Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Platitudes Examples: 2012

"On Friday, we learned that more than two dozen people were killed when a gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. … As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years. An elementary school in Newtown. A shopping mall in Oregon. A house of worship in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own. So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics."
-- President Barack Obama, December 15, 2012, during the president's weekly address, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This is a platitude (or maybe several platitudes). Of course, everyone wants to do something "meaningful" to prevent these tragedies. But what? Different people have different beliefs about gun policy, and about the best way to stop shootings like this. What is it Obama is referring to when he talks about "politics" and how are we supposed to put it aside? How exactly are we supposed to "come together"? Are people supposed to give up on their beliefs about what amounts to good policy on guns? Is this basically a call to get rid of "ideology"?

"We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. … As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
-- President Barack Obama, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This is a platitude (or maybe several platitudes). Of course, everyone wants to do something "meaningful" to prevent these tragedies. But what? Different people have different beliefs about gun policy, and about the best way to stop shootings like this. What is it Obama is referring to when he talks about "politics" and how are we supposed to put it aside? How exactly are we supposed to "come together"? Are people supposed to give up on their beliefs about what amounts to good policy on guns? Is this basically a call to get rid of "ideology"?

"And by the way, what we shouldn’t do -- I just got to say this -- what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We shouldn’t be doing that. These so-called “right to work” laws, they don't have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. We don't want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. So we’ve got to get past this whole situation where we manufacture crises because of politics. That actually leads to less certainty, more conflict, and we can't all focus on coming together to grow."
-- President Barack Obama, December 10, 2012, speaking at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, MI.

Comment: Obama is indulging in "politicizing" rhetoric. How is it "just politics" to support so-called "right to work" laws? Are there no legitimate non-"political" reasons for supporting such laws? It's not at all plausible to support them on the basis that they increase employment, or because they give people the freedom to hold an occupation without having to join a union? Maybe Obama disagrees with these arguments, but are they bad arguments to the point that the position itself can only be supported by people who are engaging in a crass version of politics? Of course not, that's a caricature. Also, it's a platitude for Obama to say that we want a race "to the top" and not the bottom. Of course we all want that, what we disagree about is which policies will yield that result. Finally, Obama indulges in "unify the country" rhetoric by calling for us to come together. How are we supposed to do that? In particular, how are we supposed to unify when so many people -- Obama included -- are engaging in name-calling?

"Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about deadlines we’re facing on jobs and taxes and investments. But with so much noise and so many opinions flying around, it can be easy to lose sight of what this debate is really about. It’s not about which political party comes out on top, or who wins or loses in Washington. It’s about making smart decisions that will have a real impact on your lives and the lives of Americans all across the country."
-- President Barack Obama, December 8, 2012, during the president's weekly address.

Comment: This is a platitude. Of course, everyone understands that the debate about the so-called "fiscal cliff" concerns matters that will affect many or all Americans.

"Here’s what we know about the political context of our fiscal challenges: … The American people, whose trust in government has plunged to near-historic lows, want the parties to resolve their differences through an approach that requires compromise on both sides. … The American people are sick of delay. They are sick of pretend solutions that address the politics of our problems rather than the problems themselves. … Getting this done will require a rebirth of leadership. Specifically: Tell the people the full truth. … Tell us how big the problem is … And once and for all, agree on the facts, so that we can spend our time on the real issues. Govern for the future. … Put the country first. … Finally: work together. … there are only two options: bipartisan compromise and success, or partisan gridlock and failure. There is no third choice, and it’s time for our leaders -- all of them -- to stop pretending that there is. … It’s time for real leadership. And that means it’s time for truth."
-- Political advisor Mark McKinnon and political advisor William Galston, December 4, 2012, in jointly-written article, "With the Fiscal Cliff Looming, It’s Time to Take Politics Off the Table".

Comment: First, McKinnon and Galston are indulging in "Americans want" rhetoric. What is their evidence for their claims about what the American people want or are sick of? Second, what do they mean about "pretend solutions that address the politics" of the situation? They don't specify, though it sounds like "politicizing" rhetoric. What do they believe that politicians are doing that isn't responsive to legitimate aspects of the problems we face? Third, the demand that we should agree on the facts is difficult to follow. The world isn't an open book, we have legitimate disagreements about what's happened in the past (and why it happened) as well as what's likely to happen in the future. This is especially true in social sciences, such as economics. Finally, McKinnon and Galston are indulging in platitudes -- "govern for the future", "put the country first", and "work together" -- without giving much in the way of specifics about how to do so. Are politicians really not putting country first in their disagreements on these issues? Again, how are they supposed to "take politics off the table"?

