develop sort of an explosiveness in this country that is unnecessary. To suggest President Obama is the food stamp president has underlying suggestions.
-- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), January 18, 2012.

Political commentator Martin Bashir: Now, listen to some of the things that are being said by these Republican candidates.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA): President Obama is the most effective food stamp president in American history.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA): I don't want to make [blah? black?] people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.
Bashir: There's nothing subtle about Newt Gingrich or Mr. Santorum. Their comments are clearly targeted at the President, who's black, and at other members of society ... Newt Gingrich is never going to win the Republican nomination, but he could badly damage race relations in the process. So here is a simple plea: Let's cut out the food stamps rhetoric right now before things get any worse.
--  January 6, 2012.

This really is the kind of dog-whistle politics that the Republican party has used to lure our people, the white working class, over to their party, to tell them over and over that money's being -- their money's being given to black people when in fact, as we all know, it's been given to rich people.
-- Political commentator Joan Walsh, January 6, 2012.

"Common-Sense" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Common-Sense"
""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?

"The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it. Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control."
-- New York Times editorial, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: First, this is a distortion (or at least an exaggeration). Republicans do not oppose all gun control whatsoever. In fact, they support many gun control laws, just not as many as Democrats and the editors of The New York Times do. Second, The New York Times editorial page is indulging in "ideologues" rhetoric. Lastly, The New York Times editorial page correctly points out that President Barack Obama earlier indulged in "common sense" rhetoric.

LIMBAUGH: Groton, Connecticut. Steve. Great that you called, sir.

STEVE [last name unknown]: A couple days after the election I just absolutely felt like I'd be kicked in the stomach. I could not understand --
LIMBAUGH: Why, did you think that we were going to win and you couldn't believe that we lost, or was it something else?
STEVE: I thought it was a slam dunk for Romney. I really did.
LIMBAUGH: Why did you think that? Seriously. I'm not criticizing. No, no. I'm not criticizing. I'm genuinely curious. Why did you think that?
STEVE: Because, you know, I had hope that the American people would exercise just a small modicum of common sense when you compare the two.
LIMBAUGH: Well, yeah. I know.
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 20, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh and the caller, Steve, are essentially saying that people who didn't vote for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the 2012 election lack common-sense (in other words, they're stupid). In their view, people who voted for President Barack Obama did something blatantly irrational.

"[I]n the case of immigration -- an issue of great concern to Latinos -- a bipartisan roadmap is good politics and great policy. Bringing the country together around a common-sense immigration process is not a bridge too far. In fact, while partisan politics dominated the national debate, faith, law enforcement and business leaders have worked with immigrant leaders across the political spectrum to forge a new consensus on immigrants and America."
-- Immigration advocate Ali Noorani, November 8, 2012.

Comment: Noorani is using "bipartisan" and "common-sense" rhetoric, here. He doesn't seem to be making the mistake of arguing that immigration reform is good because it is bipartisan. However, he doesn't specify what counts as "common-sense" immigration policy. Everyone is in favor of common-sense -- that's a platitude -- but what is common-sense when it comes to immigration policy?

"Probably the first piece of business is going to be to go ahead and fix our deficit and debt issues and make a decision about how big our government is, and how we're going to pay for it. And, you know, I've put forward a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. We've already cut a trillion dollars worth of government spending. We can do the rest by a sensible combination of spending cuts and some revenue. … I'll do whatever's required to get this done. And, you know, I think the key that the American people want right now is for us to tackle some big challenges that we face in a common-sense, balanced, sensible way."
-- President Barack Obama, October 26, 2012, during interview with pundit Michael Smerconish.

Comment: Obama is using "Americans want" rhetoric, here. Granted, Americans probably do want common-sense solutions, but that's a platitude. What counts as common-sense when it comes to fixing the deficit and the debt? That's the key question. Is Obama saying that people who disagree with his solution to those issues lack common-sense, or aren't sensible people?

