Sunday, February 8, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: February 8, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
To be crystal clear: this is not a fight over the fine-grain imperfections of Obama's historical analogy or over the implications for US foreign policy. It is a fight over whether it's okay to hate Muslims, to apply sweeping and negative stereotypes to the one-fifth of humanity that follows a particular religion. A number of Americans, it seems, are clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry and are furious at Obama for trying to take that away from them.
-- Pundit Max Fisher, February 7, 2015, responding to criticism of President Barack Obama for comments he made two days earlier at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Comment: This is demonizing. Granted, some of the criticisms that have been made of Obama's 2015 National Prayer Breakfast have been unfair, but it's false and derisive to say the criticism (even the unfair criticism, let alone the fair criticism) is driven by anti-Muslim bigotry.

At a moment of heightened concern that terrorists in the Middle East might stage or inspire attacks on U.S. soil, the GOP-controlled House and Senate are unable to agree on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. If the party's aim is to show Americans it is ready to govern, we are witnessing an epic fail. Rather than ensure the smooth operation of the agency charged with keeping the nation safe, Republicans would rather argue about a separate issue -- immigration -- and struggle over tactics for tilting at windmills. … The problem is that Republican conservatives want to use the Homeland Security funding bill to reverse President Obama's executive actions allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay without fear of deportation.
-- Pundit Eugene Robinson, February 6, 2015, responding to Republican proposals to defund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to pressure President Barack Obama to undo his recent executive order on immigration reform.

Comment: Robinson is criticizing Republicans for using one matter (i.e., the funding of DHS) to influence another "unrelated" matter (Obama's order on undocumented immigrants). But, are they really unrelated, given that it's the DHS that is implementing the order? More to the point, even if it is an unrelated issue, doesn't compromise in the democratic process routinely involve unrelated issues?

"This man is a nihilist and a narcissist and an extremist. … What Obama is saying and doing is the lowest of the low now. He really is not a leader of a great people. He's not a leader of a great nation. He is stuck in his own ideology."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, February 5, 2015, responding to President Barack Obama's speech earlier that day at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Comment: First, Levin is indulging in "extremist" and "ideologue" rhetoric. More, however much Levin may disagree with Obama's speech — he warned against denigrating Islam on the basis of recent terror attacks by pointing out the history of violence in Christianity — is Obama really behaving on par with the "lowest of the low"? Obama's speech was as bad as Hitler and the Holocaust? Of course not, so Levin is exaggerating at best, if not just outright demonizing Obama.

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama made a reference to Christianity that infuriated some conservatives.

Speaking in general, Mr. Obama began by condemning zealots who hijack religion “for their own murderous ends.” He cited the recent massacre at a Pakistani school carried out by the Taliban, the assault on Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris perpetrated by radical Islamists, and the terrible murders carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS or ISIS).

Then the president said this: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

This did not go down well with right-leaning pundits.

“ISIS chops off heads, incinerates hostages, kills gays, enslaves girls. Obama: Blame the Crusades,” tweeted Michelle Malkin, conservative talker and author.

Right-side radio host Rush Limbaugh made the Christianity reference the subject of one of his segments on Thursday’s show.

“Why would you attempt to downplay Islamist extremism?” Mr. Limbaugh said. “Why would you attempt to put in perspective the actions taken today by Al Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram and the Khorasan Group and all of the rest of them by claiming that just as many atrocities have taken place in the name of Christ?”

The president specifically noted that the violent acts of Islam are carried out by “twisted” individuals. But his reference to Christianity, the Crusades, and Jim Crow was less about individuals and more about the religion as a whole, writes Noah Rothman at the right-leaning Hot Air.

