Monday, February 2, 2015

Rhetoric: "Distractions"

One of the ways a politician or a pundit will dismiss a topic is by calling it a "distraction".

The idea is that discussion of the topic is somehow taking our attention away from more pressing issues.

This is a legitimate concern in principle, but sometimes the topic being labelled a "distraction" is actually an entirely appropriate focus for our attention. At the very least, it's usually worth debating which things we should devote our attention to at the expense of what other things.

We shouldn't let people get away with dismissing as a "distraction" something that's actually worth our time to talk about.

"I know Donald hates it when anyone points out how hollow his sales pitch really is. And I guess my speech yesterday must have gotten under his skin because right away he lashed out on Twitter with outlandish lies and conspiracy theories and he did the same in his speech today. Now think about it. He's going after me personally because he has no answers on the substance. In fact, he doubled down on being the king of debt, so all he can do is try to distract us. That's even why he's attacking my faith. Sigh. And, of course, attacking a philanthropic foundation that saves and improves lives around the world. It's no surprise that he doesn't understand these things. The Clinton Foundation helps poor people around the world get access to life-saving AIDS medicine. Donald Trump uses poor people around the world to produce his line of suits and ties. "
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 22, 2016, referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: The fact that Clinton may have "struck a nerve" (i.e., got under his skin) in what she said about Trump in no way proves that he has "no answers on substance"; that's a point she has to prove by other means. It may be unfair when Trump says, for instance, that "there's nothing out there" when it comes to Clinton's religious affiliation, but that doesn't prove his policy positions are baseless. Do we get to conclude the same thing about Clinton whenever she says something false or otherwise out-of-bounds? That she has no sound arguments to defend her policies? Second, Clinton is using "distractions" rhetoric. Last, Clinton is deriding Trump, suggesting that he doesn't understand philanthropy, or that he is somehow exploiting or abusing foreign workers.

The purpose of releasing the partial transcript of the shooter's interaction with 911 operators was to provide transparency, while remaining sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims, their families, and the integrity of the ongoing investigation. We also did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda. Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript that named the terrorist organizations and leaders have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime. As much of this information had been previously reported, we have re-issued the complete transcript to include these references in order to provide the highest level of transparency possible under the circumstances.
-- Joint statement, June 20, 2016, from the Justice Department and the FBI regarding the transcript related to the Orlando terror attack.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric. Notice, the Justice Department and FBI are changing their behavior – they are releasing an unedited transcript, in contrast to the edited one they previously released – but they are not admitting that their previous behavior was in error. They are not taking accountability for any mistake.

"For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle – have made in the fight against ISIL, is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase “radical Islam”. That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t beat ISIL unless we call them “radical Islamists”. What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, “none of the above”. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As President I have repeatedly called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions. There’s not been a moment in my seven-and-a-half years as President where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label “radical Islam”. Not once has an advisor of mine said, “Man, if we really used that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around.” Not once. … So there’s no magic to the phrase “radical Islam”. It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them, by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit? And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists work for them. Up until this point this argument about labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric. Sadly, we’ve all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups. And that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs, from sacrifice and working really hard to protect the American people. But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we’re fighting, where this can lead us. We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. You hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? … Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. … We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear and we came to regret it. We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history."
-- President Barack Obama, June 14, 2016, referring to (among other people) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: There is a lot going on here, including "distractions", "talking points", "appealing to fear" and "Americans want" rhetoric. But the bigger issue is distortion. It's not clear who has ever said that using the term "radical Islam" is a necessary or a sufficient condition for defeating ISIS (i.e., that we can't defeat ISIS without using that term, or that using the term is all we need – a "silver bullet" – to defeat ISIS). Maybe some people have taken one or both of these positions – though, has it been their "main" contribution to the issue? – but they certainly haven't been adopted by Republicans in general. Obama needs to name who has advocated these positions, and when and where did so; otherwise it seems like he's knocking over a straw man (a position no one holds). More, if there is no "magic" in using the term "radical Islam", then why avoid it? Obama says that we shouldn't brand all Muslims as terrorists or radicals – and he's correct – but it's not at all clear that using the term does that. Lots of people refer to "Islamic terrorism" while at the same time acknowledging that not all terrorism is done by Muslims and that the vast majority of Muslims aren't terrorists. As I've argued before, you can call someone a "white supremacist" without saying all whites are supremacists, just like you can say Josef Stalin was an "violent socialist" without saying all socialists are violent. Why doesn't the same apply to "radical Islam"? If we support all of Obama's policies and actions on terrorism, but also use the term "Islamic terrorism", are we suddenly validating terrorists and helping them recruit members? Does the term have that much "magic"?