"Our platform, crafted by Democrats, is not about partisanship but pragmatism; not about left or right, but about moving America and our economy forward. Our platform -- and our president -- stand firm in the conviction that America must continue to out-build, out-innovate and out-educate the world. … We also must pull from our highest ideals of justice and protect against those ills that destabilized our economy -- like predatory lending, over-leveraged financial institutions and the unchecked avarice of the past that trumped fairness and common sense. … Our platform calls for a balanced deficit reduction plan where the wealthy pay their fair share. And when your country is in a costly war, with our soldiers sacrificing abroad and our nation facing a debt crisis at home, being asked to pay your fair share isn't class warfare -- it's patriotism. But we all know -- it's common sense -- that for an economy built to last we must invest in what will fuel us for generations to come. … Let us not fall prey to rhetoric that seeks to gut investment and starve our nation of critical, common-sense building for our future. … You should be able to afford health care for your family. You should be able to retire with dignity and respect."
-- Convention Co-Chair Mayor Cory Booker (D-Newark), September 4, 2012, during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Booker employs a lot of rhetoric, here, that needs clarification. First, how is the platform "pragmatic" rather than partisan? The distinction between pragmatism and ideology is seldom explained by politicians. Second, Booker employs platitudes by invoking ideals that everyone favors. For instance, we all want affordable health care for everyone and to have top-notch education for our kids, the question is which policies best achieve that goal. And we all want people to pay their fair share, the question is what does fairness demand in particular with respect to taxes and spending. Third, Booker invokes "common-sense" without specifying what it is that amounts to common knowledge. Who is it in terms of financial institutions or political opponents who has behaved -- in Booker's view -- without common-sense? Lastly, Booker invokes patriotism. But, again, he doesn't specify what counts as fairness, so he also doesn't specify what counts as patriotism. Is he saying that people who disagree with the Democratic platform on taxes are unpatriotic?

"Look, they love to paint me as this Big Government, tax-and-spend liberal. The truth is that growth in the federal government is slower than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. Taxes are lower than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. The tax reforms I’m calling for would simply take us back to the tax rates under Bill Clinton for people above $250,000, which means taxes will still be lower under me than they were under either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. We’re not looking for anything radical here. And frankly, the country doesn’t need radical changes. What it needs is some commonsense solutions that stay focused on helping middle-class families."
-- President Barack Obama, August 21, 2012, during interview with White House correspondent for TIME Michael Scherer.

Comment: Obama is contrasting "radical" ideas against "common-sense" ones. But he doesn't specify what counts as radical or common-sense, so how are we to evaluate his claim that the changes he's proposing are the latter and not the former?

"Demagogue" Examples: 2012

"In the wake of the election, there's no doubt the Republican Party is capable of making some adjustments to rebrand itself. If nothing else, the party has demonstrated its proclivity for sloganeering and marketing and there are plenty of ways it can adjust its messaging. But it's obvious to anyone paying attention that the base simply won't allow the party to change in any meaningful way. The base is deeply encased within the twisted, alternate-reality looking glass that the GOP has been constructing throughout the last three decades: a realm of anger, racial resentment, distrust of government, hatred of immigrants and violently anti-choice misogynists and demagogues. The party has deliberately incited these tendencies via the conservative entertainment complex, as David Frum called it on Morning Joe -- AM talk radio, Fox News Channel and the like -- and augmented it with the generous contributions of wealthy financiers who bankroll everything from astroturf campaigns to the bulk-purchasing of every book-length screed by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck. The problem this creates, of course, is that the Republican Party has been consumed by misinformed idiots with no substantial connection to the real world, and the first post-election PPP poll only serves to amplify this conclusion."
-- Columnist Bob Cesca, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Cesca is indulging in name-calling, against Republicans, demonizing them and saying that they are stupid, and that they are racists and bigots. Are there no moral considerations animating Republicans, only racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.? Cesca also indulges in "demagogue" rhetoric.

"Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing -- nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), August 29, 2012, during his acceptance speech at the GOP National Convention.

"Others are saying, "Well, that's it for Florida. You know, putting Ryan on the ticket, that's it for Florida. Bye-bye Florida because of Ryan's Medicare proposal." We have a chance to get the truth about all this stuff out now, someone who knows how to tell the truth. And the whole discussion about Florida being in trouble is of course the demagoguery over Ryan's Medicare proposal in his budget. Ryan saves Medicare. Medicare is on the way to being destroyed. Ryan's budget, Ryan's Medicare proposal, saves it, and it has all kinds of options in it for people, if they're over 55, to not even have to play ball in it. They can keep what they've got and forget it. So we know that the Democrats are gonna lie and demagogue and smear, and we've got a guy who can bear up under it all and respond to it substantively, accurately, and correctly."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, August 13, 2012.

