Monday, July 20, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: July 19, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Trump was answering questions from Republican pollster Frank Luntz on stage when he declared that John McCain, who spent six years as a POW in Vietnam, was not a war hero. Trump went on to express his preference for soldiers who weren’t captured, suggesting a belief that prisoners of war have some say in their captivity. Luntz had asked Trump about his reaction to McCain’s comment that Trump had stirred up the “crazies” with his candidacy. When Trump attacked McCain, Luntz asked if Trump was comfortable with that kind of criticism of a war hero.

“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The comments clearly shocked the crowd at the summit, some of whom reacted with boos and shouts of condemnation.

I asked Trump if he was blaming John McCain for his capture, as his comments implied. “I am saying John McCain has not done a good job,” Trump responded, dodging the question.

When I repeated the question, Trump said: “I am not blaming John McCain for his capture. If he gets captured, he gets captured.”

“Why would you say you like people who don’t get captured?”

Trump: “The people that don’t get captured I’m not supposed to like? I like the people who don’t get captured and I respect the people who do get captured.”

Why would you say that in the context of John McCain: “Excuse me, excuse me. I like the people that don’t get – you have many people that didn’t get captured. I respect them greatly. You’ve got people that got captured. I respect them greatly also. Why – I’m not supposed to respect the people that don’t get captured?

Are you suggesting that John McCain did something to lead to his capture?

Trump: “Of course not.”

Why would you say what you said?

At that point, Trump turned and answered a question about China.
-- From a July 18, 2015, story by pundit Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard. Hayes' questions to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump concerned Trump's comments about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Comment: Trump is evading Hayes' question. If we're to think poorly of McCain for his time as a prisoner of war (as Trump says he does), is that because McCain made some sort of mistake that got him captured, or is it because we should think poorly of all POWs? Trump never answers, likely because he realizes he's said something unfair about McCain (and, by extension, POWs) but doesn't want to publicly admit his error.

MR. EARNEST: This is an agreement not just between the United States and Iran; this is an agreement between the United States, Russia, China, Germany, the U.K., and France, and Iran. And this is an agreement that is enthusiastically supported by, as the President said, 99 percent of the international community.

KARL: Help me with the math. You said a number of times, 99 percent of the world community. The President said 99 percent of the world. Where is that number coming from?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess if you look at the population of the countries that are represented in this particular agreement, the vast majority -- 99 percent of the world -- is on the side of the United States and our international partners in implementing this agreement.

KARL: Have you done the math on our allies in the region, the ones that would be most directly affected by this agreement? What percentage of our allies in the Middle East support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’ll let them all speak for themselves. But at least when it comes to Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir, who is at the Oval Office today, he indicated that -- when he was at Camp David he indicated that “we” -- meaning, Saudi Arabia -- “welcome the discussions on the nuclear program between the P5+1 and Iran.” And Saudi Arabia has been assured that the objective is to deny Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon, and that all pathways to a nuclear weapon will be closed.

KARL: So you’re telling me the Saudis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: I'm telling you that the Saudis will speak for themselves. But they -- it’s clear that the --

KARL: But you -- I just asked you about our allies in the region. So I know he supported diplomacy.

MR. EARNEST: But again, you can ask them what their view is of the agreement.

KARL: But the President just met with him; I assume the topic came up.

MR. EARNEST: I assure you that it did.

KARL: Do the Saudis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I will let them speak for themselves.

KARL: Do the Emiratis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: will let them speak for themselves.

KARL: Do the Israelis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think they made pretty clear that they don’t. But I think what’s clear, Jon, is you know who does support the deal? The Germans, the British, the French. Certainly, the President. The Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Indians. All of the countries that were involved in pressuring Iran to come to the negotiating table in the first place.
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, July 17, 2015, being questioned by ABC news reporter Jonathan Karl regarding international support for the Iranian nuclear deal.

Comment: This is an evasion. If Earnest and the administration of President Barack Obama (and Obama himself) are going to say that 99% of the world community supports the deal, then they have to support that claim by saying which countries it is that add up to 99%. To say "I will let other countries speak for themselves" on whether they support the deal – particularly after he's made it clear the overwhelming majority of countries do support it – is to also resort to a version of the "not my decision" evasion. Earnest just spoke for 99% of the world on the Iranian deal, but now won't answer on their behalf?