“The president, and many of his allies on the left, frequently trip over themselves to emphasize – correctly, as it happens – that ISIS’s acts of brutality are not archetypical Islamic behavior.... But to assert this and in the same breath suggest that Christianity was also a violent, expansionist religion a mere 800 years ago is a contradiction. Why make this comparison if ISIS is not representative of Islam?” Mr. Rothman writes.
-- From a Christian Science Monitor story, February 5, 2015, by Peter Grier titled, "Why did Obama compare Crusades to Islamic State at prayer breakfast?" The story concerns President Barack Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier that day.

Comment: This is an instance of "comparing" rhetoric. Obama does not compare Christianity and Islam in the sense of equating the two and saying one is just as good or bad as the other. Nor does he say that the Christian Crusades are just as bad as ISIS. Rather, Obama is arguing that, if acts of violence done in the name of Islam are sufficient to taint the faith itself – rather than be seen as a distortion of Islam – then the same argument applies to Christianity and every other religion that has a history of violence. Obama is arguing that neither Christianity nor Islam is inherently bad, that they only result in such violence when they are "twisted". At no point did Obama say the violence of the Crusades is responsible for the violence of ISIS, that is a distortion on Malkin's part. Rothman's assertion, like Malkin's is also a straw man: nothing in Obama's argument relies on ISIS being representative of all Islam, only that they be people who are distorting Islam. Yet another straw man is Limbaugh's allegation that Obama said "just as many atrocities" have taken place in the name of Christianity as Islam, which Obama never said. Obama himself, however, is guilty of knocking over a straw man, too: much of the current criticism against Islam isn't based on the notion that Islam is inherently worse than Christianity. Rather, it's based on the observation that, these days, Islam is much more likely than Christianity and other religions to be "twisted and distorted" to justify violence.

"There have been suggestions that we will not fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for patrolling our borders, as well as keeping our air travel safe, as well as patrolling our coasts -- there’s been talk about not funding that department because of the disagreement around immigration reform. There’s no logic to that position. Particularly for Republicans who claim that they are interested in strong border security, why would you cut off your nose to spite your face by defunding the very operations that are involved in making sure that we’ve got strong border security, particularly at a time when we’ve got real concerns about countering terrorism?"
-- President Barack Obama, February 4, 2015, responding to Republican proposals to defund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to pressure Obama to undo his recent executive order on immigration reform.

Comment: Obama is accusing the GOP of being hypocritical in defunding an agency that they support. But Republicans oppose some of the things DHS is doing under Obama's executive order on immigration reform. So they might see it as worth it to defund some of the good DHS does if it helps undo some of the bad they see DHS doing. Couldn't the GOP just as easily argue that there's no point funding an agency that's doing things they strongly disagree with? It might not be the calculation Obama would make, but it hardly amounts to a position that has "no logic". Obama has threatened to veto any budget that funds the government but defunds the Affordable Care Act (AKA, "Obamacare"); is that a position with "no logic" to it, that "cuts off his nose to spite his face" given that Obama values much of that government spending? This really comes down to the issue of compromise, with people having different views on whether a proposed compromise is a worthwhile bargain or not.

"Scott Walker could be wrong on immigration. He could be wrong on global warming, to the base. The base may not like his view on this or that, but they're gonna support him because he is fighting back. That's what has been missing. The Republican Party will not even acknowledge the true nature of our enemies. I can't tell you how frustrated that has made the Republican base and then some. Not just the Republican base upset. There are other Republican voters who may not be Tea Party people, but they're also fed up that there is no fight back, that there's no push back against Obama or the Democrats or any of their policy ideas. Scott Walker has epitomized it and that's why he's just running away with every poll right now. I don't know if it's gonna hold up when it comes time to actually get in the primaries and these polls get translated to votes and that sort of thing. It's way premature on that. I'm just telling you why he's scoring so well now. The Tea Party, since they founded themselves in 2010, there has been this burning, this burning passion and desire for their representatives to stand up and fight back, which means properly identify them, not letting them get away with stealing the identity."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 2, 2015, referring to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric. Is it really true that Republicans haven't been responding and pushing back against criticisms from President Barack Obama and other Democrats?

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