We need a President who is serious – who will identify the enemy by name and do everything necessary to defeat it. The next few days will be sadly predictable. Democrats will try to use this attack to change the subject. As a matter of rigid ideology, far too many Democrats – from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton – will refuse to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ They will claim this attack, like they claimed every previous attack, was isolated and had nothing to do with the vicious Islamist theology that is daily waging war on us across the globe. And they will try to exploit this terror attack to undermine the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding Americans. Enough is enough. What we need is for every American – Democrat and Republican – to come together, abandon political correctness, and unite in defeating radical Islamic terrorism.
-- Sen. Ted Cruz, June 12, 2016, referring to the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen earlier that day.

Comment: First, this is "distraction" rhetoric. Second, Cruz is accusing Democrats of exploiting the shooting, but how? What is the evidence that it is Democrats – as opposed to Cruz or Republicans – are exploiting the issue? Finally, this is "unify the country" rhetoric. What, exactly, are we to unify on? Stopping terrorism? That's a platitude. Uniting on Cruz's plan to fight terrorism is more informative, but what if some people think it's not the best plan? Are they supposed to just give up their convictions for the sake of agreeing with Cruz?

"At the end of the day, this is a distraction because the American people are going to decide who they vote for, for president, based on who they believe is going to continue to move us forward and help everybody who wants to succeed have a fair shot to do so. And what they're not going to vote on is distractions like this one and they're certainly not going to choose any one of the Republican candidates who think that we should continue and go back to policies that focus on the wealthiest most fortunate Americans."
-- DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, April 24, 2016, referring to the investigation into Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private server when she was the head of the State Department.

Comment: Wasserman Schultz is using "distractions" rhetoric.

"So, the Republicans can do what they do best: they distract, divide, and demonize. Leave no smear behind."
-- President Bill Clinton, January 19, 2016, during a campaign event for his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of resorting to distractions, divisive rhetoric, and of demonizing. He is potentially leaving the impression that this something that Republicans (but not Democrats) normally do, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

"We have listened to liberals all of our lives. We know exactly what they want to do. And those of us who've been paying attention know exactly how they go about it. We know how they go about getting everything they want. If they have to deflect, if they have to lie, if they have to distract, if they have to state that exactly what they want is not what, whatever. We know what they want. They want ultimate power and control. We know why. They have contempt for average, ordinary Americans and every other type person, don't think they're capable of leading their own lives responsibly and don't even want to give them the chance to. It's just an unquenchable thirst that they have for power and control over people. And getting guns out of the hands of people would represent the pinnacle of wresting control, wresting freedom and liberty away from people and gaining control over them. … Don't be fooled. He's not worried about the criminals getting guns; that's not his focus. His target is on the innocent. Everybody, every liberal Democrat, every gun control advocate wherever you find them, in order to succeed, they have to take guns away from the law-abiding. … Don't be fooled. He's not worried about the criminals getting guns; that's not his focus. His target is on the innocent. Everybody, every liberal Democrat, every gun control advocate wherever you find them, in order to succeed, they have to take guns away from the law-abiding."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, January 5, 2016, responding to President Barack Obama's gun policy speech that day.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Obama and liberals, claiming they don't support gun control with the goal of protecting people, but that they instead seek to control people and take away their freedom. This is also the "they'll say anything" caricature, as well as "distraction" rhetoric.