Donald Trump is exactly what the Republican Party deserves. The Republican Party has nurtured anti-immigrant, xenophobic nastiness for years, but it has tried to do so, at least at the national level, in language that disguised it as a simple issue of law and order. Trump has blown all that to bits. … You have to see Trump’s statement for what it was: A naked attempt at Willie Horton-izing Mexican immigrants, and thereby the exploiting of the image, substantiated or not, of the brown-bodied predator destroying our country and taking the virtue of our women. It provides language for people to hide their racism and nativism inside the more honorable shell of civility and chivalry. It allows Trump to tap into anger and call it adulation.
-- Pundit Charles Blow, July 16, 2015.

Comment: Blow is accusing the Republican Party of using code words. He is also demonizing Republicans as anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist.

What Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.
-- Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), July 16, 2015. Perry was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "stupid" rhetoric.

"This guy's quite the puke. … He looks the part."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, July 15, 2015, during the 1st hour of his radio show. Levin was referring to former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Comment: Levin is using the "disgusting" form of name-calling against Brzezinski.

DAVID IGNATIUS: You heard Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday say this was one of the darkest days in human history. What was your reaction to that? That was a pretty extreme statement. He obviously wants to undo the deal. Is he going to succeed?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: You're setting me up. I think it was in character. I think he's not a very serious person. He may entertain the Congress occasionally because some people in Congress like to be entertained. But he's not really a very serious person. He dramatizes, he exaggerates and I don't think Israel benefits from that.
-- Former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, July 15, 2015.

Comment: Brzezinski is resorting to name-calling, belittling Netanyahu by saying that he's entertaining, but "not serious".

The campaign ads from 2012 were more negative than the ads in 2008, 2008’s were more negative than 2004’s and, you guessed it, 2004’s more negative than 2000’s. But far from disparaging the form—or my thickening waistline—I celebrate it. Negative campaigning is a genuine positive for democracy. I come to my understanding both intuitively and from paging through a new book, The Positive Case for Negative Campaigning, by political scientists Kyle Mattes and David P. Redlawsk. The popular abhorrence for negative campaigning seems to stem from the word “negative,” for how could anything good come from something whose essence seems so retrograde? The press encourage this sort of thinking by declaiming each election the most negative or nasty or mudslinging without pausing to explain what constitutes a negative ad. A negative ad is not necessarily a false ad. As Mattes and Redlawsk explain, the standard political science definition for negativity in campaigns is “talking about the opponent.” … But in general, Mattes and Redlawsk applaud this switch, as do I, as long as the ads don’t engage in “scurrilous, nonrelevant attacks” or lie. … Imagine making a decision about what car to buy, what job to take, where to vacation or what restaurant meal to consume if the only information you were exposed to was the positive information provided by carmakers, employers, vacation spots or restaurants. Useful decisions are rarely made by comparing the positives of what’s on offer. One must also judge the negatives, which reveal failings and weaknesses. But sellers of cars or candidates never volunteer their own negatives or flaws.
-- Pundit Jack Shafer, July 15, 2015.

Comment: Shafer (with the help of Mattes and Redlawsk) is explaining that there is nothing bad about drawing a contrast between you and your opponent. In other words, doing so is not "negative politics" in the bad sense.

"Politicians, especially those elected as president, are very adept at creating straw men. Taking something that they feel rhetorically works to their advantage and using it. That’s exactly what the president did. My question did not suggest he was content with the captivity of those four Americans. My question was about the contentment, or the satisfaction, or the realization that it was necessary within the context of this deal to leave them unaccounted for. That was the essence of the question. Clearly it struck an serve. That was my intention. Because everyone who works for the president and the families of those four Americans have heard the president say he's not content, and they will work overtime to win their eventual release. That does not appear to me to be a sidelight issue in the whole context of the conversation about this Iran nuclear deal. Was it provocative? Yes. Was it intended to be as such? Absolutely."
-- Major Garrett of CBS News, July 15, 2015, remarking on President Barack Obama's objection to a question Garrett asked earlier that day. The question by Major Garrett of CBS News concerned Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Robert Levinson, and Jason Rezaian, all being held by Iran.

