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.

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