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?

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