Monday, February 15, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: February 14, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"I do not believe a vote in 2002 is a plan to defeat ISIS in 2016."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, February 11, 2016, during the Democratic Party debate. Clinton was responding to remarks by Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who criticized Clinton for voting in 2002 to invade Iraq. "ISIS" is another name for The Islamic State.

Comment: Clinton is correct that whether her vote in 2002 was right or wrong doesn't determine whether she is correct in her policies regarding terrorism in 2016 (such an argument would be ad hominem reasoning).

Ted Cruz is the definition of sleaze.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, February 11, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Comment: This is "disgusting" rhetoric.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant. … So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist. Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.
-- Pundit Nicholas Kristof, February 11, 2016.

Comment: Kristof is accusing much of the Republican Party of being "extreme", and Trump of being a bigot. He is also claiming that is mostly Republicans who resort to the "politics of hate", though he doesn't offer any rigorous data to support this claim, so it amounts to the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.)] said, ‘Insist from us and from each other a modicum of civility as the condition for serving you.’ … Our children are watching what we do. … If we lie about each other, they learn it’s okay to lie. … If they see us insulting each other like school kids, then they think, well, I guess that’s how people are supposed to behave. … We should insist on a higher form of discourse in our common life, one based on empathy and respect … We have to stand up and insist, no, reason matters, facts matter … When folks just make stuff up, they can’t go unchallenged. And that’s true for Democrats if you hear a Democratic make something up, and that’s true for a Republican if you see a Republican cross that line."
-- President Barack Obama, February 10, 2016.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate. He is also claiming that someone – he does not say who – is acting as if facts don't matter. He is also failing to point out the various ways that he himself has failed to support civil discourse, which amounts to the "only my opponent" caricature.

"The thing about — there is a troll-like quality to Cruz. He operates below the level of human life. … Let me clarify it. I think he appeals — I think he appeals to people’s negativity rather than their joy. I don’t think people feel good about voting for Cruz, I think they feel — I don’t know what it is he appeals to. Now, people keep telling me he has inherited the libertarian crowd. I don’t see how. He doesn’t seem libertarian to me. He’s appealed to the Baptists up here, I don’t understand that. What is he, a theocrat? Maybe he is. I'm serious about the guy, there’s something enlivening about these other candidates that makes you feel good. There’s something about that guy – who’s always reminded me of Joe McCarthy – and there’s something about him that is negative and menacing. When I say below the level of human life, I mean the good nature of human life, not just being a person. Although –"
-- Pundit Chris Matthews, February 10, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Matthews was interrupted at the end of his remarks.

Comment: Matthews seems to pull back from using "subhuman" rhetoric to demonize Cruz (though it's not clear where he was about to go at the end of his statement), but he nonetheless does demonize Cruz as being somehow at odds with the "good nature of human life".

Rather than champion an optimistic message, which Clinton cannot plausibly sell at this point, she should focus on scaring the daylights out of the average Democratic voter about Bernie Sanders as presidential timber. Clinton can begin by pointing out that this Tuesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court move—estopping President Barack Obama’s climate change regulations—is merely a harbinger of things to come if the party abandons her, allowing the GOP to control all three branches of government come November.
-- Pundit Jacob Heilbrunn, February 10, 2016. His remarks referred to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her chief rival, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: Is Heilbrunn advocating "fear-mongering"?

While Bruno Mars gave her a run for her money, it was BeyoncĂ©’s riveting performance of her anti-brutality song “Formation” during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime performance that stole the show. Needless to say, apologists for police brutality were incensed.
-- Pundit Markos Moulitsas, February 9, 2016.

Comment: So, everyone disagreed with BeyoncĂ©’s Super Bowl halftime performance is a defender of police brutality? Of course not, Moulitsas is demonizing.

TRUMP: You heard the other night at the debate, they asked Ted Cruz – serious question – "Well, what do you think of waterboarding? Is it OK?" And, honestly, I thought he'd say "absolutely" and he didn't. He said, "Well,", you know, he's concerned about the answer. Because some people – [pointing into audience] She just said a terrible thing. You know what she said? Shout it out because I don't want to say.

AUDIENCE MEMBER [unidentified]: He's a pussy!

TRUMP: OK. You're not allowed to say – and I never expect to hear that from you again – she said – I never expect to hear that from you again. She said he's a pussy. That's terrible.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, February 8, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Trump's offense at the audience member's remarks were clearly feigned.

Comment: This is name-calling, essentially saying that Cruz's positions are based on cowardice.

LIMBAUGH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. I think maybe I can give you an idea of what I'm talking about. This is a montage of a bunch of analysts from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, on Rubio somehow squandering whatever gravitas that he had going into the debate Saturday night.

GABE GUTIERREZ: Will Marco Rubio be painted now, forever, as a robotic candidate?

MARK HALPERIN: A robotic quality.

ANA MARIE COX: He's already been portrayed by a lot of us as a fairly robotic candidate.

ANA NAVARRO: It was like when a robot gets water poured in it.

PETER ALEXANDER: Rubio is simply too programmed, too robotic.

RICHARD GRENELL: He was shown to be too robotic.

CARL CAMERON: That he’s robotic.

DANIEL HALPER: This narrative that he’s robotic.

STEPHEN HAYES: Robotic and repetitive.

BEN WHITE: He looked robotic.

AB STODDARD: Robotic talking points.

JOHN BERMAN: He is some kind of over-rehearsed robot.

LIMBAUGH: Now, I don't have anything other than anecdotal. I have seen a little videotape of voters talking about Rubio, and I have gone to comments sections of websites, and I haven't seen one voter talk about how Rubio was robotic. They've had other criticisms, and they've had other praise, but I haven't seen this Rubio was robotic. The media consensus -- and by the way, that's a cross section of every network that we have, at least one person on every network, "Rubio was robotic."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 8, 2016, playing audio clips of media personalities commenting on Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who had been criticized by Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) for using scripted remarks while describing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Ironically (i.e., hypocritically?), these media personalities are robotically repeating the "talking point" that Rubio robotically repeats talking points.

RUBIO: As far as that message, I hope they keep running it, and I'm going to keep saying it because it is true. Barack Obama – yes, has he hired incompetent people to implement laws and run agencies? Absolutely. But when it comes to what he's trying to do to America, it is part of a plan. I'm gonna keep saying that, because not only is it the truth, it is part of our campaign. He has said he wanted to change the country, he's doing it in a way that is robbing us of everything that makes us special. I'm gonna keep saying that, because not only is it the truth, it is at the core of our campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But even after Chris Christie called you out for what he called, "canned speeches", "25-second canned speeches", you repeat it again, he said there you go again, that was not a good moment for you was it?

RUBIO: It is what I believe and it is what I am going to continue to say because it happens to be one of the reasons why I am running. This is the greatest country in the history of mankind because of a certain set of principles. Barack Obama wants us to abandon those principles, and he has spent seven years putting in place policies that rip them from us: undermining the Constitution, undermining free enterprise, undermining our standard in the world, weakening America, apologizing for us on the global stage. The reason why I'm running is if we elect someone like that for the next four years, I think it may be too late for America to turn around.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 7, 2016, being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. The discussion concerned criticism from Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who in a GOP debate the previous day had accused Rubio of using scripted remarks while describing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Rubio is rejecting the accusation that he is using talking points by insisting (correctly) that what matters is whether the points are true, not whether they are pre-written or off-the-cuff. However, Rubio's description of Obama as someone who is intentionally trying to destroy what is good about America amounts to demonizing, and perhaps also questioning Obama's patriotism.

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