"This Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans. I should not be a distraction from that."
-- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), October 8, 2015, announcing that he will not run for the position of House Speaker. McCarthy referred to remarks he made on September 29, 2015, in which he noted how the Benghazi committee's investigation had caused Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's poll numbers to drop.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard Donald Trump. He's not going to weigh on whether President Obama was born in the United States, whether or not he's not a Muslim. I see you shaking your head.

RUBIO: Well, I'm just tired of the -- this has nothing to do with the future of our country. These issues have been discussed ad nauseum over the last few years. It's a big waste of time. Barack Obama will not be president in a year and a half. It's time to start talking about the future of America and the people that are at home. And every time we spend -- I mean I'm more than happy to answer your question, but every time that we discuss these sorts of things, we're not talking about the family who's out there trying to make it. They don't know if they're going to make it to Friday before a check bounces because they don't have enough money in the -- in the checking account. I mean those are the issues I hope we'd focus on. But I'm sorry, go ahead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, no, so I take it from your question you accept that President Obama was born in the United States and is not a Muslim?

RUBIO: Yes, this is -- of course it...


RUBIO: -- he's born in the United States. He's a Christian. He's the president of the United States for the next year and a half and we're going to move on. This country is going to turn the page and this election needs to be about what comes next...
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), September 20, 2015, during an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

Comment: Rubio is saying that the issues of Obama's birthplace and religious affiliation are distractions, though he's not avoiding answering questions about them.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Has the email issue damaged your campaign? For example, in terms of morale among staff or in fundraising or getting your message to voters.

CLINTON: No. Not at all. It's a distraction, certainly. But it hasn't in any way affected the plan for our campaign, the efforts we're making to organize here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country. And I still feel very confident about the organization and the message that my campaign is putting out.

QUESTIONER: What has this distraction meant for you this summer?

CLINTON: As the person who has been at the center of it, not very much. I have worked really hard this summer, sticking to my game plan about how I wanted to sort of reintroduce myself to the American people. How I wanted to listen and learn what was on the minds of Iowans. And I feel very good.

QUESTIONER: You have been critical in the past of politically motivated investigations. Has the Select Committee on Benghazi devolved in such a way?

CLINTON: Well, the American public will have to determine that. There have been seven previous investigations that were conducted by congressional committees. Of course, there was the independent accountability review board that was conducted by leading Americans with expertise in intelligence, diplomacy (and) the military. They all said that there were changes that needed to be made, which I fully embraced as the outgoing secretary of state. And I testified before both the Senate and the House. This committee has now gone longer and spent, I'm told, more money than the Warren Commission on President Kennedy's assassination and many other investigations. I'll let the American people draw their own conclusion.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY), September 7, 2015, during an interview with the Associated Press.

Comment: First, this is "distractions" rhetoric. Second, Clinton avoids the question about whether the Benghazi investigation is “politicized” by using the “not my decision” evasion.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz clashed with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night over whether the Texas senator would deport immigrants who came to the United States illegally if their children were born in the country.

When Kelly pressed the Texas senator on what he would do as president, Cruz said that he’s “not playing the game” and declined to answer the question.

“What would President Cruz do? Do American citizen children of two illegal immigrants, who are born here, the children, get deported under a President Cruz?” Kelly asked.

Donald Trump, she said, “has answered that question explicitly.”

“Megyn, I get that that’s the question you want to ask,” Cruz said. “That’s also the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask.”

Asked whether it is an unfair question, Cruz said that it is “a distraction” from solving the issue.

“You know, it’s also the question that Barack Obama wants to focus on,” Cruz retorted.

“Why is it so hard? Why don’t you just say yes or no?” Kelly asked.

Cruz’s response: “Because, Megyn, we need to solve the problem. And the way you solve the problem is you focus where there’s bipartisan agreement first. Once we’ve secured the border, once we’ve proven we can do this, once we’ve stopped the Obama administration’s policy of releasing 104,000 violent criminal illegal aliens in one year. Once we’ve solved that problem, then we can have a debate, then we can have a conversation.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), August 25, 2015, as related in a story by Nick Gass of Politico.

