Monday, October 26, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: October 25, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Donald Trump believes he will "absolutely" be a force for bipartisanship, but in an interview this weekend neither Republicans nor Democrats escaped a barrage of attacks from the GOP presidential candidate.

Trump flung criticism at politicians spanning the spectrum from presidential primary opponents Jeb Bush and Ben Carson to the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and the man he hopes to succeed, President Barack Obama, in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that aired Sunday on "State of the Union."

And he lamented the House Select Committee on Benghazi's questioning of Clinton, a hearing he called "very partisan" that "hurts both parties" and "hurts the country."

"The level of hatred between Republicans and Democrats was unbelievable. The level of -- I've never seen anything like it," Trump said. "I'm going to unify. This country is totally divided. Barack Obama has divided this country unbelievably. And it's all, it's all hatred, what can I tell you. I've never seen anything like it...I've gotten along with Democrats and I've gotten along with Republicans. And I said, that's a good thing."

Tapper asked Trump if his presidency would result in an era of bipartisanship.

"I absolutely think so," he said, adding, "I will be a great unifier for our country."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 25, 2015, during interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, as related in a CNN story by Jeremy Diamond.

Comment: This is "bipartisan" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

"Democrats, we are at our best, and America is at its best when we assume the best in others instead of the bad."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate, however – as seen in this very speech – Obama often assumes the worst about Republicans and conservatives.

"Our system only works when we realize that government is not some alien thing. Government is not some conspiracy or plot. It’s not something to oppress you. Government’s us in a democracy. Government is us. The most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen. It’s you."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is knocking over a straw man. Most of his political opponents want small government, not no government whatsoever.

"A lot of times it seems like our politics don’t reflect the common sense and decency that we see in our neighbors and our communities and our friends, and it gets frustrating. We’ve got a system that too often rewards division and polarization and short-term thinking, and rewards people for saying the most outrageous things, even though everybody knows they’re not true, but we think of it as entertainment somehow. And so attention-grabbing and controversy is rewarded rather than folks who are rolling up their sleeves and dealing with sometimes really complicated issues that don’t lend themselves to a sound bite. And so people get cynical. And sometimes people just throw up their hands and say “Washington doesn’t work, a plague on both your houses, everybody’s dysfunctional.” Your job is to not succumb to that."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate. He is lamenting divisive rhetoric that is not factual and how it yields cynicism. However, he doesn't acknowledge how he and his party have contributed to these problems.

"As Democrats, we’re proud that our plans to fix our broken immigration system are not rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment. They’re rooted in what we know to be our own immigrant stories."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is demonizing Republicans – and perhaps people who don't support comprehensive immigration reform more generally – as being xenophobes. How is it anti-immigrant to say that people who came to the country illegally should not get citizenship and permanent residence, but that people who came legally should?

"You’ve heard from some of our outstanding candidates. I’m going to be supporting whoever the nominee is and I’m confident … We’ve got some great candidates. But when you watch the debate between the Democrats, it was logical, and civil, and people didn’t agree with everything but they weren’t just saying crazy stuff. And they weren’t dividing the country into us and them and tapping into people’s worst impulses. It made me proud, because it said that we’ve got a party that’s inclusive and that wants everybody to join and get involved and showed that we can disagree without being disagreeable."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Democrats are logical and civil while Republicans say "crazy stuff" (an example of "out of touch" or "don't care about facts" rhetoric) and divide Americans (an example of "unify the country" rhetoric) and appeal to people's worst impulses (which is demonizing Republicans).

"Overall, though, we’re making enormous progress, and it does make you wonder, why is it that Republican politicians are so down on America. Have you noticed that? I mean, they are gloomy. They’re like Grumpy Cat. Everything is terrible according to them. We’re doomed. I mean, I know it’s political season, but you listen to them and they’ve constructed this entire separate reality. It’s like the Twilight Zone. And according to their story, their narrative, everything was terrific back in 2008 when unemployment was skyrocketing and uninsured rates were rising and folks were losing their homes and their jobs, we were engaged in two wars, bin Laden was still at large. If you were listening to them, those were like the good old days. The golden years. And then I came in and the Democrats came in, but according to them that’s when everything all went to heck. Which is strange. I mean, it’s a hard argument to make. There was an article, I think, in The New York Times today, or maybe it was yesterday, where they pointed out that it’s very hard for them to make the arguments they make about tax cuts for the wealthy and doing the same stuff that they’ve been promoting, and trying to eliminate regulations on the big banks and all that, when the empirical evidence shows that when Democrats control the White House and we’ve got a Democratic Congress the economy does better and when they’re in charge, it does worse. Just look at the facts. Don’t take my word for it, go back, take a look at – all right, here’s Bill Clinton’s presidency, and then there’s Bush presidency and then there’s my presidency and, take a look. And you’ve gotta feel bad for the fact-checkers, for the Republicans, because they’ve gotta spend hours trying to keep up with some of the crazy stuff that their candidates are claiming. And the reason they have to make up stuff is because they don’t have a record to run on. They’re offering the same policies that caused so many problems in the first place. They ran on them in 2008, they ran on them in 2012, they’re running on them now. … And it's a shame when politicians spend all their time trying to make people feel bad, or more typically, trying to make them feel scared. Talking down the country all the time because it serves your politics. … We [Democrats] have got an optimistic vision about where this country can go if the politics of obstruction and fear-mongering are set aside and we start working together as a country."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: First, Obama seems to be accusing Republicans of rooting for failure, obstruction, divisiveness and fear-mongering, and saying they are doing so for "political" motives. This is unfair. Obama, when he ran for office in 2004 and 2008, was frequently critical of the country's state of affairs; does this mean he was "down on America"? Second, Obama is distorting Republicans' position: what Republican has ever said that everything was terrific back in 2008? Third, Obama is making a "correlation is causation" argument when it comes to the economy and Democrats, which is additionally flawed because Democrats and Republicans aren't monolithic when it comes to policies (some Republicans have raised taxes, like Ronald Reagan, and some Democrats have lowered them, like JFK), and because Republicans were in control of Congress during the boom years of Clinton's presidency, Democrats were in control of Congress when the Great Recession happened, and Congress is in control of Republicans now that we're making "enormous progress". Of course, sometimes good or bad things happen when a party is in power that were set in motion earlier by a different party, or that are out of anyone's political control altogether.

"Teen pregnancy rates are down but we’ve got a lot of folks who are attacking the right of women just to have basic health care in this country, and to be able to make decisions about reproductive freedom without having some member of Congress or some governor or some other elected official try to intrude."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is referring to opponents of abortion, demonizing them by saying they don't want women to receive basic health care, rather than that they don't want unborn children to be killed.