"And one of the benefits of traveling and getting out of the White House is it gives you a chance to have a conversation with the American people about what kind of country do we want to be –- and what kind of country do we want to leave to our kids. I believe America only thrives when we have a strong and growing middle class. And I believe we’re at our best when everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead. That's what I believe. … Now, on this last point, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk in Washington and in the media about the deadlines that we’re facing on jobs and taxes and investments. This is not some run-of-the-mill debate. This isn’t about which political party can come out on top in negotiations. We’ve got important decisions to make that are going to have a real impact on businesses and families all across the country. … Let’s keep our economy on the right track. Let’s stand up for the American belief that each of us have our own dreams and aspirations, but we’re also in this together, and we can work together in a responsible way; that we’re one people, and we’re one nation. That’s what this country is about."
-- President Barack Obama, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Much of this is platitudes, things that everyone believes, rather than beliefs that separate Obama from his opponents. Also, Obama is indulging in "unify the country" rhetoric without specifying in detail how or around what we should unify.

"There’s been a lot of talk here in Washington about the deadlines we’re facing on taxes and deficits -- these deadlines are going to be coming up very soon, in the coming weeks. But today is important because I want to make sure everybody understands this debate is not just about numbers. It's a set of major decisions that are going to affect millions of families all across this country in very significant ways."
-- President Barack Obama, November 28, 2012.

Comment: This is a platitude that politicians frequently indulge in. They say of a fiscal issue, "this is about people, not numbers on a page". Who doesn't realize that?

"[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?

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

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

"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?

"If you reject the notion that this nation's promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election. … if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: These are platitudes. Of course, we all believe that "America's promise" (whatever it is) should be for everyone, not just the few. However, Republicans and Democrats disagree about what policies do the best job of creating equal opportunity. And we all want fairness, we just disagree about what constitutes fairness and about which policies will attain it. To say otherwise is just derisive caricature.

"I want a man who believes with no doubt that we can build a new American dream economy, driven by innovation and creativity, by education and, yes, by cooperation."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is a platitude. We all want a president who will improve the economy via innovation, creativity, education and cooperation. The question is, what policies and what actions does that involve? That's where Democrats and Republicans disagree.

"You see, we believe that "We’re all in this together" is a far better philosophy than "You’re on your own." … We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: These are also platitudes. Everyone believes that we're all in this together, but we disagree about the details of our obligations: such as our obligations to take care of others, to be fair, and to be self-sufficient (so that we are not an unnecessary burden on others). And we all think we should invest in education and infrastructure, etc. The question is, what are good ways of investing in these things, so that we avoid spending money wastefully on them? That's where Republicans and Democrats disagree.

Referring to her husband, President Barack Obama, "[H]e believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care...that's what my husband stands for."
-- First Lady Michelle Obama, September 4, 2012, at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is a platitude. Everyone -- Democrats and Republicans -- believes that women are capable of making choices about their own bodies and health care. But, on the issue of abortion (which is what Obama is referring to, here), people disagree whether it involves taking the life of a different person. If abortion involves killing a person (i.e., the fetus or unborn child), then the choice to have an abortion is not purely a decision about the body of whoever is having an abortion. If the fetus or unborn child is not a person, however, then the choice to have an abortion is purely a decision someone is making about their own body. (A similar platitude would be if an opponent of abortion said, "We believe children should be protected." Everyone believes that, the question is whether abortion kills a child.)

"Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can't do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow."
-- Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), September 4, 2012, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is a platitude. Republicans, like Democrats, agree that there are some things people can't do alone and need government for. But they disagree with Democrats on which things people need government for, and how government should provide certain things. To say otherwise is a derisive distortion.

"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?

"You might have asked yourself if these last years are really the America we want, the America won for us by the greatest generation. Does the America we want borrow a trillion dollars from China? No. Does it fail to find the jobs that are needed for 23 million people and for half the kids graduating from college? No. Are its schools lagging behind the rest of the developed world? No. And does the America we want succumb to resentment and division? We know the answer."
-- GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), August 30, 2012, at the Republican Party National Convention.

Comment: Of course the answer to these questions is obvious, because we all agree that we don't want to borrow more money or have high unemployment or bad schools or resentment and division. It's nothing more than a platitude to state that we don't want these things. The question is how to avoid them, what policies will do the best job?

"I believe we have to keep working to create an America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try. That's what's at stake in November. That's what is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States of America."
-- President Barack Obama, August 12, 2012, at the Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago, IL

Comment: Isn't this a platitude? Who doesn't believe this? This seems like an attempt by Obama to derisively caricature his opponents as not wanting some people to succeed based on what they look like, where they come from, what their last name is, etc.

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