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?

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