"The fix was always in. Nothing was ever going to happen to Mrs. Clinton in these Benghazi hearings. What was always going to happen, the media was gonna hype it, and hype it they did. … We all know she lied to the families of those four that were killed. We all know that she lied publicly about what caused that attack. … And I, not relishing the role of being the cold shower or the bucket of cold water, attempted to warn you and anybody else that would listen that that was not what was going to happen. And it was not because the Republicans wouldn't try. … They did illustrate on a couple of occasions that Mrs. Clinton got caught in a massive lie. … But none of it matters because of the way the media immediately began reporting it yesterday, last night, and into today. … she was gonna be portrayed as having stood up to this political firing squad, the Republican Party. They showered her with everything they got and she triumphed. … And that's exactly what's happened. And, accordingly, a lot of people feeling deflated, a lot of people feeling unhappy, depressed, sad, whatever, because they really, really thought, given the facts, that somebody was going to be held accountable. But once again, when dealing with the Washington establishment, which is run in toto by the Democrat Party and the American media, we find that facts are irrelevant, facts are to be obliterated and maneuvered and bent, shaped, flaked, and formed."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, October 23, 2015, referring to Congressional hearings on Benghazi involving Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on October 22, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh is accusing Democrats and the media of not caring about truth.

"We're not going to get the contradictions, we're not going to get the facts, we're not going to get the real story underlying it. We're living in an age where what you say and its relation with the facts is completely irrelevant as we see in the presidential campaign. And it's carrying over into the hearings."
-- Pundit Charles Krauthammer, October 22, 2015, referring to Congressional hearings on Benghazi involving Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier that day.

Comment: Krauthammer is saying that facts don't matter to people anymore.

"My grandfather came to this land in 1920 and he landed in Jaffa, and very shortly after he landed he went to the immigration office in Jaffa. And a few months later it was burned down by marauders. These attackers, Arab attackers, murdered several Jews, including our celebrated writer Brenner. And this attack and other attacks on the Jewish community in 1920, 1921, 1929, were instigated by a call of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was later sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, "If you expel them, they'll all come here." "So what should I do with them?" he asked. He said, "Burn them." And he was sought in, during the Nuremberg trials for prosecution."
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, October 20, 2015, asserting that Amin al-Husseini played a role in initiating the Holocaust.

Comment: This is demonizing: Amin al-Husseini certainly hated Jews and met with Adolf Hitler in November 1941, and may even have approved of the Holocaust. But Nazi Germany had already begun massacring Jews earlier that year. More, Netanyahu seems to be trying to demonize Palestinians with guilt by association, as al-Husseini was Palestinian.

CALLER: If Trump is gonna be start with Bush number two being the -- being the part of the culprit, and when I read his language, when I read his words -- we all know words mean things -- he's partially putting blame on Bush 43 for the terrorist attacks.

LIMBAUGH: Yeah, he is. And he's --

CALLER: Well, okay, but why stop there? Let's go all the way back to Carter and Reagan. Because it was Ollie North that warned us in 1976 who the problem was. So it's not Bush 43 … I'm holding a double-edged sword 'cause I don't totally trust Trump. I don't agree with this tack for politics. I think it's, you know, more Trump kind of shooting off the hip again. I don't agree with it, because there's no purpose in rehashing old business, especially when it's completely not in proper context. I don't think Trump put this in proper context by going after Bush. He should have... Why didn't he go after Clinton? Our target is the left.
-- A caller to the Rush Limbaugh Show, Todd in San Diego, October 20, 2015, discussing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Earlier, Trump had said the country was not safe under President George W. Bush, given that the September 11, 2001, attacks happened while Bush was president.

Comment: Todd is using "rehashing old debates" rhetoric. What's wrong about discussing the past?

"My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together," Trudeau, 43, told a crowd of cheering supporters in Montreal.

"This is what positive politics can do."
-- Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau, October 19, 2015, as related by a Reuters story by Randall Palmer and Rod Nickel.

Comment: Trudeau is accusing his political opponents of resorting to fear, cynicism, and negative politics, while crediting himself with unifying the country.

Iranian FM Spokeswoman Afkham said the Saudi FM is not qualified to comment on Iran’s regional role when his country has taken a military approach toward current crises in region.

“The Saudi foreign minister [Adel al-Jubeir] whose country has adopted a military, security and extremist approach toward the current regional crises, and has been targeting the neighbor Muslim country of Yemen with relentless bombardment is not qualified to speak of Iran’s regional role,” said Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham on Monday.
-- Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Afkham, October 19, 2015, as related in a story by AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA).

Comment: This is ad hominem reasoning. Just because Saudi Arabia is engaging in misbehavior doesn't mean it's wrong when it accuses Iran of misbehavior. Saudi Arabia's criticism may be hypocritical, but that doesn't prove it's false.

Actor James Woods, who frequently gets political on his Twitter account, called out Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Monday for a tweet about China.

Sanders tweeted, "China -- not exactly seen as a model when it comes to human rights -- provides 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. The US provides zero."

Woods responded within a few hours: "China has notoriously killed female infants for population control, you utter moron. #ChinaGendercide"
-- Actor and activist James Woods, October 19, 2015, as related in a CNN story by Daniella Diaz.

Comment: This is "stupid" rhetoric; Woods can criticize Sanders' position without resorting to name-calling.

ROGER: Ronald Reagan successfully brainwashed about 45% of the nation's people with the help of Rush Limbaugh. And if you use keywords like “socialist” and “demagogue”, they right away think communist and they will not vote for you. And if you want to fix this problem, you can’t just do what you’re doing and shout out words like “demagogue”, they love demagogues. They don’t understand what the word even means. Go to a Republican bar and sit there and talk to them, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. You first have to fix the brainwash problem, and you first have to slowly fix the brainwash problem by bringing back the equal time laws that Ronald Reagan got rid of.

SVART: For the last 40 years the far, far right has really systematically built up institutions to control the discourse. … And they've really dismantled the public sphere. They've really deregulated. … And another thing that they've done is they've flooded the airwaves with their mantra, including how socialism is evil and the government in general is evil and inefficient. And they just repeat it over and over again, ignoring facts, and it really is true that it has an impact on how people engage with politics.
-- National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America Maria Svart, October 18, 2015, responding to Roger, a caller on C-SPAN Washington Journal.

Comment: Roger is using "stupid" (i.e., "brainwashed") and "demagogue" rhetoric to describe Republicans and conservatives. Svart is demonizing Republicans and conservatives; they generally want smaller government, but that doesn't mean they believe all government is evil. Svart is also accusing Republicans and conservatives of not caring about facts, and she is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature (implying that Democrats, Socialists, liberals and progressives don't also repeat false assertions).

"We will not give up to the logic of brute force, policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and the herd of settlers who are engaged in terrorism against our people, our holy places, our homes, our trees and the execution of our children in cold blood as they did with the child Ahmed Manasra and other children from Jerusalem."
-- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, October 15, 2015, referring to a 13-year-old who had been involved in stabbing attacks in East Jerusalem on October 12, 2015.