"You know, his wife is 40; Ryan is 42. His wife is college educated. They have a lot in common. His wife's every bit the political thinker that he is. She chose motherhood, in her own words, she wanted to be a mother, and she is. They've got three kids. Well, that's the kind of thing the Democrats have to demagogue. Oh, yeah, they're so old fashioned, she chose motherhood? That's not modern feminism."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, August 13, 2012.

"When not holding forth from his favorite table at L’Auberge Chez Fran├žois, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America. Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. ... This kind of noise -- from Republican debate crowds who have booed an American soldier serving overseas, cheered for the death of the uninsured and hissed at the Golden Rule -- is a demagogue’s soundtrack."
-- Columnist Timothy Egan, January 26, 2012, from his column, "Deconstructing a Demagogue".

Exaggeration and Apocalypse Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 Exaggeration and Apocalypse
"A gunman whose name we do not need to memorialize took advantage of our gun control laws to slaughter some 20 children and seven adults in a Newton, Connecticut elementary school. In addition to the gunman, blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut (and most other states). They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school when that is the only effective way of resisting a gunman. What a lethal, false security are the Gun Free Zone laws. All of our mass murders in the last 20 years have occurred in Gun Free Zones. The two people murdered a couple of days earlier in the shopping center in Oregon were also in a Gun Free Zone. Hopefully the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the Gun Free Zone laws that are in fact Criminal Safe Zones."
-- Executive Director of Gun Owners of America Larry Pratt, December 15, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Is this politicizing or exploiting the situation? Or even rooting for failure? I don't think so. It's reasonable to respond to a mass shooting by discussing what policies could help prevent such tragedies (which is not to say that Pratt's ideas about what accomplish that goal are correct). It could, however, be argued that Pratt's discussion of gun policy was "too soon". Also, is it really the case that gun control advocates are complicit in murder? Isn't that demonizing, or at least exaggeration?

"The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it. Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control."
-- New York Times editorial, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: First, this is a distortion (or at least an exaggeration). Republicans do not oppose all gun control whatsoever. In fact, they support many gun control laws, just not as many as Democrats and the editors of The New York Times do. Second, The New York Times editorial page is indulging in "ideologues" rhetoric. Lastly, The New York Times editorial page correctly points out that President Barack Obama earlier indulged in "common sense" rhetoric.

"The issue right now that's relevant is the acknowledgment that if we're going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we've already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I'm prepared to make, that we're going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up. And we're not going to be able to get a deal without it. And understand, Julianna, the reason for that. It's not me being stubborn. It's not me being partisan. It's just a matter of math. You know, there's been a lot of talk that somehow we can raise $800 billion or $1 trillion worth of revenue just by closing loopholes and deductions, but a lot of your viewers understand that the only way to do that would be if you completely eliminated, for example, charitable deductions. Well, if you eliminated charitable deductions, that means every hospital and university and not-for-profit agency across the country would suddenly find themselves on the verge of collapse. So that's not a realistic option. When you look at how much revenue you can actually raise by closing loopholes and deductions, it's probably in the range of $300 billion to $400 billion."
-- President Barack Obama, December 4, 2012, during interview with Julianna Goldman on Bloomberg TV.

Comment: This is exaggeration and derisive caricature. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that major tax expenditures -- "loopholes and deductions" in Obama's words -- amount to $12 trillion in revenue over 10 years and $800 billion in just the year 2012. It's open to discussion how accurate their predictions are, but it the CBO numbers indicate that raising $800 billion over 10 years by closing loopholes and deductions (as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) proposes) is entirely plausible. There may be good policy reasons not to close those loopholes, and closing them may be very unpopular with voters, and Obama is entirely within his rights to demand that Republicans specify which exemptions and deductions they would ended. But that's different from saying that raising $800 billion is wrong just as a "matter of math". Doing what's unpopular isn't comparable to doing something mathematically impossible or logically contradictory, as Obama describes. Obama is exaggerating, and derisively implying that Republicans are unable to do basic math.

"[A]s the clock ticks down towards the New Year, nearly every single American is facing the real prospect of what’s called the Fiscal Cliff. If we don’t act by the end of the year, 28 million more families and individuals will be forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax, 21 times as many farmers and ranchers will be hit with the death tax, and the average middle-class family would see their taxes go up by at least $2,000."
-- Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), December 1, 2012, during the weekly GOP address.

