Sunday, February 15, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: February 15, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"Now, it’s pretty commonsense that an education bill should actually improve education. But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite."
-- President Barack Obama, weekly address, February 14, 2015.

Comment: Obama is indulging in "common sense" rhetoric. Naturally, Obama and Republicans disagree about which policies will improve education, though Obama's remarks make it sound as if Republicans are trying to do the opposite.

Politicians talk about the minimum wage because voters heart the minimum wage. … why is this administration obsessed with raising the wages of a fraction of 1% of the country that is already living above the poverty line? … Labor unions, like Trumka’s AFL-CIO, universally throw their support behind proposals to hike the minimum wage. … A hike in the minimum wage isn’t just a hike in the minimum wage. It’s a hike in the union wage. But, the progressive union slush fund giveaway act has a terrible ring to it- so minimum wage it is. … What was their goal? Unemployment and of course, eugenics. Sidney Webb, English economist and Co-Founder of the Fabian Society in the early 1900s, believed that establishing a minimum wage above the value of “the unemployables” as he called them, would lock them out of the market thus eliminating them as a class. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.” [attributed to] Sidney Webb … Many in America shared this belief as well. Around the same time, a Princeton economist said this: “It is much better to enact a minimum-wage law even if it deprives these unfortunates of work, better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Who was that Princeton economist? Royal Meeker, U.S. Commissioner of Labor, under Woodrow Wilson.
-- Pundit Stu Burguiere, February 13, 2015.

Comment: Burguiere is making an ad hominem argument – using guilt by association – against the supporters of the minimum wage. Just because people have had self-serving or vicious reasons for supporting the minimum wage – for instance, to pad union paychecks, or to eliminate the lower class – doesn't mean there are no respectable reasons for supporting the same position. Even if the minimum wage is bad policy, is it really the case that everyone who is in favor of it is simply trying to fund unions or engage in eugenics? That's just demonizing.

"There is a constitutional scholar, if you can call him that. … His name is Cass Sunstein. … He is so offended by the Bill of Rights, he's so troubled by the Bill of Rights, so bothered by it, that he renamed them. He called the Bill of Rights the charter of negative liberties. hen I first heard that, I said, "How in the world is liberty negative?" But I soon found out I was not looking at it the same way Cass Sunstein and practically every other leftist looks at it. … the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, limit what government can do. Because the Founders knew the only thing government's gonna do is take away rights, limit them, get in the way. And the first 10 amendments were specific in what the government cannot do. … How do you look at that and see it as a negative, as Cass Sunstein and his fellow left-wing constitutional scholars do? I admit when I first came across it, I was baffled. How in the world can something as beautiful, as meaningful, as unique, as brilliant as the Bill of Rights be seen as a negative? Well, if you happen to believe that the government is all-powerful, the government is the center of the universe, the government determines everything, then the Bill of Rights you would hate. You would look at the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments as some of the biggest things in your way, if you believe in big government. If you believe government has the answer to everything, for everybody, then the Constitution is a problem. That's why these people call it a charter of negative liberties, and I'm telling you, this is why Obama is animated and does the things he does. He does not like the limits the Constitution places on him. He doesn't like the limitations in the Bill of Rights on him as president. … So the first 10 amendments is a charter -- the whole Constitution, actually, but the first 10 amendments becomes a charter of negative liberties because, from the standpoint of liberals, it's negative 'cause it tells Democrats and liberals what they can't do to people. That's why they hate it, and that's why they are forever trying to erase them, obscure them, water them down, 'cause they don't like the limitations on them. They don't like the limitations on the size of government, the power of government, the reach of government. They want to have more power than your freedom."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 13, 2015, on his radio show.

Comment: Limbaugh is distorting both Sunstein and President Barack Obama's views, effectively demonizing them as being opposed to liberty. The term "negative" is ambiguous in this context. It is common in discussions about moral and political philosophy to make a distinction between negative and positive rights, or negative and positive obligations. That is, to say I have a negative right to freedom of speech is to say that others MUST NOT restrict me in expressing my political views. Similarly, to say I have a positive right to health care is to say that others MUST provide me health care. The positive/negative distinction comes down to whether people are obligated to DO something or NOT DO something. But "negative" also can mean "bad", and Limbaugh is (falsely and derisively) making it sound like Obama and Sunstein are saying that negative rights (such as freedom of speech) are bad things.

HOWARD DEAN: This [his declining to answer question on evolution] is a particular problem for Scott Walker which has not been an issue yet but it will. Scott Walker, were he to become president, would be the first president in many generations that did not have a college degree. He's never finished. The issue here is not just an issue of dancing around the question of evolution for political reasons, the issue is how well educated is this guy? And that's a problem.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Are you serious?
DEAN: I am absolutely serious.
DONNY DEUTSCH: I like that. I like that line: "are you serious?" He didn't finish his senior year so he didn't get all that stuff.
SCARBOROUGH: Are you serious? You're saying he might not be qualified because he didn't finish college?
DEAN: I think there are going to be a lot of people who worry about that.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you worry about people that don't finish college?
DEAN: I worry about people being President of the United States not knowing much about the world and not knowing much about science. I worry about that.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, God. Let's name the people that didn't finish college that have changed this world.
DEAN: Harry Truman, who was a great president, there's no question about it.
SCARBOROUGH: Did Bill Gates finish college?
DEAN: I think Bill Gates is a little on a different --nobody is accusing Scott Walker of having the intellect of Bill Gates.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, nobody is accusing Scott Walker of being dumb because he didn't graduate from college except you.
DEAN: I didn't say dumb, I said unknowledgeable.
-- Former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT), February 12, 2015, appearing on Morning Joe with host Joe Scarborough and pundit Donny Deutsch.