Comment: This is demonizing, as Manasra was later shown to be alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rhetoric: Accountability and “I Take Responsibility”

In general, people are expected to be answerable for their behavior, and the same applies in politics. We often hear that someone is expected to be accountable for what they’ve done, or that someone is taking responsibility for something.

But what does this mean?

For instance, if a person says, “I take responsibility” for something that happened, what changes? Does it mean:
  • They are going to quit their job, or be fired?
  • They are going to fire someone else?
  • They are going to plead guilty to a crime, pay a fine or go to jail?
  • They are going to fix the problem, or even lead the effort to do so?
  • They are going to sacrifice something of value in order to fix the problem?

In general, we have to ask: what is happening now that you have taken responsibility that wasn't happening beforehand? What difference is being brought about by your taking responsibility?

If there isn’t a good answer to this question, then “taking responsibility” may be no more than an explanation and an article of empty rhetoric.

The purpose of releasing the partial transcript of the shooter's interaction with 911 operators was to provide transparency, while remaining sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims, their families, and the integrity of the ongoing investigation. We also did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda. Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript that named the terrorist organizations and leaders have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime. As much of this information had been previously reported, we have re-issued the complete transcript to include these references in order to provide the highest level of transparency possible under the circumstances.
-- Joint statement, June 20, 2016, from the Justice Department and the FBI regarding the transcript related to the Orlando terror attack.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric. Notice, the Justice Department and FBI are changing their behavior – they are releasing an unedited transcript, in contrast to the edited one they previously released – but they are not admitting that their previous behavior was in error. They are not taking accountability for any mistake.

As Executive Producer of “Under the Gun,” a documentary film that explores the epidemic of gun violence, I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). My question to the VCDL regarding the ability of convicted felons and those on the terror watch list to legally obtain a gun, was followed by an extended pause, making the participants appear to be speechless. When I screened an early version of the film with the director, Stephanie Soechtig, I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a "beat" was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect," to give the audience a moment to consider the question. When VCDL members recently pointed out that they had in fact immediately answered this question, I went back and reviewed it and agree that those eight seconds do not accurately represent their response. VCDL members have a right for their answers to be shared and so we have posted a transcript of their responses here. I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.
-- News anchor Katie Couric, May 31, 2016.

Comment: This is “I take responsibility” rhetoric, in which Couric seems to confess to going along with someone else’s editing decision. Is this the same as admitting that she is the cause of the mistake? What is different, or what will change, now that Couric has taken responsibility for what happened?

GUTHRIE: Some of your Democratic allies, Democratic leaders have said point blank that Bernie Sanders – a democratic socialist, as he describes himself – cannot win a general election, that Republicans cannot wait to have an ad that has the hammer and the sickle. You have kind of tiptoed around it. But this is crunch time. If you believe it, why not come right out and say it: "Bernie Sanders, you may love him, Iowa voters, but he cannot win a general election"?

CLINTON: Well I know, Savannah, that is exactly what a lot of Democrats are saying, a lot of elected Democrats, people who want to take back the Senate in the 2016 election, want to add to the numbers of Democrats in the House, and maybe make some progress –

GUTHRIE: Are you saying it?

CLINTON: – in governors and state legislatures. But I think it's fair to say that he has to run his campaign, and present his views. We have differences, and I've been pointing out those differences. I think that it's important for me to tell voters what I want to achieve, and how I will go about doing that. Because I want them to hold me accountable. Then it's going to be up to caucus goers tonight, primary voters next in New Hampshire, to decide who they think offers the best path forward to keep the progress that we've made going.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, February 1, 2016, during an interview with Savannah Guthrie of NBC News. The question concerned Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: This is an evasion. Clinton never answers the question of whether Sanders is electable in the general election, instead claiming that other Democrats believe Sanders is un-electable, and apparently saying the "voters must decide" whether they think Sanders can win. Of course, one of the ways for voters to decide whether they think voters can win is to consider the opinion of other Democrats, such as Clinton. Ironically, Clinton declares she wants to be "held accountable" even as she isn't answering the question that's been put to her.

At the end of the day, I am the mayor and I own it. I take responsibility for what happened and I will fix it. Nothing less than complete and total reform of the system and the culture will meet the standards we have to set for ourselves.
-- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, December 4, 2015, remarking on the investigation of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.

Comment: Emanuel is using "I take responsibility" rhetoric. Isn't it always the case that the mayor is responsible for supervising the police?

RITTIMAN: I do want to ask a judgment question. You used a small Denver company called Platte River Networks to manage your private server. It appears now that data off of that server got backed up to a cloud server somewhere else without your knowledge or consent. Platte River told me if it knew -- and it's not in the business of asking, but if it knew -- that you were planning to send State Department-type information through this system, this is not the system that they would have set you up with. You're the nation's top diplomat in that role. You've gotta know that what you're sending through communications is valuable to foreign intelligence. Why go with this system? Did any part of you think, 'Maybe this isn't a good idea'?

CLINTON: Well, look, I've taken responsibility for what I did, and it was a mistake. The State Department allowed it at the time. And I've tried to be as transparent as possible. I'll be appearing before the Congress next week and answering a lot of questions that they may have, although, now it's clear that this whole effort was set up for political partisan purposes, not to try to get to any useful end. But I'll be in a position to respond and the American people can listen and watch and draw their own conclusions.

RITTIMAN: To someone who thinks that that might have been a foolish move, what would you say about your judgment generally?

CLINTON: Well, nothing I sent or received was marked classified at the time. That is an absolute fact. It's been verified over and over and over again. So I think that we'll have a chance to explain what that means, if people don't understand it.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 14, 2015, during interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA 9News.

Comment: Clinton is taking responsibility for her actions, though it's not clear what that means, particularly since she says the State Department let her do it. Does that mean the State Department is responsible, that the mistake was theirs? Clinton perhaps avoids answering the question about whether her decision to set up a private server demonstrated good judgment: if material could have been hacked, then wasn't it a bad idea? If it was the State Department's decision to let her set up a private server, then are they the ones guilty of poor judgment, and should Clinton have exercised good judgment by not letting the State Department make a bad decision?

MUIR: When voters were asked, "What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Hillary Clinton?", words like, "liar", "dishonest", "untrustworthy", were at the top of the list. Does this tell you that your original explanation about the private email server, that you did it to carry one phone out of convenience, that this didn't sit well with the American people?

CLINTON: Well, David, obviously I don't like hearing that. I am confident by the end of this campaign people will know they can trust me, and that I will be on their side and will fight for them and their families. But I do think I could have and should have done a better job answering questions earlier. I really didn't perhaps appreciate the need to do that. What I had done was allowed, it was above board. But in retrospect, certainly, as I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts. One for personal, one for work-related emails. That was a mistake. I'm sorry about that. I take responsibility. And I'm trying to be as transparent as I possibly can to not only release 55,000 pages of my emails, turn over my server. But I am looking forward, finally, to testifying before Congress, something I've been asking for for nearly a year.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, September 8, 2015, during an interview with David Muir of ABC News.