Comment: The "fiscal cliff" label (which didn't originate with Hatch) is metaphorical language. Is it accurate or inflammatory? Is it an exaggeration? If the President and the Congress don't reach an agreement by the end of the year, do we really face a situation akin (metaphorically speaking) to going over a cliff? Or is it more akin to a slope, or a hill?

OBAMA: Well, Governor Romney's right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that's your right. I mean, that's how our free market works. But I've made a different bet on American workers. You know, if we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.
-- President Barack Obama, October 22, 2012, during the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: First, Obama is again making a flawed argument about outsourcing: just because Romney outsourced jobs while a member of Bain Capital doesn't mean he'll do that as president, any more than Obama as president organized protests just like he did when he worked as a community organizer. Second, Obama is again questioning the patriotism of those who opposed the bailouts of GM and Chrysler by saying that he was betting on American workers (the implication being that those who opposed the bailouts were betting against American workers). Lastly, even if GM and Chrysler were to go out of business, there would still have been a US auto industry, because Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and other car companies would still have been operating car factories in the US and hiring US auto workers. To say we'd be buying (presumably, all or the bulk of our) cars from China is an exaggeration.

OBAMA: I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.
-- President Barack Obama, October 22, 2012, during the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Really? Every opinion Romney has offered on foreign policy has been wrong? Even on policies where he has agreed with Obama? This is an exaggeration.

BIDEN: "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Comment: I'm not sure how to clearly measure which set of sanctions is more crippling, but Biden's definitive statement here seems exaggerated. What about the sanctions on Cuba, or on North Korea? Haven't they been roughly as bad as the ones on Iran?

BIDEN: "[T]his is a president who’s gone out and done everything he has said he was going to do."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Comment: Again, another false statement, an exaggeration. Even just limited to the topics of foreign policy and defense, there are lots of things Obama promised to do that he has not done. He hasn't closed the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, or ended the use of military commissions to try terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, or reached an agreement with Russia to take more nuclear weapons off of "hair-trigger" alert, or gotten the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified, or doubled the budget of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or formed an international working group to aid Iraqi refugees, or doubled the number of Peace Corps volunteers, or recognized the Armenian genocide, all of which he promised to do.

RADDATZ: "I just want to you about right in the middle of the crisis. Governor Romney, and you’re talking about this again tonight, talked about the weakness; talked about apologies from the Obama administration. Was that really appropriate right in the middle of the crisis?"
RYAN: "On that same day, the Obama administration had the exact same position. Let’s recall that they disavowed their own statement that they had put out earlier in the day in Cairo. So we had the same position, but we will -- it’s never too early to speak out for our values. We should have spoken out right away when the green revolution was up and starting; when the mullahs in Iran were attacking their people. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people. We should always stand up for peace, for democracy, for individual rights. And we should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we’re cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They’re more brazen in their attacks, and are allies are less willing to -- "
BIDEN: "With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey."
RADDATZ: "And why is that so?"
BIDEN: "Because not a single thing he said is accurate."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Comment: Not a single thing? Biden may legitimately disagree with much of what Ryan said, but it's false -- an exaggeration -- to say none of it is accurate. For instance, the Obama administration did disavow the statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, so Ryan is correct about that, at least.

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?)?

"Let me tell you about how Barack saved more than 1 million American jobs. In our first days in office, General Motors and Chrysler were on the verge of liquidation. If the President didn’t act immediately, there wouldn’t be an industry left to save."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is at least an exaggeration, if not a distortion. It's far from clear that the U.S. auto industry would have disappeared if GM and Chrysler hadn't been bailed out: (1) Companies that go through bankruptcy don't necessarily go out of business, so GM and Chrysler might still have survived without a bailout; (2) Even if GM and Chrysler had gone out of business, there would still be Ford; (3) Besides Ford, there are many other car companies that have factories in the U.S., such as Toyota, Subaru, and Honda. These companies employ auto workers in the U.S., even if they aren't U.S. companies (much like Chrysler, which isn't a U.S. company anymore, either; post-bailout, it is now owned by Italy's Fiat).

