Friday, July 10, 2015

Rhetoric: “Hate the Policies, Not the Person”

In the midst of heated political debate, you’ll sometimes hear someone offer a defense of their passionate rhetoric. They’ll say something like:

“Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t hate this person: I just hate their policies.”

Leaving aside the debate about whether or not it’s OK to hate a person, what kind of behavior is this supposed to defend?

If I misrepresent someone’s position on an issue or resort to name-calling, it’s not defense for me to say that I hate that person’s policies, not the person themselves. So, there mere fact that you don’t hate a person says nothing about whether or not you’re saying something appropriate about their policies.

So, when somebody says, “So-and-so is a good person, but I hate their position on the issues”, that’s still consistent with them saying all sorts of unfair things about so-and-so’s position on the issues. If you demonize someone as a racist or a communist when they’re not, it does no good to defend your name-calling by saying that you don’t hate them.

We evaluate what people say based on the content of what they say, not based on the emotion behind it.

"I like Hillary Clinton and I respect Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton has devoted her life to public service and I have tried, as I hope you all know, not to run a negative campaign, not to be attacking every other day, to keep this discussion on a high level, where we debate the issues facing this country. And by the way, with a few exceptions, we're doing a lot better than the Republicans in that regard. But on the other hand, that's not a very high bar to reach … Look, Hillary Clinton is a very good person. Martin O'Malley is a very decent guy. So I'm not -- you know, this is not a -- personal stuff. It just seems to me that the crises that we face as a country today, and we didn't even get into climate change to a significant degree: inequality, poverty in America, an obscene and unfair campaign finance system. These problems are so serious that we have got to go beyond establishment politics and establishment economics."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN. His remarks referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD).

Comment: First, Sanders seems to be using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric with respect to Clinton and O'Malley. Second, Sanders denounces (and claims he hasn't resorted to) "negative politics", without clarifying exactly what counts as negative (other than saying it's "not personal"). Lastly, Sanders claims that Republicans are worse than Democrats when it comes to negative politics, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

KROFT: I’m sure you realize that it is difficult for many Americans to get past the fact that President Obama has signed an agreement with a country that says “Death to America”, “Death to Israel”. How do you explain this? What are they to make of it? Are they to take it literally? Is this for domestic, internal, Iranian political consumption? What are Americans to make of it, the language?

ROUHANI [as translated]: This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people. Our people respect the American people. The Iranian people are not looking for war with any country. But, at the same time, the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people. It’s understandable that people will demonstrate sensitivity to this issue.
-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during an interview with CBS News’ Steve Kroft, released September 18, 2015.

Comment: Rouhani is saying that this violent rhetoric is not meant to be taken literally. Rouhani also uses “hate the policies, not the people” rhetoric. If Americans were to chant “Death to Iran”, would Iranians interpret it similarly, as being directed at Iran’s policies?

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush reacted Friday to the latest controversy roiling the GOP race by identifying President Barack Obama as "an American" and "Christian," and calling for a return to civility in national politics.

Bush was alluding to an episode Thursday in which rival Donald Trump declined to correct a questioner who called Obama "Muslim" and "not even an American."

Bush told roughly 2,000 Michigan Republican activists, "I will commit to you that I will never violate my conservative principles. But I will assume that someone that doesn't agree with me isn't a bad person.

"We need to begin to get back to that degree of civility before it's too late in this country," Bush said.
-- Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), September 18, 2015, as related in an Associated Press story by Thomas Beaumont. Bush was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who the day before had not corrected a town hall questioner who claimed that President Barack Obama was not American and was Muslim rather than Christian.

Comment: Bush is calling for civil debate, and using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric.

COLBERT: Do you think that you could bring people together? Because everybody says –

BUSH: Yeah.

COLBERT: – they want to bring people together. But when you get down to the campaigning, or get down to what passes for governing now, it often ends up being a – just a game of blood sport.

BUSH: It is.

COLBERT: Where you attack the other person, and the other side can’t possibly do, say, or have planned for anything good.

BUSH: So, I’m going to say something that’s heretic, I guess. I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues. … If you start with the premise that people have good motives, you can find common ground. … You can be friends with people that you don’t agree with on everything. I mean, we have to restore a degree of civility.
-- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, September 8, 2015, during a debate with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

Comment: Colbert is asking whether Bush (or anyone else) can “unify the country.” Bush is using “hate the policies, not the person” rhetoric, and calling for setting a higher standard of debate.

Ted Cruz on Monday defended his statement that Mitch McConnell told a “flat-out lie” about reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, doubling down on his assertion that the Senate majority leader conspired with Democrats to undermine the most conservative wing of the party.

“I gave a highly unusual floor speech,” Cruz said on “The Howie Carr Show” on WRKO in Boston, referring to his diatribe last Friday condemning the way the Senate ultimately passed funding for the Export-Import Bank.

“The 11th commandment doesn’t mean that you never disagree with another Republican on policy, on substance, on record,” Cruz said. “Remember, Ronald Reagan primaried Gerald Ford in ’76. But he didn’t attack him and say he’s a no-good, unethical person.”

“He said, ‘We need to stand for principle.’ So what I said about McConnell wasn’t attacking him personally, it was simply talking about his record,” the senator added. “He said this, he made this commitment to me, and then he broke it. And it was laying out the facts and it was very calm and orderly just walking through, telling the truth. You know there’s an old quote often wrongly attributed to George Orwell but it’s a powerful quote, which is: ‘In a time of universal deception, telling the truth can be a revolutionary act.’”
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), July 27, 2015, according to stories by Adam B. Lerner of Politico and Oliver Darcy of The Blaze.

Comment: Cruz is using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric. Cruz said that McConnell lied: how is that not a remark about McConnell personally? It's criticizing McConnell for something McConnell did. Plus, a personal remark is not necessarily false or unfair; it's only when we misrepresent and deride someone else that we've resorted to "negative politics".

MARCO RUBIO: I think it's important for the president of the United States to be someone that can conduct, and be engaged in a public debate on an issue without demonizing their opponents, that can hold a speech where you don't invite Paul Ryan, sit him in the front row of the speech and lambast him and attack him in front of everybody, knowing he can't respond. It's important for the office the presidency to be be someone that is capable of doing those things. I have said repeatedly, Barack Obama is a great husband and great father. But I do believe the way he has conducted his presidency has been divisive. I think he unnecessarily demonizes his opponents on policy issues, not just disagreement on policies. He wants to convince people that you are a bad person, that you don't care about the disabled or children or women, or someone who is being hurt. I think that's bad for the country. I truly believe that sort of activity, and is he not alone in it, but I do believe that sort of activity is not what we need from a president.

BRET BAIER: So you stand by that statement that the president has no class?

MARCO RUBIO: I think, on the major issues of our time, he has not conducted himself of the dignity of worthy of that was office. Demonization of political opponents and divisions in America which have made it harder for us to solve our problems, and have poisoned the political environment as a result.
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), July 23, 2015, being interviewed by Bret Baier of Fox News. The discussion concerned Rubio's July 22, 2015, remarks stating that President Barack Obama had "no class".

Comment: There are many things going on here. Rubio is calling for civility in political debate, and is accusing Obama of resorting to demonizing. Rubio is also using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric. It's not clear whether Rubio answers the question of whether Obama "has no class" or if he evades it. It's certainly true that Obama has resorted to demonization, but, first, is that appropriately summed up by saying Obama has "no class" whatsoever (or is that itself an act of demonizing)? Second, many Republicans have resorted to demonizing, too: will Rubio describe all of them the same way, or is he resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature?

"And I want to emphasize -- I know some of them well. They’re good people. It’s just their ideas are bad. And I want to emphasize that. We’re one country, we’re all on one team, and so we’re all one American family. But we all go -- we're at Thanksgiving and Uncle Harry starts saying something and you say, “Uncle Harry, that makes no sense at all.” You still love him. He’s still a member of your family. Right? But you’ve got to correct him. You don’t want to put him in charge of stuff. That’s all I'm saying."
-- President Barack Obama, July 2, 2015.

Comment: This is "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric. It's also "stupid" rhetoric.

"After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. … When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was. … And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe? I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value. He doesn't care … He doesn't care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled. Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe. I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don't know his motives. … From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person. Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive. And something started to change. If you notice, every time there’s a crisis in the Congress the last eight years, I get sent to the Hill to deal with it. It’s because every one of those men and women up there -- whether they like me or not -- know that I don't judge them for what I think they're thinking. Because when you question a man’s motive, when you say they're acting out of greed, they're in the pocket of an interest group, et cetera, it’s awful hard to reach consensus. It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands. No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive. … So one piece of advice is try to look beyond the caricature of the person with whom you have to work. Resist the temptation to ascribe motive, because you really don’t know -— and it gets in the way of being able to reach a consensus on things that matter to you and to many other people."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, May 17, 2015.

Comment: This is calling for a higher standard and "don't hate the person" rhetoric. Biden is also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, and forgetting the times he has demonized Republicans.

"No, he's not. He's a good man, he's a decent man. But he demonstrated an overwhelming lack of understanding in international community. He demonstrated a lack of understanding in the military."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 23, 2012, responding to the question of whether Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) is qualified to be president.

Comment: Biden is saying that his view on Romney is not based on hate.

"I want to be President of the United States and obviously, I don't want Senator Obama to be. But, I have to tell you, he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as President of the United States. … He's a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), October 10, 2008. His remarks concerned Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

Comment: This is "don't hate the person" rhetoric.

"I never met a man with more personal, more physical courage than John McCain. It's his judgment that I question. … If you walk from here to Bozeman, I don't think you'd find anyone who thinks the economy is doing well, unless you ran into John McCain".
-- Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), September 7, 2008. His remarks concerned Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Comment: This is "don't hate the person" rhetoric.

I'm a card-carrying member of The Great Liberal Backlash of 2003, one of the half-dozen or so writers now schlepping around the country promoting books that do not speak kindly of Our Leader's record. … What's wrong with this administration is not a short list. Nevertheless, we are, one and all, being dismissed by right-wing media, with its unmistakable lockstep precision -- that everybody-singing-off-the-same-page that so distinguishes the right -- as "Bush haters." Not a radio call-in show goes by, not a right-wing host fails to mention (even when I try to pre-empt the charge) that I am "just another Bush hater." If you do not suffer from amnesia, you may recall that this country was cursed with Clinton haters for eight long years. They were a little over the top -- they accused the man of rape, murder, drug-dealing, miscegenation, treason and more. And his wife of worse. … I wrote this new book ("Bushwhacked" -- my publisher would want me to mention it) in part as an effort to show how I think political differences should be addressed. This is a book about policy. … Over many years of covering politics, I have known and liked a lot of politicians with whom I never agreed about a single thing. Bob Dole and Alan Simpson come to mind as two of my favorite Republicans, and I could list Texas conservatives by the dozens. As it happens, I have known George W. Bush for a long time -- not well, but for a long time. Since we were both in high school. He went to prep school in the East, and I went to prep school in Houston, but he hung around with friends of mine, dated girls I knew. I would never claim we were friends, but he was someone I vaguely knew. … Although Bush rather promptly becomes defensive and prickly when questioned, he is by and large perfectly affable. You would have to work at it to dislike him personally. On the occasions when we meet, we would "rib" one another. I personally hope the photo of me sitting on his lap at a Christmas party with him dressed as Santa has disappeared for all time. Did you know that it is quite possible not to hate someone and at the same time notice their policies are disastrous for people in this country? … I honestly don't think you have to hate someone in politics to think they're wrong. I would like to remind all the lockstep conservatives that there is a difference between hatred and anger. What you are looking at in this country is not hatred of George W. Bush -- a perfectly affable guy -- it is growing anger. … You don't have to be hateful to have bad policies. You just have to be wrong.
-- Pundit Molly Ivins, October 16, 2003.

Comment: This is "don't hate the person" rhetoric.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

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