Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Setting a Higher Standard" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Setting a Higher Standard"
"What do you do to a school yard bully? You punch them in the face. Do you think any of these people on talk radio, if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No, they’re cowards. They're bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that. Mitt Romney -- and we said it non-stop for two years -- he would never stand up to these bullies. And so they framed his campaign and he got his tail whipped."
-- TV pundit Joe Scarborough, December 10, 2012, on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Comment: Scarborough is criticizing talk radio (and other) pundits who say things that amount to name-calling. So, in a sense, he's advocating civility. However, he's resorting to violent rhetoric and (it seems) saying that people should resist these pundits by retaliating in kind. He is also faulting GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) for failing to police the speech of his supporters. This is a fair criticism, though it's a mistake -- of the "only my opponent" variety -- to think that only Romney was guilty of that failing (President Barack Obama also failed to police the rhetoric of his supporters, as well).

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests.
-- President Barack Obama, November 7, 2012, addressing his supporters while declaring victory in his race against Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: This is typical rhetoric about civility, in the sense that Obama is lamenting incivility in the abstract without owning up specifically to his own failings with respect to civil debate. Politicians and pundits frequently speak about civility in a way that leaves people with the impression that they themselves aren't part of the problem, that it's someone else who has to clean up their act (the "only my opponents" caricature). That's one of the reasons people are so cynical about politics in general and the possibility for civil debate in particular. Also, Obama himself has frequently railed against "special interests", but here it sounds like he's dismissing the influence of special interests.

KROFT: You came in running as an outsider, somebody who was going to change Washington. Do you still believe after three years in this gridlock that we've had that - that somebody who claims to be an outsider can get things accomplished in Washington?

OBAMA: Oh, yeah, look, I mean, we passed historic legislation that strengthened our financial regulations. We passed historic legislation that will not only provide 30 million more people coverage, but also insures that you know, kids can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26 and seniors have lower prescription drugs. And so change has happened and positive change for the American people. I'm the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren't constantly in a political slugfest, but were focused more on problem solving that, you know, I haven't fully accomplished that. Haven't even come close in some cases. And you know, if you ask me what's my biggest disappointment is that we haven't changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.

KROFT: And you don't bear any responsibility for that?

OBAMA: Oh, I think that-- you know-- as president I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree and one of the things I've realized over the last two years is that that only happens if I'm enlisting the American people much more aggressively than I did the first two years.
-- President Barack Obama, posted September 23, 2012, during interview with Steve Kroft of CBS News.

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility for not bringing about a higher standard of debate.

"But tonight, I say enough. Tonight -- tonight, I say together let's make a much different choice. Tonight, we are speaking up for ourselves and stepping up. Tonight, we are going to be beginning to do what is right and what is necessary to make America great again. We are demanding that our leaders stop tearing each other down and work together to take action on the big things facing America."
-- Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), August 28, 2012, giving the keynote address at the GOP National Convention.

Comment: Christie is calling for a higher standard of debate, here, which is fine in and of itself, but politicians have an unfortunate record of calling for civility and then not living up to it themselves. (They tend to only expect their opponents to be civil.)

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