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.

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