Sunday, May 3, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: May 3, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Why are you the best choice for President of the United States?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Because for the last 30 years, I've been standing up for the working families of this country and I think I'm the only candidate who is prepared to take on the billionaire class which now controls our economy and increasingly controls the political life of this country. We need a political revolution in this country involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say enough is enough. And I want to help lead that effort.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean Hillary Clinton is part of the billionaire class?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It means that Hillary Clinton has been part of the political establishment for many, many years. I have known Hilary for 25 years. I respect her and I like her. But I think what the American people are saying, George, is that at a time when 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, and when the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, maybe it’s time for real political shake-up, in this country, and go beyond establishment politics.
-- Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), May 3, 2015, during an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Comment: First, this is an evasion, as Sanders never answers the question of whether Clinton is part of the "billionaire class". Second, Sanders is engaging in "Americans want" rhetoric by claiming they want a "shake-up beyond establishment politics".

The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern. Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged. … No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course. And that’s a virtue in very short supply. … Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free — for example, self-proclaimed centrists — and are, therefore, unaware of their own biases. What you should seek, in yourself and others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, willing to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong. … So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field. … as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened. The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, May 1, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is discussing the topic of character in politics. He makes a good point about ideology (i.e., everybody has one, you can't get rid of it), but he leaves the impression that only Republicans refuse to take responsibility for their failed predictions. That is, he's resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature and demonizing Republicans by suggesting that they don't care about truth. Krugman also exaggerates when he says Republicans "never" admit error. Perhaps this is a tu quoque argument on my part, but is it a lack of intellectual integrity for Krugman to only be alarmed at the absence of accountability of Republicans, and not Democrats as well? After all, President Barack Obama and other Democrats made predictions about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") that didn't come true (e.g., premiums will drop by up to $2,500 dollars, if you like your plan or doctor, you can keep them, etc.), but they haven't owned up to their errors, have they?

‪Jeb Bush warned Thursday that President Obama and Democrats would rather keep immigration reform as a political wedge issue than solve the problem — and that Republicans will always lose the political argument on immigration if the dynamic persists. ‬

‪“By doing nothing, you have two things that happen, at least in the age of Obama,” the former Florida governor said during a National Review event in Washington, D.C. “You have a president who uses this ... as a wedge issue, and we always lose.‬

‪“Delaying this is what [Obama] wants,” Bush added. “He doesn’t want immigration reform.”‬
-- Article by Rebecca Berg, May 1, 2015, relating comments made by former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) on April 30, 2015.

Comment: Bush is accusing Obama of using wedge issues, which is "unify the country" rhetoric.

The argument Stewart and Stephanopoulos were throwing out–we’re dramatically under-investing in America’s cities–is liberal claptrap. … We’re spending an enormous amount of money on a system that isn’t producing, and it’s liberal interest groups (e.g., education unions) and the Democratic Party that are ferocious opponents of the kind of reforms that would improve American education. … For all their self-proclaimed compassion, liberals and liberalism are, in important respects, doing significant damage to the young people in America, and most especially to the most vulnerable in our midst. Messrs. Stewart and Stephanopoulos don’t seem to realize this, but they should. Because human lives should take priority over political ideology.
-- Pundit Peter Wehner, April 29, 2015. His comments concerned an interview of ABC News' George Stephanopoulos by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.

Comment: Wehner is accusing Stewart and Stephanopoulos of being ideologues, and demonizing them by saying the care more about ideology than people. It's a platitude to say that human lives count more than ideology.

"[Obama] mentioned that we all need to do soul searching. I think he needs to do some soul searching about failed liberal policies that have prolonged the misery in the American ghetto. You know, he said this is society has to step up and do more, and I reject that thing out of hand. This is lifestyle choices. These are flawed lifestyle choices people make like dropping out of school, like failing to stay employed, like having kids out of wedlock, like father absent homes. Those are behavior changes that have to go on in these central cities and these American ghettos if we're going to see a change."
-- Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, posted April 28, 2015.

Comment: This is "failed policies" rhetoric.

Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs … You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. … But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do? You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error. Alternatively, you might insist that sinister forces are covering up the grim reality. … Finally, there’s a third option: You can pretend that you didn’t make the predictions you did. … Several months into 2014 many leading Republicans — including John Boehner, the speaker of the House — were predicting that more people would lose coverage than gain it. And everyone on the right was predicting that the law would cost far more than projected, adding hundreds of billions if not trillions to budget deficits. What actually happened? There was no rate shock … You see, in a polarized political environment, policy debates always involve more than just the specific issue on the table. They are also clashes of world views. … And there’s also a moral issue involved. Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, April 27, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is discussing character in politics, but also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature by leaving the impression that only (or mostly) Republicans fail to correct their mistakes. He is demonizing Republicans in suggesting that they aren't concerned about being honest.

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