Comment: Muir is using "Americans want" rhetoric in his question: certainly some Americans disapprove of Clinton's behavior and her subsequent explanations, but it's not clear they all feel that way. Clinton says she is taking responsibility for getting the information on her email server to the government, but wasn't this always something she had an obligation to do?

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday her department takes full responsibility for spilling 3 million gallons of mining waste that turned a southwest Colorado river an unnatural shade of orange, adding it “pains me to no end.”

Gina McCarthy made the comments as her agency comes under increased scrutiny after federal and contract workers accidentally unleashed the spill last week while inspecting the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado. The contaminated water that flowed into a tributary of the Animas and San Juan rivers contained high levels of arsenic, lead and other potentially toxic heavy metals. McCarthy expressed regret that the spill occurred and said her agency has “added responsibility here.”

“It is really a tragic and very unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that that spill is cleaned up,” McCarthy said. “I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened.”
-- Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), August 11, 2015, as related in an Associated Press story. McCarthy was remarking on the Gold King Mine waste water spill.

Comment: McCarthy is saying that the EPA is taking responsibility for cleaning up the spill, but that was always understood to be the case, right?

The derailment of Northeast Regional Train 188 was a terrible tragedy that we are responding to with every resource we have available. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation to determine the cause of the incident, and Amtrak is providing full cooperation. With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died. Their loss leaves holes in the lives of their families and communities. On behalf of the entire Amtrak family, I offer our sincere sympathies and prayers for them and their loved ones. Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.
-- Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, May 16, 2015, on the derailment of Train 188.

Comment: Boardman is saying that Amtrak takes responsibility for the derailment.

"This morning, I want to express our grief and condolences to the families of two hostages. One American, Dr. Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, who were tragically killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation. Warren and Giovanni were aid workers in Pakistan devoted to improving the lives of the Pakistani people. After Warren was abducted by al Qaeda in 2011, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family. And dedicated professionals across our government worked tirelessly to do so. We also worked closely with our Italian allies on behalf of Giovanni, who was kidnapped in 2012. Since 9/11, our counterterrorism efforts have prevented terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives both here in America, and around the world. And that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us. Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidently killed Warren and Giovanni this past January. Yesterday, I spoke with Warren’s wife Elaine and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today. I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there is nothing that I can ever say or do to ease their heartache. And today, I simply want to say this: As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families. … Already, I have directed a full review of what happened. We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy, and any changes that should be made. We will do our utmost to ensure it is not repeated. And we will continue to do everything we can to prevent the loss of innocent lives -- not just innocent Americans, but all innocent lives in our counterterrorism operations."
-- President Barack Obama, April 23, 2015, discussing the deaths of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto.

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility for the deaths.

SCOTT: A lot of the headlines say that the president now almost a week later is taking responsibility for the party's losses in the midterms. Do you see it that way?

BEVAN: Well, not exactly, he kind of is, Jon. But he's putting the best spin he can on the result saying, look, this is the same result that we've been hearing in the last few elections which is the public wants Washington, D.C. to work. And so that's the president's take on it. He said the buck stops here but there's no indication that's going to change any of his staff or any of his policies moving forward. In fact, he said he thought that the policies were right they just needed to do a better job of selling them. That was one of the short comings they had from last Tuesday.
-- Pundit Tom Bevan, posted November 10, 2014, being interviewed by Jon Scott of Fox News.

Comment: Bevan is discussing the consequences (if any) of Obama taking responsibility for the Democrats' 2014 midterm loss.

President Barack Obama is taking blame for the Democratic drubbing in last week’s midterm elections, saying “the buck stops right here at my desk.”

“Whenever, as the head of the party, it doesn’t do well, I’ve got to take responsibility for it,” the president said in a wide-ranging interview aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
-- President Barack Obama, November 9, 2014, as related in a Politico story by Austin Wright.

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility for the Democrats' loss, but what does that mean? What did he do that caused or explains the loss, and what will the consequence of his being accountable?

Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancĂ©e, Cylvia Hayes, admitted on Thursday to entering into an illegal marriage in 1997, calling it a “serious mistake.”

“It was wrong then and it is wrong now and I am here today to accept the consequences, some of which will be life changing. And I cannot predict what direction this will go,” Hayes said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the Willamette Week released a story questioning the legitimacy of Hayes’ third marriage to an Ethiopian man, Abraham B. Abraham, who was 18 at the time of the marriage. Hayes was 29.

Hayes says she entered into the marriage so Abraham could stay in the United States.
-- Cylvia Hayes, October 9, 2014, as related in a Politico story by Kendall Breitman.

Comment: Hayes is taking responsibility for her behavior and saying she will accept unspecified consequences for it.

"Now, ultimately, this website,, will be the easiest way to shop for and buy these new plans, because you can see all these plans right next to each other and compare prices and see what kind of coverage it provides. But, look, there’s no denying it, right now, the website is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck. And I am not happy about it. And neither are a lot of Americans who need health care, and they’re trying to figure out how they can sign up as quickly as possible. So there’s no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP. We are working overtime to improve it every day."
-- President Barack Obama, October 30, 2013, addressing problems with the website

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility for fixing the website, though wasn't it always understood that he is responsible for fixing it?

KROFT: You came in running as an outsider, somebody who was going to change Washington. Do you still believe after three years in this gridlock that we've had that - that somebody who claims to be an outsider can get things accomplished in Washington?

OBAMA: Oh, yeah, look, I mean, we passed historic legislation that strengthened our financial regulations. We passed historic legislation that will not only provide 30 million more people coverage, but also insures that you know, kids can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26 and seniors have lower prescription drugs. And so change has happened and positive change for the American people. I'm the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren't constantly in a political slugfest, but were focused more on problem solving that, you know, I haven't fully accomplished that. Haven't even come close in some cases. And you know, if you ask me what's my biggest disappointment is that we haven't changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.

KROFT: And you don't bear any responsibility for that?

OBAMA: Oh, I think that-- you know-- as president I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree and one of the things I've realized over the last two years is that that only happens if I'm enlisting the American people much more aggressively than I did the first two years.
-- President Barack Obama, posted September 23, 2012, during interview with Steve Kroft of CBS News.

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility for not bringing about a higher standard of debate.

"There’s the thinking that the President is somebody who is all powerful and can get everything done. In our branch of -- in our system of government, I am the head of the executive branch. I’m not the head of the legislature; I’m not the head of the judiciary. We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done. And so I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn’t get it done, but I did not make a promise that I would get everything done, 100 percent, when I was elected as President."
-- President Barack Obama, September 20, 2012, during a town hall hosted by Univision. Obama was responding to a question about his failure to introduce immigration reform legislation in his first year in office.

Comment: Obama is taking responsibility, but what is the consequence of his doing so?

"I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me -- so am I."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Politicians frequently denounce campaign tactics in the abstract, without making any mention of whether they and their own campaign share any guilt. Apart from taking responsibility for being part of an "avalanche of advertising", this is what Obama is doing here. These kinds of denunciations in the abstract could be seen as implicitly making the "only my opponent" caricature: "I know there's a lot of misbehavior out there, but I'm not acknowledging that I'm engaging in any of it", which leaves your opponent as the most likely suspect. This might also be "unnamed antagonist" rhetoric.

"The principle here is a basic one. If local schools do not have the freedom to change, they cannot be held accountable for failing to change. Authority and accountability must be aligned at the local level, or schools will have a convenient excuse for failure. “I would have done it this way, but some central office or Washington, D.C., caused me to do it another way.” … Parents and children who have only bad options must eventually get good options, if we are to succeed all across the country. There are difference of opinions about what those options should be. I made my opinion very clear in the course of the campaign, and will take my opinion to the Hill and let folks debate it. Today, I was pleased to see that Senator Joe Lieberman brought up his plan that includes different options for parents. It’s a great place to begin. He and I understand that an accountability system must have a consequence; otherwise, it’s not much of an accountability system."
-- President George W. Bush, January 23, 2001.

Comment: Bush is calling for accountability in education, while giving an idea of what that would mean in practice.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: October 18, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
RITTIMAN: I want to turn more to the race, generally, here. I know he's got his own decision to make here, Joe Biden, does, but in your heart of hearts, you have to be hoping he doesn't get into this race at this point.

CLINTON: I'm not hoping anything about that, I really respect and admire the Vice President, he's been a friend and a colleague of mine for a long time. He has to make up his own mind. And what I know is I have to run may campaign no matter who else is in the race, and so I'm just gonna give him the space that he needs to try to resolve this in his own mind.

RITTIMAN: You feel you're ready to run against him if he were to decide to get in?

CLINTON: I'm not gonna comment on a decision that he hasn't made. I feel like I have a lot to put forward before the American and that's what I intend to do and I will continue to do that.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 14, 2015, during interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA 9News.

Comment: This is an evasion of the "hypothetical" sort. Clinton never answers whether she is ready to run against Biden, or whether she wants Biden to get in the race.

RITTIMAN: I do want to ask a judgment question. You used a small Denver company called Platte River Networks to manage your private server. It appears now that data off of that server got backed up to a cloud server somewhere else without your knowledge or consent. Platte River told me if it knew -- and it's not in the business of asking, but if it knew -- that you were planning to send State Department-type information through this system, this is not the system that they would have set you up with. You're the nation's top diplomat in that role. You've gotta know that what you're sending through communications is valuable to foreign intelligence. Why go with this system? Did any part of you think, 'Maybe this isn't a good idea'?

CLINTON: Well, look, I've taken responsibility for what I did, and it was a mistake. The State Department allowed it at the time. And I've tried to be as transparent as possible. I'll be appearing before the Congress next week and answering a lot of questions that they may have, although, now it's clear that this whole effort was set up for political partisan purposes, not to try to get to any useful end. But I'll be in a position to respond and the American people can listen and watch and draw their own conclusions.

RITTIMAN: To someone who thinks that that might have been a foolish move, what would you say about your judgment generally?

CLINTON: Well, nothing I sent or received was marked classified at the time. That is an absolute fact. It's been verified over and over and over again. So I think that we'll have a chance to explain what that means, if people don't understand it.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 14, 2015, during interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA 9News.

Comment: Clinton is taking responsibility for her actions, though it's not clear what that means, particularly since she says the State Department let her do it. Does that mean the State Department is responsible, that the mistake was theirs? Clinton perhaps avoids answering the question about whether her decision to set up a private server demonstrated good judgment: if material could have been hacked, then wasn't it a bad idea? If it was the State Department's decision to let her set up a private server, then are they the ones guilty of poor judgment, and should Clinton have exercised good judgment by not letting the State Department make a bad decision?

RITTIMAN: Your closest opponent in the Democratic primary is making some pretty good inroads describing himself as a "democratic socialist", is there anything wrong with democratic socialism?

CLINTON: Well, I'm a progressive Democrat, so I'm not going to comment on labels other people apply to themselves. I want to talk about what I will do and what I've done during the course of my public life to try to bring people together, to try to solve problems, to try to come up with new solutions, something that I believe strongly is in the best interests of America. So, I'm gonna leave the labels to others, I'm gonna talk about what my approaches are, and what my solutions are.

RITTIMAN: Alright, not a brand you would identify yourself with, though?


-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 14, 2015, during interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA 9News.

Comment: This is an evasion. Clinton states clearly that the label doesn't describe her own political views, so there must be something she finds bad or rejects about democratic socialism. Why can't she spell out what that is? If someone applied the label "communist" or "white supremacist" or "Republican" or "tea party" to themselves, Clinton wouldn't have any comment? Also, Clinton says that she's brought people together, which sounds like "unify the country" rhetoric. What did she do to bring people together in what way?

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday slammed Washington for refusing to share intelligence with Russia on Syria, accusing it of muddled thinking.

"I believe some of our partners simply have mush for brains," Putin said, expressing some of his strongest criticism yet of Washington's handling of the Syrian crisis.
-- Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 13, 2015, as related in an AFP story.

Comment: This is "stupid" rhetoric.

Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple. … But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.
-- Pundit David Brooks, October 13, 2015.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that it is only Republicans and conservatives (or, in this case, certain Republicans and conservatives that Brooks is not allied with) have resorted to exaggerations and demonizing. Where is the evidence that Democrats, liberals, and progressives have not done the same? Also, Brooks is accusing Republicans of ignoring facts.

"So Obama's come out, and he added to this. He said that Hillary's illegal server was not a national security problem, which is rich coming from Obama, because Obama is America's number one national security problem, if you ask me. No, I'm not exaggerating, and I'm not going for laughs here. I really mean it. I think Barack Obama's our number one national security problem or risk, whether by accident, by design."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, October 13, 2015.

Comment: Saying that President Barack Obama is the highest national security threat to the United States – and that Obama might be taking that role intentionally – is both exaggerating and demonizing.

The craziest thing about the Republican presidential contest isn't that Donald Trump is in the lead. It's that Dr. Ben Carson -- who truly seems to have lost his mind -- is in second place and gaining fast. Trump may be a blowhard, but Carson has proved himself to be a crackpot of the first order.
-- Pundit Eugene Robinson, October 13, 2015, referring to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

Comment: This is "divorced from reality" rhetoric.

"Whenever I hear people saying that our problems would be solved without government, I always want to tell them you need to go to some other countries where there really is no government, where the roads are never repaired, where nobody has facilitated electricity going everywhere even where it’s not economical … or kids don’t have access to basic primary education. That’s the logical conclusion if, in fact, you think that government is the enemy. And that, too, is a running strain in our democracy. That’s sort of in our DNA. We’re suspicious of government as a tool of oppression. And that skepticism is healthy, but it can also be paralyzing when we’re trying to do big things together."
-- President Barack Obama, from interview in The New York Review of Books, retrieved October 13, 2015. The interview was conducted September 14, 2015.

Comment: Obama is knocking over a straw man; those who support small government or less government interference rarely support anarchism (i.e., no government at all).

"I want to begin with concerns that voters have about each of the candidates here on this stage that they have about each of you. Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency. You were against same-sex marriage. Now you're for it. You defended President Obama's immigration policies. Now you say they're too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the "gold standard". Now, suddenly, last week, you're against it. Will you say anything to get elected?"
-- CNN's Anderson Cooper, October 13, 2015, questioning Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Party presidential debate.

Comment: This is the "they'll say anything" caricature.

"In the spirit of problem-solving, I'm wondering if you're at all concerned that some of your divisive language you use on the campaign trail undermines your ability to solve problems," a questioner said, to raucous applause.

"I went to Ivy League schools, I know what's divisive, I know what's not divisive," Trump replied. "I don't want to be politically correct all the way down the line. ... I see politicians, they're afraid to say anything because it's not politically correct."

"I am going to have to be who I am," Trump said. "At the same time, I'm running against a lot of people, many are going to be dropping out, I think very soon, if they're smart, they're going to be dropping out. Too many people! Too many people. When it becomes a different kind of situation, you'll see, I'm going to be much less divisive. But always remember this: I never start anything ... I simply counterpunch. They start. They get very nasty."

He continued, "I don't think anybody in this room wants to have somebody who's not going to fight back. We have people now who don't fight back, the country has been hurt tremendously."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 12, 2015, at the No Labels conference, as related in a Politico story by Katie Glueck.

Comment: The questioner and Trump are discussing "divisive" language without specifying exactly what counts as divisive. Also, Trump is using "get tough and hit back" language. Finally, if "divisive" language means name-calling, then it's false for Trump to say that he's never instigated it: that's the "only my opponent" caricature. Besides, even if it were true that Trump wasn't the instigator, responding to name-calling with name-calling is still unacceptable. Civility doesn't require being quiet in the face of unfair rhetoric; there are ways of responding that don't indulge in more of the same.

"We're taking back America. … Obama has failed us."
-- Unidentified supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 10, 2015.

Comment: This is "real Americans" and "failed policies" rhetoric.

MORROW: Hey, Chelsea. Has your mother ever told you that you’re the daughter of Webb Hubbell, and not Bill Clinton?

CLINTON: I am so proud to be my parents’ daughter.

MORROW: One more quick question, about this book right here. You say it’s targeted towards teenage girls.

CLINTON: It’s targeted, actually, to kids. Girls and boys.

MORROW: Would you say that Bill Clinton also targets teenage girls, except for sexual reasons?

CLINTON: I would say my book is really resonating with kids. I was at the Ann Richards School earlier today and I’m so grateful that it’s resonating to the young girls and the young boys that I’ve been talking to across the country.
-- Activist Robert Morrow questioning Chelsea Clinton – the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – October 9, 2015, at a signing event for Chelsea Clinton's recently published book. Webster "Webb" Hubbell is a political and legal associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Morrow's questions referred to various accusations that Bill Clinton had engaged in sexual misconduct.

Comment: Chelsea Clinton is clearly evading Morrow's question, though you could argue that it's justified in these circumstances. Clinton is a public and political figure, so it's fair to ask her political question, but her parentage is hardly an appropriate topic. Allegations of sexual impropriety by her father, Bill Clinton, is a fair political topic, but what obligations is Chelsea Clinton under to answer to them?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: October 11, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
MASON: Do you think it’s healthy for the system that so much money is coming out of a relatively small group of people?

KOCH: If I didn’t think it was healthy or fair, I wouldn’t do it. Because what we’re after is to fight against special interests.

MASON: Some people would look at you and say you’re a special interest.

KOCH: Yeah, but my interest is, just as it’s been in business, is what will help people improve their lives and to get rid of these special interests. That’s the whole thing that drives me.
-- Billionaire activist Charles Koch, during interview released October 11, 2015, with Anthony Mason of CBS News.

Comment: This is "special interests" rhetoric.

"I believe that any one of our candidates will stand in stark contrast when it comes to the priorities of the American people and how they're going to make the decisions on who they vote for for president to any of the Republican candidates. The Republicans have been trying to out right wing one another. Look, between the 15 Republican candidates that are left, all of whom are trying to out-trump Donald Trump by saying, yes, let's kick women -- let's kick immigrants out of this country. Let's take away health care from women."
-- Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), October 11, 2015.

Comment: Wasserman Schultz is demonizing Republicans, distorting their positions: Republicans aren't xenophobes who want to deport all immigrants; rather, Republicans (but not even all of them) want all illegal immigrants deported. Also, Republicans don't want women to be refused health care; rather, Republicans (again, not even all of them) don't want government money being used to support one health care provider – Planned Parenthood – so long as it also provides abortion services.

KROFT: Do you think if you ran again, could run again, and did run again, you would be elected?


KROFT: You do.

OBAMA: I do.
-- President Barack Obama, during interview released October 11, 2015, with Steve Kroft of CBS News.

Comment: Obama is answering a hypothetical question.

KROFT: What do you think of Donald Trump?

OBAMA: Well, I think that he is a great publicity-seeker and at a time when the Republican party hasn't really figured out what it's for, as opposed to what it's against. I think that he is tapped into something that exists in the Republican party that's real. I think there is genuine anti-immigrant sentiment in the large portion of at least Republican primary voters. I don't think it's uniform. He knows how to get attention. He is, you know, the classic reality TV character and, at this early stage, it's not surprising that he's gotten a lot of attention.
-- President Barack Obama, during interview released October 11, 2015, with Steve Kroft of CBS News.

Comment: Obama is accusing a segment of the Republican party of bigotry.

Obama described himself as not intrinsically partisan and said some members of his party have faulted him for not being partisan enough.

"But I will tell you at this moment in history, the choices are stark. And facts, evidence and values are on our side. And the other side has gone off the deep end," Obama said.

Obama added: "And what you're witnessing in the House fight right now is that even deeply conservative folks are not considered ideologically pure enough and we would rather burn the House down than admit the possibility of democratic process that requires compromise."
-- President Barack Obama, October 10, 2015, as told by an AFP story.

Comment: Obama is contrasting himself with Republicans by saying that he is not partisan, and apparently saying that Republicans don't care about facts and evidence or values (which would be demonizing).

"Why are all these Republicans so down on America?" Obama said. "Listening to them is really depressing and it doesn't match up with the truth."

Obama urged those attending a fundraiser for Washington Sen. Patty Murray to get involved in local, state and national politics.

"Our system is only as good as what we put into it," he said, criticizing the "false prophets who spout things that under examination don't really make any sense, but feed your biases and your fears."

"I'm proud of the fact that we are not just the party that is against everything," Obama said.
-- President Barack Obama, October 9, 2015, as related by a Politico story by Jennifer Shutt.

Comment: Obama is demonizing Republicans, saying they are fear-mongering and simply being obstructionists. Obama may also be accusing them of rooting for failure.

"This Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans. I should not be a distraction from that."
-- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), October 8, 2015, announcing that he will not run for the position of House Speaker. McCarthy referred to remarks he made on September 29, 2015, in which he noted how the Benghazi committee's investigation had caused Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's poll numbers to drop.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric.

"You know, what he's trying to do is show people he's strong on gun rights. Years ago he came out to say that he could understand why you would want to limit assault rifles in inner cities like the one he grew up in Detroit. And people freaked out and they said, that's not a policy that a Republican contender can go with. So he's trying really hard to show these people that he has something to say. And while the rest of the party largely says that every 2.6 weeks we have a mass shooting, that “stuff happens”, this is something that Carson can say without offending sort of the gun lobby and pro-gun Republicans. By saying, look, you should be fighting back. It sounds sort of brave, even if it's largely victim blaming."
-- Jane Timm of MSNBC, October 7, 2015. Timm was commenting on remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson about the Umpqua Community College shooting. On, October 6, 2015, Carson said he "would not just stand there and let him shoot me … I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him'".

Comment: Timm is accusing Carson of saying the victims at Umpqua "brought it on themselves". While it might be difficult to get people to rush an armed gunman, isn't it true that it would have resulted in fewer lives lost? Is it "blaming the victim" to say that?

GUTHRIE: [Reading question] Hypothetically speaking, would you consider a vice president position?

CLINTON: Hypothetically speaking, no.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 5, 2015, during town hall event hosted by Savannah Guthrie of NBC News.

Comment: Clinton is answering a hypothetical question.

GUTHRIE: You mentioned your Republican rivals making hay of this.


GUTHRIE: I have to ask you, if the tables were turned and it was Dick Cheney or Karl Rove who had a private e-mail account and a private server on which they conducted all their government business, would you be as understanding?

CLINTON: I would never have done that. Look at the situation they chose to exploit to go after me for political reasons, the death of four Americans in Benghazi. I knew the ambassador. I identified him. I asked him to go there. I asked the President to nominate him. There have been seven investigations led mostly by Republicans in the Congress, and they were non-partisan and they reached conclusions that, first of all, I and nobody did anything wrong, but there were changes we could make. This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that, and if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats who were thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 5, 2015, during town hall event hosted by Savannah Guthrie of NBC News.

Comment: First, notice that Clinton is answering a hypothetical question. Second, she is accusing Republicans of being partisan and exploiting the attack in Benghazi. She is doing this on the basis of remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), on September 29, 2015. But, just because McCarthy says the investigation had a certain motive doesn't mean everyone else supporting the investigation had that same motive. More, just because there are sinister reasons for a certain course of action (e.g., investigating Clinton) doesn't mean there are no legitimate reasons for performing the same action; to suggest otherwise (as Clinton seems to be doing) is ad hominem reasoning.

"There’s still those shrill voices in the national political arena, trying to undo what has already been done. But they’re not going to succeed. Don’t worry about it – no really. The American people have moved so far beyond them, and their appeals to prejudice and fear and homophobia. And because of how far you’ve moved the American people, the remainder of the work, and much work has to be done, I promise you, will come much more quickly and more surely. It will increase in its rapidity the change that we need. … The American people are already with you. There’s homophobes still left. Most of them are running for President, I think."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 3, 2015, speaking at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner.

Comment: Biden is (perhaps in the spirit of comedy) accusing someone – he doesn't say who, but likely means Republicans – of bigotry. Isn't this demonizing?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: October 4, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
For Mr. Obama, it’s never about honest differences over policies. His political opponents have to be portrayed as morally callous, cruel and motivated by the basest considerations while Obama presents himself as the avatar of the common good. Mr. Obama is, in fact, a cynical demagogue.
-- Peter Wehner, October 2, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric. While it's true that Obama sometimes demonizes his opponents, Wehner is himself demonizing Obama by saying that Obama never allows honest differences over policies.

Who doesn’t love free stuff? … But in politics, “free stuff” has come to mean something very different. In 2012, Mitt Romney said he told members of the NAACP that if they wanted “free stuff” from the government — including Obamacare and other benefits — they should vote for President Obama. Last week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, when asked about attracting black voters, said his message was different from that of Democrats because it was not “get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff.” Bush and Romney were apparently using the term to refer to the government benefits generally associated with low-income people, such as food stamps. Playing on resentment of such benefits is an old political tactic, sometimes using a barely veiled racial code, as when Ronald Reagan inveighed against a “welfare queen” during his 1976 presidential campaign.
-- Pundit Farai Chideya, October 2, 2015.

Comment: Chideya is accusing people of using "code words" for racism.

5:30 P.M. EST - Dr. Michael Welner - A forensic psychiatrist who is spearheading landmark research to develop a societal standard of evil in crime, which people can participate in Joining him is Dr. Ron Martinelli, Retired Police Officer, Forensic Legal Analyst, Certified Medical Investigator. Martinelli directs the nation’s only civilian Forensic Death Investigations and Independent Review Team says, "Guns don’t kill people; behavior kills people. A firearm in the hands of a responsible gun owner at UCC could have saved lives."

The two will analyze the mind and motives of the Umpqua Community College killer.

Welner says the killer “...admired that he could get the attention from killing alone. And by saying something as callous as ‘pray, because you’re about to be meet your maker...He admired that he could get the attention from killing alone.”
-- Program notes from the October 2, 2015, Sean Hannity radio program.

Comment: The discussion outlined above involves an attempt to explain – but not justify – the behavior of the Umpqua Community College shooter.

"We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. … And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."
-- President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015, remarking on the Umpqua Community College shooting earlier that day.

Comment: Obama is saying that his views on gun policy are "common sense", while those of his opponents are not. He's correct, however, to say that discussing gun policy after a shooting is appropriate, and not "politicizing" in any illegitimate sense.

"Barack Obama is an anti-Semite. I believe that in my heart. … The proof is his foreign policy. The proof is his Iran deal."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, October 1, 2015, during the 1st hour of his radio program.

Comment: Levin is demonizing President Obama as a bigot. What if someone said, “Mark Levin is a racist, I believe it in my heart. The proof is his opposition to the minimum wage and affirmative action”? Would that be fair?

