Sunday, August 2, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: August 2, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"Civility in the face of terrorism is a vice."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, July 30, 2015, during the 2nd hour of his radio show. His remarks came in response to an article by Craig Shirley, entitled "In Defense of Incivility".

Comment: Levin is dismissing civility, but in doing so he's merely knocking over a straw man. Who has ever said that civility is the same as pacifism, or that we should be civil to terrorists?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The difference between us and the Republicans, is that we really are a big tent party.

MATTHEWS: What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist? I used to think there’s a big difference. What do you think it is?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The difference between…

MATTHEWS: Like Democrat Hillary Clinton and Socialist Bernie Sanders? … Well what’s the big difference between the Democrat Party and Socialist. You’re the chairman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference between you and a Socialist.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The relevant debate we will be having over the course of this campaign is what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.
-- DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, July 30, 2015, during a discussion on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews about whether Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) – who describes himself as a socialist – would speak at the Democratic Party presidential convention.

Comment: This is an evasion. Of course the difference between Republicans and Democrats is relevant to the 2016 presidential election. But, given that Sanders – a socialist who is running for the Democratic nomination – is being welcomed as a speaker at the Democratic convention, it's also relevant to ask what relationship his political and economic philosophy has to that of the Democratic Party, such that Sanders (but not, say, conservatives) are welcome under the Democratic Party's "big tent". That's a question that Wasserman Schultz avoids answering.

"I look at those people and I feel sad. That is really such a low common denominator. They're all Republicans, they're all not going to go vote for him but they all seem to see this wishful thinking. … They're really -- they really don't have a firm grasp on reality, on what it will take to solve the country's problems. … I don't think I'm better than them. No, I don't. But they're not thinking. They want to be entertained."
-- Pundit Joan Walsh, July 30, 2015. Walsh was referring to supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump, video of whom had just been shown on MSNBC's "Hardball".

Comment: This is "stupid" rhetoric. Walsh can point out errors in what Trump supporters believe without using the term "low common denominator" or saying they "don't have a firm grasp on reality".

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says if he was president, he would use the same language when referring to potential deals with Iran — and that the response from Jewish people to his controversial comments has been "overwhelmingly positive."

"We need to use strong words when people make strong threats against an entire group of people as the Iranians have made toward the Jews," the former Arkansas governor said Tuesday in an interview with Matt Lauer.

Huckabee said he has received nothing but positive feedback from the group of people he supposedly has offended.

"The response from Jewish people have been overwhelming positive," he said, adding that he has even heard from Holocaust survivors and their children. He noted that at an event he attended Monday night, "I was probably one of four gentiles in the entire event — it was a Jewish event. People were overwhelmingly supportive."

A day earlier, Huckabee refused to apologize for criticizing President Obama's nuclear weapons deal with Iran by comparing it to the Holocaust.

"He would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven," he said in a recent interview about the plan.
-- Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), July 28, 2015, from a Today News story by Eun Kyung Kim.

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric.

"Now, if you're asking me about the politics of Washington and the rhetoric that takes place there, that doesn’t always go great. The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we've seen that is -- would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad. We've had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate. We've had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for President suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party. And part of what historically has made America great is, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, there’s been a recognition that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don't play fast and loose that way. We have robust debates, we look at the facts, there are going to be disagreements. But we just don't fling out ad hominem attacks like that, because it doesn’t help inform the American people. I mean, this is a deal that has been endorsed by people like Brent Scowcroft and Sam Nunn -- right? -- historic Democratic and Republican leaders on arms control and on keeping America safe. And so when you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines, but it's not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now. And I don't think that's what anybody -- Democratic, Republican, or independent -- is looking for out of their political leaders. In fact, it's been interesting when you look at what’s happened with Mr. Trump, when he’s made some of the remarks that, for example, challenged the heroism of Mr. McCain, somebody who endured torture and conducted himself with exemplary patriotism, the Republican Party is shocked. And yet, that arises out of a culture where those kinds of outrageous attacks have become far too commonplace and get circulated nonstop through the Internet and talk radio and news outlets. And I recognize when outrageous statements like that are made about me, that a lot of the same people who were outraged when they were made about Mr. McCain were pretty quiet. The point is we're creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics. The American people deserve better. Certainly, presidential debates deserve better. In 18 months, I'm turning over the keys -- I want to make sure I'm turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces. And that requires on both sides, Democrat and Republican, a sense of seriousness and decorum and honesty. And I think that's what the voters expect, as well."
-- President Barack Obama, July 27, 2015. Obama was referring to remarks made about the Iranian nuclear deal by Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). They described it respectively, as marching Israelis "to the door of the oven", a "jihadist stimulus bill", and as negotiated by someone who "acted like Pontius Pilate" (referring to Secretary of State John Kerry).

Comment: In the face of remarks that are exaggerations and/or demonizing, Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of political debate. However, by failing to note how he and fellow Democrats contribute to name-calling and incivility, Obama is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Obama also conflates ad hominem reasoning and name-calling. Plus, aren't domestic issues too important to play "fast and loose" with rhetoric?

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".

"No other presidential candidate was secretary of state when this process started, and I put together a very thorough, deliberative, evidence-based process to evaluate the environmental impact and other considerations of Keystone. As such, I know that there is a very careful evaluation continuing and that the final decision is pending to be made by Secretary [John] Kerry and President Obama. Very simply, the evaluation is determined whether this pipeline is in our nation’s interest, and I’m confident that the pipeline’s impact on global greenhouse gas emissions will be a major factor in that decision, as the President has said. So I will refrain from commenting, because I had a leading role in getting that process started, and I think that we have to let it run its course."
-- Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 27, 2015. She was responding to a question about the proposed Keystone oil pipeline, which is being considered for construction.

Comment: This is an instance of the "not my decision" evasion (or perhaps the "under investigation" evasion). Yes, the federal government is in the midst of evaluating the costs and benefits of the Keystone pipeline, and Clinton played a role in inaugurating that evaluation. But she's not involved with it anymore, so she wouldn't be interfering with or undermining the evaluation to take a position on it now.  (As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post points out, Clinton has taken a stance on the nuclear deal with Iran, despite the fact that the Senate has yet to vote on it.) Is she saying that she will simply endorse whatever decision is reached by the federal government investigation? If so, that, too, is a position she has decided to take, and she can be asked to defend.

Beyond the logistics of a comprehensive round-up are the political implications of such an effort. During a campaign stop in central Florida on Monday, Bush told a group of about 150 pastors and other religious leaders that America's immigration system is "broken" but that deporting 11 million people is not a solution.

"The idea of self-deportation, of rounding people up, is not an American value," Bush said. "Americans reject that idea."
-- Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), July 27, 2015, as reported by a July 30, 2015, Associated Press story by Jill Colvin and Alicia A. Caldwell.

Comment: First, Bush is suggesting that those who advocate self-deportation are somehow not American. Second, it's "Americans want" rhetoric for Bush to insist that Americans reject the idea of self-deportation.

"This president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."
-- Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), July 26, 2015. Huckabee was referring to the deal on Iran's nuclear program endorsed by President Barack Obama.

Comment: Huckabee is invoking the Holocaust, predicting that the Iranian nuclear deal will be as deadly to Jews (in this case, the ones living in Israel) as the massacres by the Nazis. This is a prediction, so it's technically unclear whether it's true or false, but it seems likely to be an exaggeration. If it's so obvious that the deal is apocalyptically bad, then why – according to Huckabee – would Obama endorse it? Because Obama is evil or stupid? Or is this instead a violent metaphor on Huckabee's part, a "comparing" of the Iranian deal with the Holocaust?

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