Comment: This is "struck a nerve" rhetoric. If Garrett was intending to be provocative, was he also demonizing Obama as not caring about the detained Americans? If not, how was he being provocative? Also, Garrett is accusing Obama of knocking down a straw man.

GARRETT: As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran -- three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration; one, whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

THE PRESIDENT: I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails -- Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program. The question by Major Garrett of CBS News concerned Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Robert Levinson, and Jason Rezaian, all being held by Iran.

Comment: Was Garrett’s question really out of line? Did it amount to demonizing Obama as not caring about the plight of the detained Americans? It comes down to the ambiguity of the word “content,” which has at least a couple of different senses. There’s the sense in which “I am content to sip iced tea while laying in a hammock and watching ‘Game of Thrones,’” versus “I am content to default on my credit card while I pay my rent.” Being content in the former sense involves being happy, while the latter is just making the best of a bad situation. If Garrett meant the president was “content” in the latter sense, then he’s right: Obama made clear that he’d decided it was better not to include the Americans detained by Iran in the nuclear negotiations. If “content” meant happy, though, then Garrett was clearly in the wrong.

"Now, we’ll still have problems with Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism; its funding of proxies like Hezbollah that threaten Israel and threaten the region; the destabilizing activities that they're engaging in, including in places like Yemen. And my hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we're not counting on it. So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior. It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy. It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don't have a bomb. And the point I’ve repeatedly made -- and is, I believe, hard to dispute -- is that it will be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests, if they don't have a bomb. And so will they change their behavior? Will we seek to gain more cooperation from them in resolving issues like Syria, or what’s happening in Iraq, to stop encouraging Houthis in Yemen? We’ll continue to engage with them. Although, keep in mind that unlike the Cuba situation, we're not normalizing diplomatic relations here. So the contacts will continue to be limited. But will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path? Of course. But we're not betting on it. … But the argument that I’ve been already hearing -- and this was foreshadowed even before the deal was announced -- that because this deal does not solve all those other problems, that that's an argument for rejecting this deal, defies logic. It makes no sense. And it loses sight of what was our original number-one priority, which is making sure that they don't have a bomb."
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: This is at least an exaggeration, if not an accusation that the people making this objection are stupid. Obama is wrong. Logic says nothing in and of itself about whether the Iranian nuclear deal should encompass other issues. As such, it does not "defy logic" or "make no sense" to suggest that it should.

"It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear. That’s what politicians do."
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Does Obama mean that, because the leaders in Syria (i.e., Bashar Assad) and Iran are politicans, therefore what they're saying about the nuclear deal is false? That would be ad hominem reasoning. And it would also apply to Obama, as well, since he's a politician, too. Is he, in this press conference, "trying to spin the deal in a way that he thinks is favorable to what his constituents want to hear"?

"Now, with respect to Congress, my hope -- I won’t prejudge this -- my hope is, is that everyone in Congress also evaluates this agreement based on the facts -- not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring to Congress as opposed to a Republican President, not based on lobbying, but based on what’s in the national interest of the United States of America."
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Obama is suggesting that Congress (and Republicans in particular) might "politicize" the Iranian deal. How is their behavior, as opposed to his own, "politicizing"?

"I'm hearing a lot of talking points being repeated about “this is a bad deal” -- “this is a historically bad deal,” “this will threaten Israel and threaten the world and threaten the United States.” I mean, there’s been a lot of that. What I haven’t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?"
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: What's the significance of this objection being talking points? The content of the objection is what's important, not whether it's part of someone's talking points.

"The other problem with the argument that folks have been making about, oh, this is a windfall and suddenly Iran is flushed with cash, and they're going to take over the world. And I say that not tongue-in-cheek, because if you look at some of the statements by some of our critics, you would think that Iran is, in fact, going to take over the world as a consequence of this deal -- which I think would be news to the Iranians."
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Obama leaves unnamed who is making this objection. Who has said that Iran will literally (Obama insists this is not tongue-in-cheek) take over the world as a result of this deal? If Obama can't name someone, then it looks like he knocking over a straw man.

