Sunday, January 31, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: January 31, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Trump has stoked xenophobic fears and used his crass showmanship to mark out this territory. His tactics of strong demagoguery make it completely understandable to lament his success.
-- Pundit Salena Zito, January 31, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Zito is accusing Trump of bigotry, and of being a demagogue.

"You look at Trump supporters, and they're dehumanizing people. Donald Trump is doing it. They're dehumanizing anybody who stands against them." They're fat, they're pigs, they're losers, they're cry babies", whatever they are. And he talks about women, as you know, it's even worse. When you dehumanize people, you head for massive, massive trouble. Where is the press speaking out about the dehumanization of people by Donald Trump? All we heard, all we heard about the Tea Party is, how "this rhetoric is going to lead to violence". I'm telling you, when you dehumanize people, you are one step away from the jungle."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, January 29, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Beck is accusing Trump and his supporters of dehumanizing their opponents. He is also accusing some critics of the Tea Party movement for being hypocritical in suggesting that the rhetoric of the Tea Party was inciting violence (e.g., the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ)), but not denouncing Trump's rhetoric on the same grounds. Is it true that dehumanizing rhetoric puts us "one step away from the jungle", or is that an exaggeration?

Hillary Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson made an eyebrow-raising claim Friday on CNN, accusing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) of running the most negative Democratic primary campaign in history.

Sanders has aired ads attacking Wall Street and big banks without naming Clinton, who has received huge speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, but he has also made it clear he would not engage in personal mud-slinging during the campaign.

“I think he’s going negative,” Benenson said. “I think he’s probably running the most negative campaign of any Democratic presidential candidate.”

“You think so?” anchor Kate Bolduan asked.

“I think so, in a presidential primary season, yes,” Benenson said. “I think he’s been more personal in his attacks. I think he’s been increasing it on the stump recently, and I do, I can’t think of one. Even in a very hard-fought campaign in 2008, I don’t think we had the range of negativity on either side, and I was on Obama’s side then, that we’ve had now.”
-- Political strategist Joel Benenson, January 29, 2016, as related in a story by David Rutz of The Washington Free Beacon.

Comment: Benenson is accusing Sanders of "negative politics", without defining the term. He is also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature.

"Yes, it's true that she voted for the Iraq War, but I gotta tell ya, how many years ago was that now?"
-- Karen Kinney, a spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 29, 2016. Kinney was referring to Clinton's 2002 vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Comment: Should we dismiss Clinton's vote because it was a long time ago? Should we also dismiss any of her praiseworthy accomplishments if they happened before 2002?

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday escalated a fight with Fox News, using the word "bimbo" in a derogatory tweet about anchorwoman Megyn Kelly after pulling out of a debate only days before the first nominating contest of the 2016 campaign.

Trump on Tuesday withdrew from the televised encounter, scheduled for Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa, in irritation at host Fox News for allowing Kelly to moderate after her questioning angered him in a debate last year.

The real estate magnate, who is the Republican front-runner to win the nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, followed up with a thinly veiled insult on Wednesday.

"I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct," he wrote on Twitter. "Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!"
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, January 27, 2016, as related in a Reuters story by Megan Cassella, Susan Heavey and Dustin Volz. Trump was referring to Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

Comment: "Bimbo" is intended to be derisive in sexual terms. Despite the fact that Trump says he won't use the word because it wouldn't be politically correct, he's repeatedly declared that he's not bound by political correctness.

"However, the people have seen all the people come along for the last 15 years and say, 'I'm a Republican. We're going to have a humble foreign policy. We're going to cut back government spending.' And yet, they have run the tables on government spending and huge foreign entanglements that hasn't made our country very strong. So I think the people claiming that Trump is not a conservative, they haven't been very conservative. So everybody's credibility is shot and a couple of guys who have come around like Trump and Cruz and they turned everyone's consciousness upside down."
-- Pundit Laura Ingraham, January 26, 2016. Her remarks referred to the critics of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Ingraham is saying that some of the critics of Trump are being hypocritical, accusing Trump of not being conservative while they themselves have also failed on that score. Is this an ad hominem argument?

"I think it's imperative you do your very best, every president, and certainly, I will, to avoid military action. It should be the last resort, not the first choice, to use diplomacy, even if it's slow, boring, hard to continue to persist and be patient to get results."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN.

Comment: This is a platitude: everyone believes military action should be the last resort (or at least not the first choice) when it comes to foreign policy. Clinton seems to be caricaturing her opponents (it's not clear if it's her Democratic or Republican opponents), suggesting that their first response to a foreign policy challenge will be to use military force.

"Now, when you focus just narrowly on economic inequality, I've also been in that fight. I was in that fight during my husband's administration. And let's remember what happened there. At the end of eight years, we not only had 23 million new jobs, what was most important is incomes grew for everybody, not just those at the top, more people were lifted out of poverty, incomes rose, in the middle and working people. And today in Knoxville, in my town hall, I called on a man. He said, we never had it so good except when your husband was president. Because we tackled income equality and produced results, not talk, action. And that's what I will do as president."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN. Her remarks referred to the administration of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Comment: This is false causation (aka, "cum hoc ergo propter hoc") reasoning. Just because the economy was good while Bill Clinton was president doesn't mean it was good because Bill Clinton was president. Correlation is not causation. Besides, presidents don't influence the economy on their own, they collaborate on economic policy with Congress, and, for much of Bill Clinton's presidency, he faced a Republican Congress that opposed much of what he wanted to do. (Moreover, some might question whether the economy was truly good while Bill Clinton was president.)