"Let’s just say it straight: The two men seeking to lead this country over the next four years have fundamentally different visions, and a completely different value set."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Is this true? Obama and Romney have nothing in common when it comes to values? This isn't just an exaggeration?

"This decision has made America less free. We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the I.R.S."
-- Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME), July 7, 2012.

Comment: This is distortion and exaggeration. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "ObamaCare") is nothing like the Gestapo.

"Failed Policies" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Failed Policies"
ROMNEY: I look at what’s happened in the last four years and say, this has been a disappointment. We can do better than this. We don’t have to settle for how many months, 43 months with unemployment above 8 percent, 23 million Americans struggling to find a good job right now. There are 3 1/2 million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office. We don’t have to live like this. We can get this economy going again.
-- Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Romney and President Barack Obama.

Comment: Romney is essentially making the "failed policies" accusation against Obama.

OBAMA: He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was 1.80, 1.86 [dollars]. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse; because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney is now promoting. So it’s conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices, because with his policies we might be back in that same mess.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Again, Obama is making the "failed policies" accusation against Romney.

OBAMA: That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Obama is making the "failed policies" accusation against Romney. But he offers very little in the way of proof that Romney's policies are the policies "that got us" into the economic "mess" that we're in. He needs to provide detail to this argument, something more than just cum hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

ROMNEY: "And we talk about evidence. Look at the evidence of the last four years. It’s absolutely extraordinary. We’ve got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work in this country. It’s just -- we’ve got -- when the President took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today; economic growth this year slower than last year; and last year slower than the year before. Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today."
-- GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), October 3, 2012, during the first presidential debate between Romney and President Barack Obama.

Comment: Romney is making the "failed policies" assertion against Obama. But he's using "false causation" reasoning -- the same sort of faulty, simplistic argument Obama is using to dismiss Romney's economic policies. Would a different set of policies have yielded better results than Obama's? Again, experimental data would resolve the issue, but that's the kind of data that's hard to get in economics.

"I don't believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy, or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China. After all that we've been through, I don't believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand, or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We've been there, we've tried that, and we're not going back. We're moving forward."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is a caricature of what Republicans believe. They believe that some spending on education is wasteful (for instance, that subsidizing college education helps drive up tuition), and they believe that some financial regulations do more harm than good. This is also "failed policies" rhetoric.

"Because -- because in order to look like an acceptable, reasonable, moderate alternative to President Obama, they just didn’t say very much about the ideas they’ve offered over the last two years. They couldn’t, because they want to go back to the same, old policies that got us in trouble in the first place."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is "failed policies" rhetoric.

"Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price."
-- Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), September 4, 2012, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is "failed policies" rhetoric.

"In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class. Family income has fallen by $4,000, but health insurance premiums are higher, food prices are higher, utility bills are higher, and gasoline prices have doubled. Today more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before. Nearly one out of six Americans is living in poverty. … His policies have not helped create jobs, they have depressed them."
-- GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), August 30, 2012, at the Republican Party National Convention.

Comment: This is "failed policies" rhetoric, and perhaps faulty reasoning of the "false causation" sort, as well. It's not enough to state that there are bad circumstances after Obama took office. You have to show that there's a causal link, that the bad economic data is because of Obama being president.

"What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn't just spent and wasted -- it was borrowed, spent, and wasted."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), August 29, 2012, during his acceptance speech at the GOP National Convention.

Comment: This is the "failed policies" assertion.

"Now I know this simple truth, and I am not afraid to say it. Our ideas are right for America, and their ideas have failed America."
-- Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), August 28, 2012, giving the keynote address at the GOP National Convention.

Comment:  This is "failed policies" rhetoric.

MEET THE PRESS HOST, DAVID GREGORY: How much do you get your back up when you hear this president [Barack Obama] blame a lot of our economic condition on your brother, on his predecessor?
FORMER GOV. JEB BUSH (R-FL): I think it’s time for him to move on. I mean, he -- look, the guy was dealt a difficult hand, no question about it. But he’s had three years. His policies have failed. And rather than blame others, which I know we were taught that that was kind of unbecoming, over time you just can’t keep doing that, maybe offer some fresh new solutions to the problems that we face.
-- NBC's Meet the Press, August 26, 2012.

Comment: Obama's predecessor was President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush's brother. Jeb Bush says it's unbecoming to blame others, yet he has no problem saying Obama's policies have failed.