Comment: Cruz is evading the question, and he never actually answers it. He insists that we should first focus on areas of "bipartisan" agreement before we decide what would happen to the children of illegal immigrants who are U.S. citizens. But that doesn't mean he can't state what his preference would be to deal with that situation, even if his preference doesn't have bipartisan support. More, Cruz engages in "distraction" rhetoric. Finally, he tries to undermine Kelly's question (using guilt by association) by noting that "liberal" journalists want to ask the same question. This is ad hominem, however: just because liberals are posing the question, too, doesn't mean it's an unfair question.

HARWOOOD: So do people misunderstand you're actually not for ending birthright citizenship?

WALKER: I'm not taking a position on it one way or the other. I'm saying that until you secure the border and enforce the laws, any discussion about anything else is really looking past the very things we have to do.
-- Repubilcan presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), from an interview released August 21, 2015, with CNBC’s John Harwood.

Comment: This seems like an evasion. Why can't Walker take a position on whether birthright citizenship should be continued or stopped? Other candidates have taken a position on the issue, either saying, for instance, that ending birthright citizenship would end an incentive for illegal immigration and thus help secure the border, or saying that birthright citizenship should be kept in place regardless of other changes to our immigration policy. It's not clear why Walker can't do the same. Is he saying the issue is a distraction, or involves too many hypotheticals?

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will strongly defend himself from critics, regardless of gender.

Trump rejected claims that he treats females who disagree with him unfairly.

“When I’m attacked, I fight back,” Trump told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I was attacked very viciously by those women,” he said of female opponents his detractors say he has demeaned.

“What they said about me is far worse than what I said about them,” Trump added. “Am I allowed to defend myself? I want to get back to the country. We have such problems.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, August 9, 2015, during an interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd, as related by an article in The Hill by Mark Hensch.

Comment: First, this is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric. Second, Trump is claiming to be a victim – but not a perpetrator – of invective, which is the "only my opponents" caricature. Finally, Trump is saying that the criticisms of him are a distraction from the issues America faces.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has found herself on the defensive during her first presidential campaign visit to New Hampshire this year, pushing back against swirling questions about her family foundation.

Clinton is taking part in a discussion of jobs creation Tuesday with students and teachers at New Hampshire Technical Institute, a community college.

But she spent much of Monday dismissing accusations that foreign governments that made donations to the Clinton Foundation received preferential treatment from the State Department while she served in the Obama administration.

“We will be subjected to all kinds of distractions and attacks,” she told reporters during a stop in the liberal bastion of Keene. “I’m ready for that. I know that that comes, unfortunately, with the territory.”

In her early campaign stops, Clinton has cast herself as above the political back-and-forth, vowing to change the harsh partisan tone in Washington. “I am tired of the mean-spiritedness in politics,” she told voters who gathered in a supporter’s living room in Claremont. “Enough with the attacks and the anger, let’s find answers together and figure out what we’re going to do.”
-- Associated Press story, April 21, 2015 – titled "Clinton: ‘I Am Tired Of The Mean-Spiritedness In Politics’" – concerning remarks made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 20, 2015.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric. Also, Clinton is calling for a higher standard of political debate, but without admitting to any of her own acts of incivility, leaving the impression that it's others who are mostly responsible for uncivil discourse.

"I think that what had been happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest. But there was no excuse for criminal acts. And whoever fired those shots shouldn't detract from the issue. They're criminals, they need to be arrested. … What we have to make sure of is, is that the folks who disregard and disrespect the other side, people who resort to violence that they're marginalized … But they're not the majority. In the same way that you can't generalize about police officers who do an extraordinarily tough job, overwhelmingly they do it professionally. You can't generalize about protesters who, it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances. The Justice Department report showed they were being stopped -- African-Americans were being stopped disproportionately, mainly so the city could raise money, even though these were unjust."
-- President Barack Obama, March 12, 2015, on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live. His remarks concerned protests that day 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: Obama is explaining the protests and anger at police, but not justifying the violence against the police. He is also saying that the violence against the police shouldn't detract – i.e., "distract"? – from the misbehavior of the police department.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Isn't it time for Hillary Clinton to speak out? If you were advising her, should she address these issues?