Comment: This is very poor reasoning. First, how does the fact that someone lacks a college degree make it more likely that they don't know much "about the world and about science"? Second, as Deutsch points out, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) did go to college, but didn't graduate. Does that mean Walker gained no knowledge while at college?

CALLER: Anyway. I have been trying to understand the endgame that Obama has for the Middle East, and I believe he has one. I don't think he's just going at it haphazardly. You know as well as I do, even better, I'm sure, everything that this president has done over the past six years and hasn't done in the Middle East, from pulling out of Iraq, dropping sanctions, negotiating with Iran, what he did Egypt, Libya, and now Afghanistan, surrendered and left three embassies, and now what he's doing with Israel as well. I ask myself a question: Who is the ultimate benefactor in all of this? I only come up with one answer, and that's a nuclear powered Iran. When that happens, they control that entire region, and then he can pull completely out of the Middle East, no US soldiers, no embassies, complete evacuation and leave it under the control of Iran. And I think the Democrats would love that.

RUSH: Okay. It's a fascinating concept. I can't deny what the guy said. … And the negotiations that are taking place with Iran, I hate to say, our caller is right. … The last significant story I saw on nuclear Iran, the Iranians were begging the US to finally get back to the table to get a deal. They're begging us to come back, they're so close to a deal. Begging us to come back. You couple that with, Obama has said many times, echoing Ron Paul, by the way, "Who are we to say a country can't have nuclear weapons?" … if it's been admitted that Obama lied to us about gay marriage, then when Obama says who are we to say that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon, and this is the guy in charge of negotiating with them? … I know Valerie Jarrett was born in Iran. I'm not saying anything else. I'm just saying she was born in Iran.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 12, 2015. Limbaugh's comments were in response to a caller from Southwest Oklahoma named "Larry". Limbaugh referenced David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, who Axelrod claims misled Americans regarding his position on gay marriage. Jarrett is also a senior advisor to Obama.

Comment: The caller is demonizing Obama and Democrats, accusing them of actively wanting Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and dominate the Middle East, and Limbaugh is joining in on the demonization (at the very least, Limbaugh does nothing to protest it). Limbaugh uses guilt by association to demonize Jarrett, as well.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pushing back against the suggestion that Democrats are risking a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in order to protect illegal immigrants.

Senate Democrats have filibustered a House-passed DHS appropriations bill that would block Obama’s executive amnesty — which provides legal status and work permits for millions of illegal immigrants — three times. And the path forward in the funding fight remains unclear.

According to Pelosi, however, it is up to Republicans to bring up a “clean” DHS spending bill, or one free of riders defunding Obama’s executive orders, to the floor.

“Republicans should stop holding our homeland security hostage and bring forward a clean long-term funding bill immediately,” she said.

Pelosi rejected the idea that a short-term continuing resolution would be an “end” to the stalemate. The “end” must be a clean bill, she argued.

Instead Pelosi accused the House Republicans of endangering the American people with their efforts to defund Obama’s executive actions.

“House Republicans refuse to admit the dangerous collapse of their anti-immigrant grandstanding,” she said.
-- From a Breitbart News story, February 12, 2015.

Comment: Pelosi is demonizing House Republicans by accusing them of being anti-immigrant, when the refusal to fund the DHS is motivated by opposition to President Barack Obama's executive order regarding illegal immigrants. In addition, Pelosi is indulging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric.

"It has been a remarkable news day today, lots to get to. Today something truly rare happened. We got a look at the inner workings of a pre-meditated, politically calculated, ends justify the means lie. It involves candidate – and then president – Barack Obama knowingly, willfully misleading the public. Now, no one died, it is not a case of corruption. It is politics at its most elemental and morally treacherous. And it comes courtesy of Barack Obama's longtime advisor, David Axelrod, in his new book. The headline: "Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage in 2008. A striking admission of political dishonesty." Of course, many suspected at the time that candidate Obama was just pretending to oppose full marriage equality in his first presidential race, because he thought the country wasn't ready to vote for a presidential candidate who supported it. Some even believed he never would have been elected president in 2008 if he had supported gay marriage. … Quoting Time Magazine, "As a state senate candidate in 1996, Obama filled out a questionnaire saying, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."" … Bear in mind that President Barack Obama didn't voice support for same-sex marriage until 2012, 16 years later."
-- Pundit Chris Hayes, February 11, 2015. Hayes is referring to David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, who Axelrod claims misled Americans regarding his position on gay marriage.