"His view of how we grow an economy is just contradicted by the facts. He has embraced an approach that we tried for almost a decade, and it didn't work. And he's now looking to double down on it."
-- President Barack Obama, August 23, 2012, during interview with the Associated Press published August 25, 2012.

"[GOP presidential candidate Mitt] Romney and [GOP vice presidential candidate Paul] Ryan have put ideology ahead of what's right. … The embrace of an ideologue like Paul Ryan may appeal to the Republican Party's Tea Party base, but it will completely alienate independent voters, especially in battleground states. … Throughout this campaign, Mitt Romney has lacked a clear vision. Now he's embraced a radical ideologue with a dangerous one. This election is absolutely a choice between two visions for our country's future. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have solidified their roles as rubber stamps for the reckless and failed economic theories of the past."
-- Commentator and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, August 12, 2012.

Comment: There's a lot going on here. First, the "ideology" accusation. Then the claim that Romney and Ryan put ideology "ahead of what's right", as if they know what's right and best, and instead do something else. Rather, Romney and Ryan have a different idea of what policies are good for the country, different from Brazile and other Democrats. Then there's the accusation that Ryan is a radical. Finally, there is the "failed policies" accusation.

"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: back to the failed top-down policies that crashed our economy."
-- Ad from the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama (D-IL), August 11, 2012.

"[W]hat’s holding us back right now is not the lack of big ideas. It’s what’s going on in Washington -- this uncompromising view that the only path forward is to go back to the same top-down economics that got us into this mess in the first place. My opponent’s entire plan, his whole plan for economic renewal, is more tax cuts for the wealthy. More regulation -- eliminating regulations for banks and corporations that we put in place after the crisis. Cutting more investments in things like education and research. And somehow this is supposed to create jobs and prosperity for everybody. That’s what Mitt Romney believes. That’s what his allies in Washington believe. But here’s the problem -- we tried that and it didn’t work. ... Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan -- and it worked. That’s the difference."
-- President Barack Obama (D-IL), July 24, 2012.

Comment: Were Obama and Romney's plans tried under identical circumstances? If not, then how can Obama be certain that it's the policies, the plans, that make the difference and not something else? Obama's remarks probably also qualify as a caricature of the policies of former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), since Romney we probably say, for instance, that he wants money to be better spent on education, rather than poorly invested.

"The Joint Economic Committee (JEC), spearheaded by Texas congressman Kevin Brady, put out a report saying that the Obama recovery now ranks dead last in modern times. That’s a real milestone in the post-WWII era. It’s ten out of ten for both jobs and economic growth. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real GDP has expanded only 6.7 percent over the eleven-quarter recovery since the recession ended. The Reagan recovery at the same stage had increased by 17.6 percent. The Clinton recovery by 8.7 percent. As for jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of private-sector jobs has grown by only 4.1 percent since the cyclical low point. Reagan’s record was 10.7 percent. So much for Obamanomics. Didn’t work. Still isn’t working."
-- Commentator Larry Kudlow, July 6, 2012.

Comment: Would different policies, implemented in the same circumstances, have had better effects? Did Obama's policies prevent things from being worse?

"You would think $1 trillion in spending stimulus and $2.5 trillion of Fed pump-priming would produce an economy a whole lot stronger than 1.9 percent gross domestic product, which was the revised first-quarter number. And you'd think all that government spending would deliver a whole lot more jobs than 69,000 in May. But it hasn't happened. The Keynesian government-spending model has proven a complete failure. It's the Obama model. And it has produced such an anemic recovery that, frankly, at 2 percent growth, we're back on the front end of a potential recession. If anything goes wrong -- like another blow-up in Europe -- there's no safety margin to stop a new recession."
-- Commentator Larry Kudlow, June 2, 2012.

Comment: Would different policies, implemented in the same circumstances, have had better effects? Did Obama's policies prevent things from being worse?

"That is why the parallels between 1980 and today are so striking. Now, as then, we face not just a failed President, but a failed ideology. We face a pessimistic mood in the nation's capital, a belief that our best days are over and the only thing to do left is to manage the nation’s decline. But we have the same opportunity today, to reject this defeatist attitude and embrace a positive reform agenda capable of kick-starting a new era of prosperity, an American renewal, a comeback."
-- Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-WI), May 22, 2012, at the Perspectives on Leadership Forum held at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.