JAMES CARVILLE: I wouldn't -- I don't know exactly -- it was legal. It wasn't against regulations. Colin Powell and Jeb Bush did the same thing, but oh, my God. Do you remember Whitewater? Do you remember Filegate? Do you remember Travelgate? Do you remember Pardongate? Do you remember Benghazi? All of this is just the same cockamamie stuff that we go through. The Times got something from right-wing talking points. They print the story. They've got to walk the story back. And everybody -- the chin scratchers go 'Oh, my God. The story's not right, but it says something larger about the Clintons.' This is never going to end. We've lived with this for 20 years. We'll live with it for the rest of the campaign. It's all about nothing. That's my view of the whole thing. … If I were a member of the press and I realized that right-wing talking points helped get us into a war, I would probably rethink the way I get my information.

MITCHELL: Isn't this a distraction that she does not need and that the Democrats are very concerned about?

CARVILLE: First of all, there is always going to be a distraction in Clintonland. There never is a time when there's not. I've lived through this for 20 years. Don't you think that next week there will be some other thing that they'll crop up?
-- Pundit and political strategist James Carville, March 9, 2015, being interviewed by NBC News' Andrea Mitchell regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a non-governmental email server while she was in office.

Comment: What is the relevance of the claim that these accusations are "talking points"? What does it mean, and what does it tell us about whether the accusations are true? Just because an accusation is scripted or comes from a person's enemies doesn't prove that the accusations are false. Mitchell suggests the issue is a "distraction", but a distraction from what? Does being a distraction imply that the accusations aren't well-founded? Finally, Carville resorts to ad hominem reasoning, saying that, because Republicans (i.e., "right-wingers") were wrong about WMDs in Iraq, therefore they shouldn't be believed on the accusations about Clinton. But being wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in no way guarantees that they are wrong about Clinton. Think: how would Carville's argument work against someone who took the same position as the "right-wingers" on Clinton but not on WMDs? Would the accusation about Clinton suddenly stop being false?

The kindest thing that can be said of Netanyahu’s attempt to equate Iran with the medieval barbarians of Islamic State, and to dismiss the fact that Iranian help today furthers America’s strategic priority of defeating those knife-wielding slayers, is that it was an implausible stretch. Of course Netanyahu mentioned the Persian viceroy Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jews, but not Cyrus of Persia, who ended the Babylonian exile of the Jews. The prime minister’s obsessive Iran demonization runs on selective history. The Islamic Republic is repressive. It is hostile to Israel, underwrites Hezbollah and has sponsored terrorism. Its human rights record is abject. The regime is wedded to anti-Americanism (unlike the 80 million people of Iran, many of whom are drawn to America). But the most important diplomacy is conducted with enemies. Given Iran’s mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle, there is no better outcome for Israel and the world than the successful conclusion of the tough deal sought by Obama; one involving the intensive verification over an extended period of a much-reduced enrichment program that assures that Iran is kept at least one year away from any potential “breakout” to bomb manufacture. One word did not appear in Netanyahu’s speech: Palestine. The statelessness of the Palestinians is the real long-term threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Iran has often been a cleverly manipulated distraction from this fact. Among foreign leaders, nobody has been invited to address Congress more often than Netanyahu. He now stands equal at the top of the table along with Winston Churchill. Behind Netanyahu trail Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin. That’s a pretty devastating commentary on the state of contemporary American political culture and the very notion of leadership.
-- Pundit Roger Cohen, March 6, 2015, remarking on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech that day to the United States Congress regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Cohen is accusing Netanyahu of "comparing" Iran to ISIS. Cohen is also using "distraction" rhetoric.

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Let’s start right on Israel. Your administration has described Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress tomorrow on Iran as destructive. What damage has really been done?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to realize the depth of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Under my administration, billions of dollars have gone to support Israel’s security, including the Iron Dome program that has protected them from missiles fired along their borders. … I don’t think it’s permanently destructive. I think that it is a distraction from what should be our focus. And our focus should be,‘How do we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?’
-- President Barack Obama, March 2, 2015, during an interview with Jeff Mason of Reuters.