"I'm running for president of the United States. And the reason I'm running is this. Our country is facing big challenges. And we have deep divisions in our country. And we need a candidate who can actually pull us together, who can heal these divisions, who can get things done. That's what I've done all my life. I'm not a divider. If I were, I would not have been able to accomplish the things we accomplished in a very troubled city or in our state through a recession."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

"I like Hillary Clinton and I respect Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton has devoted her life to public service and I have tried, as I hope you all know, not to run a negative campaign, not to be attacking every other day, to keep this discussion on a high level, where we debate the issues facing this country. And by the way, with a few exceptions, we're doing a lot better than the Republicans in that regard. But on the other hand, that's not a very high bar to reach … Look, Hillary Clinton is a very good person. Martin O'Malley is a very decent guy. So I'm not -- you know, this is not a -- personal stuff. It just seems to me that the crises that we face as a country today, and we didn't even get into climate change to a significant degree: inequality, poverty in America, an obscene and unfair campaign finance system. These problems are so serious that we have got to go beyond establishment politics and establishment economics."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN. His remarks referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD).

Comment: First, Sanders seems to be using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric with respect to Clinton and O'Malley. Second, Sanders denounces (and claims he hasn't resorted to) "negative politics", without clarifying exactly what counts as negative (other than saying it's "not personal"). Lastly, Sanders claims that Republicans are worse than Democrats when it comes to negative politics, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

SANDERS: It is time, in my view, for us to have the courage to take on the insurance companies, take on the drug companies and provide health care to all people at an affordable cost.

CUOMO: The criticism is to pay for this, what you're really asking for is one of the biggest tax hikes in history. And that is the criticism.

SANDERS: But, Chris, that is an unfair criticism for the following reason. If you are paying now $10,000 a year to a private health insurance company and I say to you, hypothetically, you're going to pay $5,000 more in taxes -- or actually less than that, but you're not going to pay any more private health insurance, are you going to be complaining about the fact that I've saved you $5,000 in your total bills? So it's demagogic to say oh, you're paying more in taxes. Let's also talk about we are going to liminate -- eliminate private health insurance premiums and payments not only for individuals, but for businesses, as well.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN.

Comment: It may be false or misleading to say that taxes would have to be raised to pay for Sanders' policies, but would it be "demagogic"? Are false or misleading statements only made by demagogues?

Noam Chomsky would “absolutely” choose Hillary Clinton over the Republican nominee if he lived in a swing state, but her primary challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, “doesn’t have much of a chance," the MIT professor and intellectual said in a recent interview.

Chomsky, who lives in the blue state of Massachusetts, said he would vote for Clinton if he lived in a swing state such as Ohio.

“Oh absolutely…my vote would be against the Republican candidate,” Chomsky told Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan in a two-part interview — part of which will air Friday on “UpFront.”

Chomsky cited “enormous differences” between the two major political parties. “Every Republican candidate is either a climate change denier or a skeptic who says we can’t do it,” Chomsky said. “What they are saying is, ‘Let’s destroy the world.’ Is that worth voting against? Yeah.”
-- Pundit Noam Chomsky, as related in a January 25, 2016, story by Nolan McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: It's one thing to criticize people who are skeptical about whether global warming is real and whether we can do anything about it – which seems to be Chomsky's initial criticism – but it's another to accuse people of intentionally wanting to destroy the world – which would seem to mean believing that global warming is real. Chomsky's rhetoric is both demonizing and contradictory.

The Des Moines Register likely broke new ground when it endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday. The Register may be the first major newspaper to endorse a major-party presidential candidate under investigation by the FBI at the time of the endorsement. The time stamp at the editorial's link is currently and inexplicably this morning, but pundits and bloggers have been commenting on it for two days, and Google News says the endorsement is from "2 days ago." This time disconnect seems fitting, as it reflects how disconnected from reality the Register's editorial board had to be on so many levels to make its endorsement.
-- Pundit Tom Blumer, January 25, 2016.

Comment: This is "divorced from reality" rhetoric.

But maybe logic has nothing to do it. Trump’s rivals have attacked the tycoon, calling him a jerk for making fun of a handicapped journalist, a bully and a racist for his plans to ban all Muslims. They have attacked his policy proposals for being unworkable. But none of this seems to matter. His polls numbers have gone up, not down. Maybe that’s because to Trump’s supporters, the facts don’t matter. They have their opinions and by God they are going to defend them. James Madison once said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” That proposition is being put to the test in this election cycle.
-- Pundit John Feehery, January 25, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Feehery is accusing Trump supporters of not caring about facts and logic.

My friends and colleagues have said in National Review’s recently published symposium almost everything that there is to be said on the matter of Donald Trump, the vicious demagogue who currently leads the Republican presidential pack in national polls. I myself have written a small book on the subject. Forgive me for turning to one other aspect of the question, which is that the candidacy of Donald Trump is something that could not happen in a nation that could read. This is the full flower of post-literate politics.
-- Pundit Kevin Williamson, January 24, 2016.

Comment: Williamson is using "demagogue" rhetoric, as well as "stupid" rhetoric in describing Trump supporters as not being literate.

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