Comment: Hayes is saying (or, perhaps, is passing along a claim from Axelrod) that Obama didn't simply flip-flop on gay marriage, but that he lied about his position on gay marriage. Hayes is saying that the lie was a means justified by the end of getting elected president.

Responding to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D–MD) remarks that, “so many people come to government knowing that they are not going to make the kind of money they would make in the private sector but they come to government to feed their souls”, Glenn Beck criticizes this as the view that government is a "religion" to some people, and that government officials are "priests".
-- Pundit Glenn Beck on his radio show, February 11, 2015.

Comment: Beck is demonizing the people Cummings is speaking about. Why can't Cummings' remarks simply be understood as stating that some people view government work as an opportunity to serve others?

BARACK OBAMA: … my sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that — having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage — it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system and that it’s time to recognize that, under the equal protection clause of the United States, same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else.
BEN SMITH: There are a few officials in Alabama, starting with Judge Roy Moore, but also a number of probate judges, who are resisting that. … Is there anything you’d say to him?
OBAMA: You know, I think that the courts at the federal level will have something to say to him.
-- President Barack Obama, during BuzzFeed interview, released February 11, 2015, with Ben Smith.

Comment: This seems like a "not my decision" evasion. Granted, the federal courts will rule on the matter, but Obama has an opinion on it, what's stopping him from voicing that opinion to Moore?

QUESTION: Yesterday, the President in his news conference raised some eyebrows by saying that the victims of the shooting in Paris at the kosher deli were random. Your colleague at the White House has apparently said something similar today. Is that really – I mean, does the Administration really believe that these people – that the victims of this attack were not singled out because they were of a particular faith?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know – I believe if I remember the victims specifically – they were not all victims of one background or one nationality. So I think what they mean by that is – I don't know that they spoke to the targeting of the grocery store or that specifically, but the individuals who were impacted.
QUESTION: Well, I mean – right, but when the Secretary went and paid respects to it, he was with a member of the Jewish community there. Was --
MS. PSAKI: Naturally, given that is – the grocery store is one that --
QUESTION: Well, don’t you think that the target may be – even if all the – even if the victims came from different backgrounds or different religions, different nationalities, wasn’t the – the store itself was the target, was it not? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: But that’s different than the individuals being – I don’t have any more to really --
QUESTION: All right. Well, does the Administration believe that this was an anti-Jewish – or an attack on the Jewish community in Paris?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to speak on behalf of French authorities and what they believe was the situation at play here.
QUESTION: But – yeah, but if a guy goes into a kosher market and starts shooting it up, you don’t – he’s not looking for Buddhists, is he?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Matt, I think it’s relevant that, obviously, the individuals in there who were shopping and working at the store --
QUESTION: Who does one – who does the Administration expect shops at a kosher – I mean, I might, but an attacker going into a store that is clearly identified as being one of – as identified with one specific faith – I’m not sure I can understand how it is that you can’t say that this was a targeted attack on the Jewish --
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more for you, Matt. It’s an issue for the French Government to address.
-- State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, February 10, 2015, responding to a questioner (Matt Lee of the Associated Press?) during the daily press briefing. The question pertains to President Barack Obama's comments in a Vox interview the previous day about "a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris", a reference to the January, 9, 2015, attack on a Jewish market in Porte de Vincennes (Paris), France, by Amedy Coulibaly.

Comment: Psaki is using the "not my decision" evasion here to avoid stating whether the attack on the market was motivated by anti-Semitism. Obviously, the police in France will lead the investigation on what happened, but does that mean no one else, including American officials, can voice a position on what motivated the attack? Hasn't the Obama administration commented on the motive behind attacks in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world?

Pundit Glenn Beck worries that some critics of the Republican decision to defund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration will "revel" if a terrorist gets across the border, saying, "they will enjoy a jihadist getting through".
-- Glenn Beck Radio Program, February 9, 2015, during an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Comment: This is "rooting for failure" rhetoric, albeit hypothetical or speculative.

EZRA KLEIN: To turn a bit towards politics, at this point, according to the polls, you are the most polarizing president really since we began polling. … In your State of the Union, you struck back at critics who say that the idea of healing some of these divisions is naïve or impossible. So when you welcome your successor into office, what would you tell them is worth trying that you think can still work, that would reduce the polarization?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, there are a couple of things that in my mind, at least, contribute to our politics being more polarized than people actually are. And I think most people just sense this in their daily lives. Everybody's got a family member or a really good friend from high school who is on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. And yet, we still love them, right? … But a lot of it has to do with the fact that a) the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts and a common worldview the way we did 20, 30 years ago. And that just keeps on accelerating, you know. … Gerrymandering contributes to it. There's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts, to even bother trying to appeal. And a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money. … So my advice to a future president is increasingly try to bypass the traditional venues that create divisions and try to find new venues within this new media that are quirkier, less predictable.
-- President Barack Obama, during domestic policy Vox interview, released February 9, 2015, with Ezra Klein.

Comment: At no point during the discussion of polarization does Obama offer the straightforward suggestion that there needs to be less name-calling and incivility in politics, let alone that he himself needs to do more to improve his record on civil debate. This omission seems to be along the lines of either the "only my opponent" caricature, or the "not my job to police civility" evasion.

No comments: