Monday, August 17, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: August 16, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
WALLACE: Question: Barack Obama, “anti-Semitic”?

CARSON: Well, all you have to do, Chris, is – like I have – go to Israel, and talk to average people, you know, on all ends of that spectrum. And I couldn’t find a single person there who didn’t feel that this administration had turned their back on Israel. And I think, you know, the position of President of the United States should be one where you begin to draw people together behind a vision, not one where you castigate those who believe differently from you. I think it’s a possibility for great healing, if it used in a correct way.

WALLACE: But, you know, it’s one thing, one could argue, your policy difference from Israel, but you say in your article – and you’re talking about his domestic critics here in this country – that there is anti-Semitic themes there. What, specifically anti-Semitic in what the President is saying?

CARSON: I think anything is anti-Semitic that is against the survival of a state that is surrounded by enemies and by people who want to destroy them. And to sort of ignore that, and to act like, you know, everything is normal there, and that these people are paranoid, I think that’s anti-Semitic.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, August 16, 2015, during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Carson questioned about his August 13, 2015, accusation that President Barack Obama had issued a “diatribe … replete with coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.”

Comment: First, Carson evades Wallace’s question about Carson’s accusation that Obama engaged in bigoted behavior. When Carson does answer, he makes it sound as if Obama is unconcerned with the survival of Israel, rather than having a legitimate disagreement about what steps (for instance, the nuclear deal with Iran) are best for securing Israel’s security. Second, where has Obama said that everything is normal in the Middle East or Israel, and that Israeli opponents of the Iran deal are needlessly paranoid? It seems like Carson is knocking over a straw man. Third, Carson accuses Obama of “dividing” the nation. Finally, Carson calls for us to set a higher standard of debate and not to castigate those with different beliefs, but it seems he is doing precisely that: he is demonizing Obama as being anti-Semitic on the basis of having a different view about the merits of the Iran nuclear deal.

"If you look at their policies, most of the other candidates are just Trump without the pizzaz or the hair. Yes, Mr. Trump says outrageous and hateful things about immigrants, but how many of the other candidates disagree with his platform? None of the leading candidates support a real path to citizenship. When they talk about legal status, that's code for second-class status. It's the same when it comes to women's health and women's rights: Mr. Trump's words are appalling, but so are the policies of other candidates."
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 14, 2015.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of using "code words". It also seems like she is saying that, since the other Republican presidential candidates have the same immigration position as Trump, they are therefore guilty by association of Trump’s derisive remarks about Mexican illegal immigrants. In fact, many of the GOP candidates criticized Trump’s remarks.

During Iowa’s famous Wing Ding dinner here, the 2016 Democratic front-runner dismissed Republican concerns about the transparency of her email arrangement as secretary of state, and said she’s been exonerated by earlier investigations into the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

“Benghazi was a tragedy where four Americans died … but let’s be clear: Seven exhaustive investigations … have already debunked all of the conspiracy theories,” she said. “It’s not about email servers either. It’s about politics.”
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 14, 2015, as related by a Politico story by Rachael Bade.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of "playing politics" or "politicizing".

But just as shocking as the decision to actually agree to such a flawed deal are the lengths to which the administration is going today to tar and feather those who dare speak out against it. By playing politics with a critical national security issue, President Obama is cementing his well-earned legacy as the Divider in Chief. In a speech at American University defending the deal Obama stooped to new lows far beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency, savaging deal opponents as warmongers and saying that “those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’” in Iran were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.” Shockingly, his diatribe also was replete with coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes involving implied disloyalty and nefarious influences related to money and power. One can only imagine the sting of his words on members of his own Democratic party, especially those Jewish Members of Congress who have publicly stated their opposition to this deal based on its merits or lack thereof. … It is clear that the president and his team are in full campaign mode, demonstrating a steely resolve to jam through this misguided Iran deal at all costs. They are smearing those who dare to raise questions and employing a take no prisoners approach complete with bigoted dog whistles and malicious whisper campaigns that cynically divide our country.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, August 13, 2015.

Comment: Carson is accusing Obama of using “code words” to express bigotry. He is also accusing Obama of “playing politics” and “dividing the country”.

So how could we maneuver Akin into the GOP driver’s seat? Using the guidance of my campaign staff and consultants, we came up with the idea for a “dog whistle” ad, a message that was pitched in such a way that it would be heard only by a certain group of people. I told my team we needed to put Akin’s uber-conservative bona fides in an ad—and then, using reverse psychology, tell voters not to vote for him. And we needed to run the hell out of that ad.
-- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), August 11, 2015. McCaskill is referring to her attempt to use political advertising to establish Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) as her Republican opponent in the 2012 Senate race.

Comment: McCaskill is saying that her ads used "code words".

Trump made his initial mark in this campaign with demagoguery about illegal immigration. But with the exception of Jeb Bush, the other GOP contenders have basically the same position: Seal off the border with Mexico, if necessary by erecting a physical barrier.
-- Pundit Eugene Robinson, August 11, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

Imagine if Congress voted on whether or not to teach evolution and climate change in school. And imagine that 73% of Republicans voted against it. The backlash would be easy to predict: The national media, and science journalists in particular, would spend a week making somber declarations of impending educational and scientific collapse that would reverberate across the cosmos. As it so happens, Congress did just vote on something of tremendous scientific importance: Biotechnology. And, as it so happens, 73% of Democrats voted against the bill. Yet, the national media remained deafeningly and hypocritically silent. On July 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 1599, that, among other things, would block states from requiring foods containing genetically modified ingredients to carry special labels. From a scientific viewpoint, this is the correct policy. Yet, the Democratic Party, which has branded itself the "pro-science" party over the last two decades, overwhelmingly opposed it. Why? Well, it's hard to say, though the fact that places like the GMO-hating Whole Foods tending to be located in counties that voted for Barack Obama might have something to do with it. In the final vote tally, 94% of House Republicans supported the bill, while a stunning 73% of Democrats voted against it. Even Democrats who represent districts with a large biotechnology constituency voted against the bill: Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mike Honda (CA-17), and Anna Eshoo (CA-18) -- all from the Bay Area -- as well as Boston's Michael Capuano (MA-7) and Stephen Lynch (MA-8) and Seattle's Jim McDermott (WA-7). The vote pattern made it abundantly clear: On the needlessly hot-button issue of genetic modification, Democrats sided with fearmongers and organic foodies, while Republicans sided with the medical and scientific mainstream. And yes, just like vaccines, evolution, and anthropogenic climate change, GMOs are mainstream and non-controversial in the scientific community. Indeed, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (PDF) -- organizations that represent our nation's finest doctors and scientists -- reject GMO labels.
-- Pundit Alex B. Berezow, August 10, 2015.

Comment: This is "scare tactics" rhetoric. Berezow is also suggesting that opponents of GMO are anti-science, or at least that it is hypocritical not to use that epithet against GMO opponents when it is regularly used against opponents of evolution or climate change.

HOROWITZ: In your speech yesterday, you seem to compare Republicans who are against this deal to some of the hardliners in Iran, who are chanting “death to America” in the streets. But I think many people want to know, there’s also Democrats you know who are on the fence about this deal. And what would you say to them?

OBAMA: Well, I’m talking to them all the time. And first of all, remember what I said was, that, it’s the hardliners in Iran who are most opposed to this deal. And I said in that sense, they’re making common cause with those who were opposed to this deal here. I didn’t say that they were equivalent. And I think that what you see are people who are assuming confrontation is inevitable and are unwilling to seize the possibility that we could shape an agreement that doesn’t solve all conflicts, but that does solve a very serious problem without resort to war. And what I have said to Democrats who are still trying to figure things out is, just read what’s in the text. Listen to the arguments. See what counter arguments exist on the other side. There are going to be some Democrats who end up opposing this deal, partly because as I said yesterday in the speech, the affinity that we all feel towards the state of Israel is profound, it’s deep. And you know when Israel is opposed to something a lot of Democrats, as well as Republicans, pay attention. The difference though, is that most of the Democratic senators have taken the time to actually read the bill and listen to the arguments. A sizeable proportion of the Republicans were opposed before the ink was even dry on the deal before it was even posted, and that gives you sense of the degree to which this is driven by partisan politics or ideology as opposed to analysis.
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview with Mic's Jake Horowitz released on August 10, 2015.

Comment: Obama is trying to qualify his "comparing" rhetoric, saying he doesn't mean to imply that Republicans and Iranian hardliners are "equivalent". So, would it be fair to say Obama has made "common cause" with Ayatollah Khamenei (in supporting the Iranian nuclear deal, or at least the negotiations) and Saddam Hussein (in opposing the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq), so long as it's understood we don't mean Obama is "equivalent" to Khamenei and Hussein? Or would that still be demonizing?

Demagogues like Donald Trump exhaust the patience of the political press corps because reporters fundamentally misunderstand the candidates' appeal. Reporters like to think that logic and reason hold sway, so they believe a demagogue can be easily disarmed by exposing his crimes against logic, his pandering to the uninformed and his manipulative emotionalism. They’re entirely wrong—as the last month of The Donald’s unlikely rise to the top of the Republican presidential heap has demonstrated day after day.
-- Pundit Jack Shafer, August 10, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

Apparently, he thinks there’s nothing amiss in suggesting that the only thing standing between the present moment and the broad, sunlit uplands of a denuclearized Iran is the Jewish state and its warmongering Beltway lobbyists. That slur in particular was the loudest dog whistle heard in Washington since Pat Buchanan said in 1990 that the Gulf War —advocated by columnists like Abe Rosenthal and Charles Krauthammer—would be fought by “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown.” Then again, Mr. Buchanan wasn’t the president. It says something about the crassness of Mr. Obama’s approach that the New York Times noted that allies of the president fear he “has gone overboard in criticizing” opponents of the deal. But it also says something about the weakness of his deal.
-- Pundit Bret Stephens, August 10, 2015. Stephens' remarks refer to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Stephens is accusing Obama of using "code words". He is also arguing that, since even Obama's allies (who are Stephens' adversaries) are criticizing Obama's rhetoric, therefore the criticism is credible, which is flawed "even my opponents" reasoning.

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