"You don’t sound that bright to me. … You don’t sound very intelligent. … You don’t care about security in the Middle East, you don’t care about the security of Israel. … Why are you such an apologist for the number one state sponsor of terror? … Why do you support them so much?"
-- Pundit Sean Hannity, July 14, 2015, during the 3rd hour of his radio show. Hannity made the remarks while speaking to Dr. Jim Walsh – a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who Hannity referred to as “Mr. M.I.T.” – about the deal on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Hannity is deriding Walsh, calling him stupid and demonizing him as someone who wants to support terrorism. Is it really the case that anyone who supports the nuclear deal is stupid and/or supports terrorism? Would it be fair to say those who oppose the deal (like Hannity) want war with Iran, or oppose surveillance of Iran's nuclear program (which the deal provides for)? Referring to Walsh as "Mr. M.I.T." is just more name-calling. It's a way of belittling Walsh with mock exaltation.

"And then I think the last thing that — this is maybe not something I’ve learned but has been confirmed — even with your enemies, even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We have had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative. It may not be one we agree with. It in no way rationalizes the kinds of sponsorship from terrorism or destabilizing activities that they engage in, but I think that when we are able to see their country and their culture in specific terms, historical terms, as opposed to just applying a broad brush, that’s when you have the possibility at least of some movement."
-- President Barack Obama, July 14, 2015, during interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times.

Comment: Obama is explaining, but not justifying, the behavior of the Iranian government.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush lumped together Donald Trump and President Barack Obama Monday while lamenting that some Republicans prey on others' fears and angst.

"Whether it's Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong," Bush said in Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to a statement issued by his campaign Tuesday.

"That Bush is willing to equate Trump to Obama, the most consequential president of my lifetime, is disgusting. How can we take anything Bush has to say seriously when he says hogwash like this," said Pablo Manriquez, a Democratic Party spokesman.
-- From a July 14, 2015, NBC News story by Suzanne Gamboa.

Comment: Manriquez is accusing Bush of "comparing" Trump and Obama. But Bush was not equating the two or their rhetoric. Bush was simply saying that divisive rhetoric should be protested, regardless of who it comes from: when Trump says something divisive, it should be criticized, and when Obama says something divisive, it should also be criticized. (It's not clear what Bush counts as "divisive" rhetoric, and whether both Obama and Bush are guilty of it.)

"We need to focus on the things that tie us together, and whether it's Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong. … I campaign embracing diversity. Come join us - come join the team that is creating hope and opportunity. … A Republican will never win by striking fear into people's hearts. … on our side, there are people that prey on people's fears and their angst as well. … I don't know about you, but I think it is wrong. I believe we need to unify our country. We need to stop tearing, separating ourselves by race and ethnicity and income. We need to focus on what ties us together".
-- Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), July 13, 2015. This is a compilation of his remarks, and may not accurately reflect the order in which he said them.

Comment: This is "unify the country" and "fear-mongering" rhetoric.

"This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me … Because what he did was he fired up the crazies."
-- Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), July 13, 2015, from an interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker posted July 16, 2015. McCain was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "stupid" or "divorced from reality" rhetoric.

Kathryn Steinle was killed on a pier in San Francisco on July 1, allegedly by a troubled immigrant who had a stolen gun and a long criminal history and had been deported five times. The shooting was inexplicable, yet Ms. Steinle’s family and friends have been shunning talk of politics and vengeance, while expressing the hope that some good might emerge from this tragedy. The shooting has turned the usual American tensions over immigration into a frenzy. The accused, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has become the dark-skinned face of the Mexican killers that Donald Trump — in a racist speech announcing his presidential campaign, and numerous interviews thereafter — has been warning the nation about. Others in the race and in Congress have eagerly joined him in exploiting the crime, proposing bills to punish “sanctuary cities,” like San Francisco, that discourage local involvement in immigration enforcement, and to force them to cooperate with the federal government in an ever-wider, harsher deportation dragnet.
-- The editorial board of The New York Times, July 13, 2015.

Comment: This is "exploiting" rhetoric.

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