Sunday, September 20, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: September 20, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
TODD: Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?

CARSON: Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.

TODD: So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?

CARSON: No, I don't, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.

TODD: And would you ever consider voting for a Muslim for Congress?

CARSON: Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just as it depends on what anybody else says, you know. And, you know, if there's somebody who's of any faith, but they say things, and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed, and bring peace and harmony, then I'm with them.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, September 20, 2015, during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd.

Comment: It sounds like Carson is saying that Islam is un-American, though his position might be inconsistent: if Islam is incompatible with the Constitution, why should Muslims be kept out of the presidency, but not also Congress?

"This is the first time in my life that I have caused controversy by not saying something. I didn't say anything. By not saying something. … So I started by saying, am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so! … Then I said, if someone made nasty statements or controversial statements about me to the president, do you think he would come to my rescue? I say, no chance."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, September 19, 2015. Days before, Trump had not corrected a town hall questioner who claimed that President Barack Obama was not American and was Muslim rather than Christian.

Comment: Trump is saying that it’s not his job to police civility, on the grounds that others would not police civility for his sake.

"Over the past five and a half years, our businesses have created more than 13 million new jobs. The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in over seven years. Manufacturing is growing. Housing is bouncing back. We’ve reduced our deficits by two-thirds. And 16 million more Americans now know the security of health insurance. This is your progress. It’s because of your hard work and sacrifice that America has come back from crisis faster than almost every other advanced nation on Earth. We remain the safest, strongest bet in the world. Of course, you might not know all that if you only listened to the bluster of political season, when it’s in the interest of some politicians to paint America as dark and depressing as possible. … There’s nothing patriotic about denying the progress you’ve worked so hard to make."
-- President Barack Obama, September 19, 2015.

Comment: In saying that it's "the interest of some politicians to paint America as dark and depressing as possible", Obama sounds like he's accusing his critics (Republicans) of rooting for failure. If Obama is trying to dismiss the criticism on the basis of the motive he says the critics have, then he's also engaging in ad hominem reasoning. Last, Obama suggests his critics are unpatriotic.

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.

I would argue that all of the G.O.P. candidates are calling for policies that would be deeply destructive at home, abroad, or both. But even if you like the broad thrust of modern Republican policies, it should worry you that the men and woman on that stage are clearly living in a world of fantasies and fictions. And some seem willing to advance their ambitions with outright lies. Let’s start at the shallow end, with the fantasy economics of the establishment candidates. You’re probably tired of hearing this, but modern G.O.P. economic discourse is completely dominated by an economic doctrine — the sovereign importance of low taxes on the rich — that has failed completely and utterly in practice over the past generation. … If the discussion of economics was alarming, the discussion of foreign policy was practically demented. Almost all the candidates seem to believe that American military strength can shock-and-awe other countries into doing what we want without any need for negotiations, and that we shouldn’t even talk with foreign leaders we don’t like. … I began writing for The Times during the 2000 election campaign, and what I remember above all from that campaign is the way the conventions of “evenhanded” reporting allowed then-candidate George W. Bush to make clearly false assertions — about his tax cuts, about Social Security — without paying any price. As I wrote at the time, if Mr. Bush said the earth was flat, we’d see headlines along the lines of “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” Now we have presidential candidates who make Mr. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. But who will tell the people?
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, September 18, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is using "stupid" name-calling as well as the "they'll say anything" caricature. He's also accusing Republicans of failed policies. Finally, Krugman is using the "only my opponent" caricature, saying it is a false equivalence to say Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of making false assertions.

LAUER: Does a candidate for president, in this case the Republican front-runner, have a responsibility to shut down a supporter when the supporter erroneously says that the President's not an American, that he's Muslim, and then goes on to say, “We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims.” Does Mr. Trump need to apologize to the President and to Muslims?

CHRISTIE: He's got to decide what he wants to do for himself but I would just tell you that if somebody at one of my town hall meetings said something like that I would correct them and say, “No, the President’s a Christian and he was born in this country.” I mean, I think those two things are self-evident.

LAUER: Do you think it would be right for Mr. Trump to apologize to Muslims this morning?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think it's – Donald Trump's got to decide, as we've seen – and I’ve said this all along – he's got to decide how serious a candidate he wants to be and how he handles different problems like this are going to determine that in the eyes of the American people. I'm not going to lecture him about what to do, I'll just tell you what I would do. And I wouldn’t have permitted that. If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would said, “No, listen, before we answer, let's clear some things up for the rest of the audience.” And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.
-- Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), September 18, 2015, during an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. Christie 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: Christie is evading the question, perhaps with “not my decision” or “not my job to police civility” rhetoric. On the one hand, he’s saying that a leader has an obligation to correct false assertions, but he’s also saying he’s not going to lecture Trump about it. But, if Trump has an obligation that he’s failing to fulfill, then why not say so, and detail how he should live up to the obligation? If there’s a good reason for Christie to correct the record, why isn’t there a good reason for Trump to do the same?