As the top ranking Democrat on both the Benghazi and Oversight committees in the House of Representatives, I have a front row seat to watch House Republicans push their highest priorities. Right now, the top two goals for Republicans are to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign to become the nation’s first woman president and to attack and defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides critical healthcare services to millions of women across the country. … Focusing on issues that make a difference to hundreds of millions of Americans would be much more helpful — and appropriate — than continuing to squander millions of taxpayer dollars on Republican political campaigns to attack the interests and rights of women.
-- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), September 30, 2015, in a Politico op-ed entitled "The House GOP’s War on Women".

Comment: This is "war" rhetoric.

SHARPTON: Let me raise another issue. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, he said this week, quote -- I'm quoting him -- "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers Friday? What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping." That's the quote.

CLINTON: Um-hmm.

SHARPTON: You're expected to testify before the Benghazi Committee on October 22. What's your response to McCarthy's comments?

CLINTON: I have to tell you, I find them deeply distressing. I knew the ambassador that we lost in Benghazi. Along with him, we lost three other brave Americans who were representing us in a very dangerous part of the world. There have already been eight investigations in the Congress. One independent investigation. We have learned all we can learn about what we need to do to protect our diplomats and our other civilians and we need to be enforcing and implementing those changes, which is what I started and what Secretary Kerry has continued. So when I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country. We've had lots of different situations, as you know so well. We've had embassies run over. We've had them blown up under Ronald Reagan, under Bill Clinton. We've had lots of attacks where we lost Americans or foreigners working for America, under George W. Bush. We can go back and there's a wall in the State Department, there's a wall in the CIA where we lost those civilians we lost. It's never been turned into a partisan political battle by the majority in Congress the way the Republicans in this Congress have done. And I just wish that they would really start tending to the people's business, deal with the many problems that we face and figure out how we're going to move our country forward. You know, I -- I really regret the way that they have treated this serious matter.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, September 30, 2015, during an interview with Al Sharpton of MSNBC, concerning remarks made earlier by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Comment: Just because McCarthy says the investigation into Benghazi hurt Clinton's poll numbers doesn't mean that was the reason he supported the investigation. Even if it was the reason he supported the investigation, that doesn't mean other Republicans supported it for that reason. Finally, even if every Republican supported it for "political" reasons, that doesn't mean there are no good reasons for the investigation. Just because someone has bad reasons for performing a certain action doesn't prove there are no good reasons to perform that same action; it's ad hominem reasoning to conclude otherwise. McCarthy's remarks in no way dismiss the investigation as "partisanship" or "politicizing" or "negative politics".

Ben Carson is hoping to awaken black voters to his campaign with a message of economic empowerment, saying the black community has been done a disservice by heeding political power overtures from Democrats.

Speaking to a small group of black leaders and activists last week, the retired neurosurgeon, who is surging in polling in the Republican presidential race, said he believes black Americans bring more power through the size of their bank account than by putting their “fist in the air.”

Mr. Carson said he generally shies away from focusing on race: “I say that’s because I’m a neurosurgeon, because everyone’s brain looks the same and it works the same way.”

But he said black voters should step beyond their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

“The Democrat Party, of course, is the party of the KKK. Of Jim Crow laws. And perhaps just as bad right now, of servitude. ‘Now you do this, and we’ll take care of you, pat you on the head, take care of all your needs.’ Which keeps people believing that’s what they actually need,” Mr. Carson told the small group.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, as related by a September 29, 2015, Washington Times story by Stephen Dinan.

Comment: Carson is demonizing the Democratic Party using guilt by association. Yes, the Democratic Party used to support racist policies, but they don't anymore. More, it is an exaggeration to compare the plight of African-Americans today to their situation under Jim Crow laws and say the two are "perhaps just as bad"; they are nowhere near as bad as one another.

BURNETT: You say you can't insult your way to the White House. You say Donald Trump could be the nominee. So, I have to play this for you. This is something he said in the interview yesterday about your wife and I want to play it for you and get your reaction. Here is Donald Trump in my interview yesterday.

TRUMP: I always respected him. I actually liked him over the years, but when we look at what's going on in the world, when we look at the job that Hillary did as secretary of state, she goes down as perhaps the worst secretary of state in history. And when I run against her evenly in the polls, I'm doing very well against Hillary and beating her. Erin, if you look throughout the world during her reign and the reign of Obama, the whole world is blowing up. We've lost our friendships, we've lost everything.

CLINTON: Well, be the thing about branding is you don't have to be -- you can be fact-free.
-- Former President Bill Clinton, September 29, 2015, discussing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during an interview with Erin Burnett of CNN.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Trump of not caring about truth.

Marco Rubio wants no part of Donald Trump’s “freak show,” the Florida senator said in an NPR interview aired Monday.

“I’m not interested in the back and forth — to be a member or a part of his freak show,” the Republican presidential candidate remarked. “I would just say this: He is a very sensitive person; he doesn’t like to be criticized. He responds to criticism very poorly.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), September 28, 2015, as related in a Politico article by Nick Gass. Rubio was discussing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: It's one thing to say he doesn't want to get into a visceral back-and-forth with Trump, but the term "freak show" is derisive name-calling (perhaps an instance of "disgusting" or "subhuman" rhetoric?). Also, it seems like the rhetoric is going to incite exactly what Rubio says he wants to avoid.

"Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace. We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work. … Part of our job, together … must also involve a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror."
-- President Barack Obama, September 28, 2015, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Comment: Obama doesn't name who (a Republican? Which one?) has expressed these ideas, but it seems like Obama is knocking over straw men.

RUSH: Bob in Pensacola, Florida, up next on the phones. Hi, Bob. How are you, sir?

CALLER: Hey, Rush. When you had that first segment and you were talking about the news about the events on Mars --

RUSH: Yeah?

CALLER: -- it struck me right off the bat: When a scientist is describing what happened to make the water disappear as "catastrophic," I don't know. To me the word "catastrophic" implies some sort of qualitative judgment, good or bad. In my opinion, in the absence of any human activity or man at all on the planet out in the middle of nowhere, geologic events are neither good nor bad. They just are.

RUSH: That's exactly right. It's a great point. How can something be "catastrophic" when there aren't any people around to feel the catastrophe?

CALLER: Exactly. That tells me that science is corrupted when they're using terms like that about just a purely scientific observation, about something that happened who knows when.

RUSH: Exactly. Not just corrupted, but politicized.

CALLER: Well, it seems that way.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, September 28, 2015.

Comment: This is “politicizing” rhetoric. The caller has a point that the word “catastrophic” often involves a judgment about good or bad, but does it always? Is the term ambiguous in that sense? For instance, couldn’t a supernova – the explosion of a star – be described as catastrophic simply as a way of emphasizing how gigantic the event is, even if it doesn’t affect us negatively?