Sunday, April 19, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: April 19, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"There’s supposed to – there used to be a line of civility in American politics. And it’s particularly problematic on the left. They never argue with you about your ideas. Their almost instant reaction is to attack you personally and call you a name. And I’m not saying people on the right don’t do it, too, because it happens. But it’s so much more common on the left. I mean, if you read or hear most of the criticisms of me, it’s always personal."
-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), April 16, 2015. Rubio was responding to remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who on April 15, 2015, said he thought the Republican presidential contenders were "losers".

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. Reid's remarks were unacceptable, but what evidence does Rubio have that the left engages in more incivility than the right? For that matter, what evidence is there that politics are less civil now than they used to be?

JOHN HARWOOD: Are you entirely comfortable with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee?

HARRY REID: Absolutely, I love the way she answers almost everything.

JOHN HARWOOD: Will there be a Democratic race, should there be one?

HARRY REID: Primaries, I don't think they help, especially when you are as motivated as Hillary... I love Joe Biden, I could never say a bad word about him, he is a wonderful leader.

JOHN HARWOOD: Would you advise him not to challenge her?

HARRY REID: No. He's been around a long time without my advice.

JOHN HARWOOD: How do you see the Republican fight? Who is the Republican nominee likely to be.

HARRY REID: I don't really care, I think they're all losers.
-- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), April 15, 2015, during an interview with John Harwood of CNBC.

Comment: First, it seems like Reid evades the question of whether he'd advise Vice President Joe Biden not to run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Second, it would be one thing if Reid said he didn't believe the GOP candidates could win, but to call them "losers" is needlessly derisive.

"And I want to make this point, even though it’s a little off topic, but it oftentimes is the backdrop against which these debates take place -- if you listen to some of my political critics, they always want to paint me or the Democratic Party as this “tax and spend” and irresponsible. Let me say this -- since I came into office, the federal deficit has come down by two-thirds. It hasn’t gone up. It’s come down by two-thirds. So when Bill Clinton was President -- budget got balanced and we had low deficits. Then somebody else came in and -- deficits started going up. And then I came in and I inherited this huge recession that drove up the deficits. And then we started whittling them down -- even as we were expanding the earned income tax credit, even as we were expanding Pell grants -- because part of what we did was we said, well, let’s make sure the tax code is fair. Let’s make sure that we're eliminating programs that don't work to help middle-class families."
-- President Barack Obama, April 15, 2015.

Comment: This is false causation reasoning (post hoc ergo propter hoc). It's not the case that deficits (or economic conditions more generally) are the result of who is president at the time. A lot of other factors are involved. At the very least, Congress plays a role in determining the budget, and therefore how much money the government borrows (i.e., the deficit). Republicans had a majority in Congress much of the time when Bill Clinton was president, and Democrats had a majority in Congress when the "huge recession" struck (Obama himself, as a senator, was part of Congress). Should we therefore chalk the balanced budget up to a GOP Congress, and the recession to a Democratic one? No, that would be to reason just as flimsily as Obama does in the quote above. Obama also advocates for fairness, here.

"This is going to be the equivalent of a dog whistle comment, they will say. This is going to be the equivalent of Rubio speaking in code to his racist, sexist, anti-welfare buddies. "I am humbled by the realization that America does not owe me anything." The word choices there stand out to me, anyway. He could just as easily have said, "America doesn't owe me anything. America doesn't owe any of us anything." But he didn't say that. He said he was humbled "by the realization that America doesn't owe me anything." That's a bit different than just making the blanket statement. I'll explain as the program unfolds. … For you Rubio fans, I'm just giving you a little heads up here that they're gonna zero in on all of it. I don't mean to say they're gonna leave him unscathed, but this line, "I am humbled by the realization that America doesn't owe me anything," that's gonna be used as an attack. That's gonna be viewed as code language, dog whistle to certain types of mean-spirited extremist Republicans who don't care about anybody else. It's gonna be said to be targeted at the rich and so forth. And particularly the part about, "I am humbled by the realization.""
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, April 14, 2015. Limbaugh was referring to remarks made by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in his announcement on April 13, 2015, that he is seeking the 2016 GOP nomination for president.

Comment: Limbaugh is predicting that Democrats will accuse Rubio of using coded language.

President Obama criticized Senator McCain for putting less store in Secretary of State John Kerry’s interpretation of the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran than in the interpretation offered by Ayatollah Khamenei. Fair enough. The senator’s comment was derisive and I’m sure he expected the administration to object. That said, McCain’s remarks were hardly an example of partisanship that “crossed all boundaries,” as Obama labeled them, especially when the president would make a much more offensive comparison moments later. … The president offered the most indefensible calumny in this debate in the very same statement in which he denounced Senator McCain. He likened domestic critics of the agreement to hardliners in Iran. Those Iranian hardliners oppress an entire nation. They persecute women, gays, dissidents, and religious minorities. They murder children in the streets of Tehran. They provided weapons that were used to kill American soldiers in Iraq. They are terrorists, who killed innocent Jews in Argentina, and tried to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington. They killed hundreds of Marines in Lebanon. They help Bashar al-Assad murder hundreds of thousands of Syrians. They control Hezbollah and Hamas. They are the implacable enemies of the U.S. and our allies and of every political ideal Americans have shed blood to defend. Obama compared those murderous tyrants to Americans who worry the deal won’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He compared them to freely elected American officials, some of whom, like John Kerry and John McCain, served our country in war, and don’t want to make it easier for Iran to commit more crimes against humanity and to dominate a greater expanse of the Middle East. That is a real example of partisanship that “crossed all boundaries.” And if Obama ever decides to be the kind of president he promised to be—a president who abhors tactics that aggravate the nation’s political divisions—he will apologize for it.
-- Pundit Mark Salter, April 13, 2015. Salter was criticizing remarks made by President Barack Obama on April 11, 2015, though it's not clear (to me, at least) what portion of Obama's remarks Salter is referring to.

Comment: Salter is accusing Obama of "comparing" critics of the proposed deal on Iran's nuclear program with the ruling Iranian regime.

So Hillary Clinton is officially running, to nobody’s surprise. And you know what’s coming: endless attempts to psychoanalyze the candidate, endless attempts to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say about President Obama, endless thumb-sucking about her “positioning” on this or that issue. Please pay no attention. Personality-based political analysis is always a dubious venture — in my experience, pundits are terrible judges of character. … In any case, there has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, April 13, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is addressing the issue of whether character counts in politics. Krugman is insisting that the parties' stance on issues matters far more than personality. But, since we generally don't get to vote for parties or policies – on the federal level, we vote for people to fill an office (e.g., President, Senator, etc.) – don't we have to trust that the candidate will carry out the policies of their party? Isn't that a legitimate worry, given how politicians sometimes flip-flop on issues or fail to live up to campaign pledges? Don't voters and constituents routinely complain that politicians aren't doing enough to "fight for their party's values"?

"I think he does see America from the Iranian perspective. I think he hates America."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, April 13, 2015, during the 2nd hour of his radio program. Levin was discussing a comment made earlier that day by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, who said that President Barack Obama is able to see America from the Iranian perspective.

Comment: This is demonizing, accusing Obama of hating his country.

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