Sunday, March 22, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: March 22, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from. But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. … The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum. … Meanwhile, both budgets call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes that pay for the insurance subsidies. That’s $1 trillion of revenue. Yet both claim to have no effect on tax receipts; somehow, the federal government is supposed to make up for the lost Obamacare revenue. How, exactly? We are, again, given no hint. … So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why. … Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, March 20, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is accusing Republicans of not caring about truth. Both Democrats and Republicans make outlandish claims from time to time, why should we conclude that only the latter – and not both of them – is guilty of "raw dishonesty"? More, Krugman is saying that Republicans want to take money from the poor and give it to the rich. This is false and derisive. Republicans generally want to lower taxes and lower social spending: maybe they are wrong to want to do so, but spending less money on the poor is not the same as taking money from the poor, and taking less in taxes from the rich is not the same as giving them money.

"He doesn't like Congress. He's got his pen and his phone. And when Congress doesn't do what he says he's off doing his best Benito Mussolini. He doesn't like Netanyahu. Netanyahu just won in a landslide; Obama's never won in a landslide. The American people rose up in November and told Obama how they are disgusted with his programs and his policies. And what did he do? He turned around and spat in our faces. And he does the same in 2010 when they lose the House of Representatives. Obama has more ability to work with dictators and genocidal types than he does with people who are elected democratically. The fact of the matter is, Sean, I want to say this and this is important. Eric Holder said that this nation is full of cowards because we won't have a discussion about race. Well, I think this nation needs to have a discussion about what's going on in this White House and this administration about anti-Semitism. Because this White House and it's reaching out to Sharpton, the Muslim Brotherhood, CAIR, all these radical nut jobs and groups, their policies which are -- it's not just Netanyahu. They're willing to throw Israel over the side for the Islam regime in Tehran. This president's former relationships with [Rashid] Khalidi, the professor in Columbia now, with Wright the so-called reverend from Chicago. This president has a lot to answer for, and his conduct is contemptible. And I don't care how many liberal Democrat donors -- hold on now. I don't care how many liberal Democrat donors he has who are Jewish. He can hide behind them all he wants. But Mr. Holder, Mr. Obama, let's have a national discussion about the anti-Semitism that reeks from your administration."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, March 18, 2015, appearing on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News.

Comment: In what sense is Levin comparing President Barack Obama with Italian dictator Mussolini that doesn't amount to demonizing? Levin is also issuing "Americans want" rhetoric regarding the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, insisting that Obama has no mandate for what he is doing. Calling someone anti-Semitic is basically an accusation of racism. Finally, Levin is accusing Obama of guilt by association, for Obama's links to Rev. Al Sharpton, Rashid Khalidi, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and others.

"In a world changing even faster than his, do we retreat from the realities of a 21st century economy? Or do we continue to advance, together, to renew this country’s founding promise of opportunity for everybody and not just some?"
-- President Barack Obama, March 18, 2015.

Comment: This is a platitude. Who doesn't want opportunity for everybody? The question is what set of policies will bring about that result.

"The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out. … Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and [the Labor Party]."
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 17, 2015. Netanyahu's remarks on video (translated here from Hebrew) were released on Facebook on election day in Israel.

Comment: Netanyahu's remarks have been widely criticized as being racist or anti-Arab. But nothing in what he says is deriding Arab Israelis. He is simply saying that Arab Israelis typically vote against right-wing parties (of which Netanyahu's is one), so that in order to counteract that turnout, right-wing groups have to get their own voters out.

"[Regarding CNN anchor Erin Burnett] I'd say she got her job on her looks, but I'd also say that's not possible … [she has the] IQ of a dozen eggs … the women on Fox are a lot more attractive."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, March 17, 2015, during the 3rd hour of his radio program.

Comment: Levin was criticizing Burnett for her take on comments made recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but absolutely none of Levin's criticisms required or justified this kind of name-calling, in which he derided her appearance and called her stupid.

ROSEN: At different points, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have suggested that racism is a factor in criticism of them. Is there any truth in that?