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. He's not even an American.

TRUMP: [laughing] We need this question. This is the first question.

QUESTIONER: We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question. When can we get rid of them?

TRUMP: We are going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening out there. We are going to be looking at that and a lot of different things.
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, September 17, 2015, being questioned at a town hall event. The questioner was referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Obama is Christian, not Muslim, and he was born in the U.S., but Trump never corrected the questioner's distortion and demonizing (either about Islam being bad, or about Obama not being American). There is also an ambiguity in the dialogue: when the questioner asks about getting rid of them, does "them" refer to training camps or to Muslims? What is Trump agreeing to look into?

Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns. It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will.
-- The New York Times Editorial Board, September 17, 2015, referring to the Republican presidential candidates, who had debated the day before.

Comment: This is name-calling of the “stupid” sort.

It’s one thing to marvel at the unprecedented and stupefying levels of GOP know-nothingness on display this election season — the misstatements, the untruths, the exaggerations, the falsehoods, and the straight-up lies. But these vaccine comments represent a legitimate public health menace. And it’s indicative of the allergy to facts, data, and evidence that is the real story of the GOP debate, and indeed of the Republican nominating contest — and we need to be talking more about it. … You’re going to hear about how Marco Rubio sounds substantive and serious on foreign policy, even though his views on America’s role in the world are basically unhinged from reality. … We joke about this stuff, but after a while it’s no longer funny. The Republican Party is dominated by candidates who are proudly, even boastfully ignorant.
-- Pundit Michael Cohen, September 17, 2015.

Comment: Cohen is accusing Republicans of not caring about truth.

Our nation is faced with all manner of heartbreak and chaos that needs our urgent attention, so why are many of you focused on reopening resolved issues like a woman's right to choose, the reality of Obamacare as law and America's longstanding tradition on immigration? My question: If you must go back into these issues, what will you do to resolve the new problems caused by the destruction of settled law and on-the-ground reality?
-- Activist and actor Sharon Stone, from a September 15, 2015, list of questions posted on CNN for GOP presidential candidates.

Comment: Stone is accusing Republicans of rehashing old debates.

Several candidates have said part of their immigration plan would include stripping the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution to end birthright citizenship. My question is, why should voters not be concerned that such a casual approach to disregarding the nation's supreme law would extend past anti-immigrant sentiment and on to any other portion you chose, such as the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms?
-- Activist Jose Antonio Vargas, from a September 15, 2015, list of questions posted on CNN for GOP presidential candidates.

Comment: Vargas is saying that ending birthright citizenship is a bigoted position.

"This is what kills me, honestly. The media is making this look like they’re Tea Party people. I don’t think these are Tea Party people who are following him. Some of them may be. But I think – you can’t – if you are a Tea Party person, then you were lying, you were lying. It was about Barack Obama being black, it was about him being a Democrat, because this guy’s offering you many of the same things as shallow as the same way. If you said to me that it bothered you about his past, you said to me, hey, what about his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, what about what he’s done here, here, and here, you’re not bothered by this guy. And it’s exactly the same thing."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, September 15, 2015. Beck was referring to supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: Beck is arguing that Trump is offering some of the same rhetoric as President Barack Obama did when he ran for president. Given that, Beck is suggesting that people who support Trump but opposed Obama may have been motivated by racism.

"I agree that it's good for Sanders to go out and to address racial issues since he's never been identified with it … But what he's doing now is he's criticizing this idea of inequality. It's a great idea if you're the opposing party. His party, the Democrats, Obama has been in office for seven years. They own the economy. The idea that you're running against inequality, the whole middle class is being held back, nobody is advancing, It's all stacked against you. Well, they've had the power for seven years and done nothing."
-- Pundit Charles Krauthammer, September 14, 2015. His remarks referred to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: Krauthammer is using “failed policies” rhetoric against Democrats.

"And this whole anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are. … But when I hear folks talking as if somehow these kids are different from my kids, or less worthy in the eyes of God, that somehow they are less worthy of our respect and consideration and care -- I think that’s un-American. I do not believe that. I think it is wrong. And I think we should do better. Because that’s how America was made -- by us caring about all our kids."
-- President Barack Obama, September 14, 2015.

Comment: Obama is accusing someone of being both bigoted and un-American. But he doesn't name who has said that immigrant children or the children of illegal immigrants are less worthy of respect, so is it a straw man?

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