Comment: This is "distraction" rhetoric.

WALLACE: While you've rolled back collective bargaining rights for public worker unions, during your reelection campaign, you said that a right to work law for private unions would be a distraction.


WALKER: It would bring in another group of protesters in large volume to the capital would distract from all the other things, tax reform, education reform, entitlement reform, UW reform all the things we want to do going forward.


WALLACE: Now, the Republican legislature is fast tracking right to work and you say you're going to sign it. Why the flip?

WALKER: Well, it's not a flip. It's I was a sponsor in the legislature. I never said I'd veto it. I asked for them not to make it a distraction early on in the session. I presented my budget, I laid out my agenda, they're acting on that right now. Now is the perfect time. So, it's in the midst of the early things they brought up and the things that will come up --


WALLACE: So, why is it the distraction during the election campaign, but it isn't now?

WALKER: I laid -- well, I laid out early on, the things that I wanted to do with education reform, tax reform, entitlement reforms. We've been able to lay out on the table. It is a perfect time now because the legislature is not acting on those things in the budget, and will have signed it by next week.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), March 1, 2015, during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.

Comment: This is "distraction" rhetoric.

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY ERIC SCHULTZ: Nancy, I will take your questions.
Q [unidentified]: I had a question about this quick dropping of the 529 tax plan as a distraction. What does that say about the President’s commitment to his policies if something can be dropped so quickly as a distraction?
SCHULTZ: Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate the question. And I think it’s important to take a step back and look at the broader proposal the President has offered to ensure more middle-class families can get a college degree. … So while the program you’re asking about is a very small component of that, it was a distraction, we decided to move forward with the rest of our plan, and we hope Congress moves on it shortly. … Again, this particular piece was becoming a distraction. We didn’t want that to jeopardize the broader plan, so that's why we announced what we did. … And the President put forth a bold proposal to make college more affordable for all Americans. He didn’t want this to be a stumbling block that would jeopardize the rest of the package.
Q [unidentified]: So you call it a distraction. Do you still think this is a good policy? There was so much backlash, particularly from middle-class Americans, who said we really value these plans. So do you still stand behind that as a good policy?
SCHULTZ: We do. And again, even at the time, before yesterday -- as my colleague, Josh Earnest, said -- we would have only implemented this particular piece alongside a much broader package, which would have amounted to $50 billion in tax cuts for the middle class.
Q [unidentified]: You have a lot of people saying, though, that they wouldn’t buy those plans if they came along with the tax. So I guess just in keeping with that, is that really good policy, when you have so many people saying, well, then the plans become useless essentially?
SCHULTZ: I’m not sure I’d characterize it that way.  … And sometimes we come out here, face a lot of heat for not listening to the Hill. We decided that we didn’t want this to become a distraction, and that’s why we want to move forward on the rest of the package. … Because this did not enjoy the support from members of the House and the Senate, we wanted to make sure that this didn’t become a distraction to help jeopardize the rest of the plan. So that's why we made the decision that we did. And that's why we want to get to work on the rest of the plan as soon as possible.
-- White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, January 28, 2015.

Comment: It's not clear that Schultz ever answers the question of whether the change to the 529 plans was good policy, but he does explain what other priorities the 529 controversy was distracting us from.

The White House is giving up on a costly fight with Congress over the Obama administration's increasingly unpopular proposal to effectively end 529 college savings plans.

A White House official confirmed the move on Tuesday as fierce opposition to the provision was building in Congress, even among fellow Democrats.

"Given it has become such a distraction, we're not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief," the official said.
-- From a January 28, 2015, story by CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.

Comment: In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proposed ending certain tax advantages for 529 plans. The story details how the proposal was dropped, with the Obama administration calling the matter a "distraction". How is this different from admitting the proposal was just a bad idea that deserved criticism? Or, if it was a good idea that didn't deserve criticism, then why not defend it? What is criticism of the 529 proposal distracting us from?

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

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