CHENEY: I think they’re playing the race card, in my view. Certainly we haven’t given up—nor should we give up—the right to criticize an administration and public officials. To say that we criticize, or that I criticize, Barack Obama or Eric Holder because of race, I just think it’s obviously not true. My view of it is the criticism is merited because of performance—or lack of performance, because of incompetence. It hasn’t got anything to do with race.
-- Former Vice President Dick Cheney, posted March 17, 2015, during interview with James Rosen of Playboy Magazine.

Comment: This is "playing the race card" rhetoric.

OBAMA: The challenge on something like climate change is, there comes a point of no return. And you do have to make sure that we get at this thing quick enough and with enough force to be able to make a difference.

SMITH: Why is the resistance so strong?

OBAMA: Well, some of it's economic. If you poll folks, they're concerned about climate change, but they're even more concerned about gas prices. You can't fault somebody for being concerned about paying the bills or being able to fill up your tank to get to your job. In some cases, though, you have elected officials who are shills for the oil companies or the fossil fuel industry, and there's lot of money involved. Typically, in Congress the committees of jurisdiction, like the energy committees, are populated by folks from places that pump a lot of oil and pump a lot of gas.
-- President Barack Obama, posted March 17, 2015, during interview with Shane Smith of VICE News.

Comment: At no point in this discussion of beliefs about global warming does Obama allow that someone might legitimately disagree with the science of climate change, or the cost-benefit analysis of fighting global warming, etc. Perhaps some climate change opponents are "shills" (i.e., "special interests"?), but it would be ad hominem to conclude that they are therefore wrong in their position. Plus, isn't there a lot of money to be made in the energy industry, regardless of whether that energy is made by oil, gas, wind, solar, etc.? Does that mean proponents of wind and solar power can be dismissed as "shills" on the same ad hominem basis?

Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. … The unarmed 18-year-old also became a potent symbol of the lack of trust between African Americans and law enforcement. … But the other DOJ report, the one on the actual shooting of Michael Brown, shows him to be an inappropriate symbol. … The DOJ report notes on page 44 that Johnson “made multiple statements to the media immediately following the incident that spawned the popular narrative that Wilson shot Brown execution-style as he held up his hands in surrender.” In one of those interviews, Johnson told MSNBC that Brown was shot in the back by Wilson. It was then that Johnson said Brown stopped, turned around with his hands up and said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” And, like that, “hands up, don’t shoot” became the mantra of a movement. But it was wrong, built on a lie. Yet this does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor does it discredit what has become the larger “Black Lives Matter.” In fact, the false Ferguson narrative stuck because of concern over a distressing pattern of other police killings of unarmed African American men and boys around the time of Brown’s death. Eric Garner was killed on a Staten Island street on July 17. John Crawford III was killed in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, on Aug. 5, four days before Brown. Levar Jones survived being shot by a South Carolina state trooper on Sept. 4. Tamir Rice, 12 years old, was killed in a Cleveland park on Nov. 23, the day before the Ferguson grand jury opted not to indict Wilson. Sadly, the list has grown longer.
-- Pundit Jonathan Capehart, March 16, 2015. Capehart was referring to the August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Dorian Johnson was friends with Brown, and witnessed his shooting. A federal report on the Ferguson, MO, police department claimed it was guilty of racial discrimination, and another federal report concluded Wilson had committed no wrongdoing in shooting Brown.

Comment: This is an example of "the broader truth" rhetoric. Capehart is saying that, even though Brown's shooting is not an instance of police racism, the "broader truth" is that there is a problem of racial violence by police. Capehart goes on to list several such cases, though he doesn't (perhaps for the sake of brevity?) offer proof that these cases – unlike the shooting of Brown – are shootings by police motivated by race.

TED CRUZ: The Obama economy is a disaster, Obamacare is a train wreck and the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind — the whole world is on fire.

JULIE TRANT: The world is on fire?

CRUZ: The world is on fire. Yes! Your world is on fire. But you know what? Your mommy’s here and everyone’s here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better.
-- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), March 15, 2015. Julie Trant, a 3-year-old, was sitting in the audience with her mother as Cruz spoke.

Comment: This is a case of metaphorical language (in this case, a violent metaphor) being taken literally. It's understandable when children sometimes mistake metaphors as being literal, and Cruz responded to try to correct Trant's understanding of his rhetoric.

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