Sunday, May 29, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: May 29, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
TODD: Yesterday's State Department IG report was pretty scathing, and it seemed to contradict many of the things you said about the emails. Do you accept everything that the State Department IG report said about your practices as fact?

CLINTON: Well, Chuck, the report makes clear that personal email use was the practice under other secretaries of state. And, the rules were not clarified until after I had left. But, I said this many times, it was still a mistake. If I could go back I would do it differently. And, I understand people have concerns about this, but I hope and expect voters to look at the full picture of everything I've done and stand for.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 26, 2016, during an interview with Chuck Todd of MSNBC. The discussion concerned a report by the Inspector General (IG) regarding her use of a private email server while she was head of the State Department.

Comment: This is an evasion, as Clinton never addresses whether she agrees with all the findings of the IG report, including those that contradict her previous statements.

OBAMA: I'm going to take one more question. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned some tactical differences between the two Democratic candidates. But when you hear Bernie Sanders speak, it seems like he's talking more about the issue of trustability and the need for a political revolution. And just yesterday we saw that the State Department's inspector general put out a report about Secretary Clinton's emails, and it basically undermined some of what she said about her email practices. I'm wondering if you think that undermines her trustworthiness with the American people, and if you agree with Bernie Sanders that she should release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street.

OBAMA: Okay. You know what, I take it back. I'm not taking another question. We're in Japan. Don't we have something on Asia that we want to talk about? I'll be talking about this in Washington the whole time. Look, I've already said a lot about those issues. I think those are better directed to the campaign. As I said before, during the course of a primary people say what they think might help them get some votes. And once the campaign is over, then they move on, and they make an assessment in terms of how they can make sure that the vision they care most deeply about has the best chance of passing a Congress and getting signed by a President, and that Supreme Court nominees are confirmed, and all the things that make for a functioning, effective government. So I think that the noise that is going on back and forth between the candidates at this point, if you want insights into how they’re thinking about it, those should be directed to them.
-- President Barack Obama, May 26, 2016, while in Japan. The question referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: This is an evasion. There's no good reason Obama can't discuss issues related to the U.S.A. while he's in Japan, just like he often discusses relating to Japan (and other countries) while he's in the U.S.A. More, Obama is using the "not my decision" evasion: it's true that people in the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are going to have to decide what strategy they're going to use to win the primary; just because Obama isn't part of either of those campaigns doesn't mean he can't express his opinion on which strategy is more effective.

"As an independent, we gotta use equal standards on both sides. And, for example, the protests last night that degenerated into violence, that is a bad move for the Democratic party and Trump opponents. Because if they degenerate into violence – imagine what would have happened if the folks on the right had protested so violently and danced on police cars. There would be a totally different tone of conversation today."
-- Pundit John Avlon, May 25, 2016, referring to protests against Republican presidential contender Donald Trump that turned violent.

Comment: Avlon is saying that – had supporters of Trump resorted to the same behavior of as the opponents of Trump did – the criticism would have been much worse. In other words, he is saying the criticism has been hypocritical (though it's not clear if he's using this as an ad hominem argument to dismiss the criticism).

"All of this has been a political hit job from the beginning … Whether it’s the report being written in the State Department’s Office of Inspector General with the help of a former confidante of Chuck Grassley, at the same time Senator Grassley has been on a political crusade to hurt Hillary Clinton, or the final report of the discredited House Benghazi Committee, we will do as we have from the beginning: preempt, debunk and push back on these partisan lies."
-- Political operative David Brock, as related in a May 25, 2016, story by Josh Gerstein in Politico. Brock's comments regarded the investigations surrounding the use of a private email server by Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her time as head of the State Department.

Comment: Brock is using ad hominem reasoning. Even if it's true there are partisan motives behind the criticisms of Clinton, that doesn't mean the criticisms are false. What if we used the same reasoning against Clinton: "there are partisan motives behind the defense of Clinton, therefore the defense is false"?

CAMPBELL: If Donald Trump is the nominee, do you – Sen. Ted Cruz – think that he can win?

CRUZ: Well, that’s gonna be up to the voters. And that’s gonna be a decision for the voters.

CAMPBELL: Should a true conservative support Donald Trump if, in fact, he is the Republican nominee?

CRUZ: Well, you know, that’s a decision every voter's gonna have to make. And it's gonna be a decision that I think is gonna have to come from prayer and from careful examination as to whether he has demonstrated that he's earned your vote, whether he has demonstrated that he is standing for the principles that built this country.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), May 24, 2016, during an interview with pundit Pat Campbell. The discussion concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: On the first question, Cruz employs the "not my decision" evasion. Of course it's true that voters are going to determine who wins the election, but that doesn't answer the question of who Cruz predicts voters will choose. Cruz uses it again on the second question: of course conservatives are going to have to decide whether they think Trump is close enough to their own political views to be worth voting for, but why can't Cruz express his own opinion on the matter? For instance, if the question was, "Should conservatives support Bernie Sanders?", would Cruz reply, "Well, voters are going to have decide that for themselves.", or would he say, "No, Sanders isn't very conservative."?

"The parties are completely out of control and completely out of touch. And Hillary Clinton doesn't realize that the game has entirely changed. She is playing the old main line politician that will say whatever they have to say to get elected. Donald Trump, I think also says whatever he has to say to get elected, but in a completely different way."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, May 24, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Beck is accusing Clinton and Trump of being willing to "say anything" in order to get elected.

"Muslims who support Trump is like chickens for Colonel Sanders, you know what I mean?"
-- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), May 24, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Trump had previously made comments to the effect that Muslims should briefly be barred from entering the country. Colonel Sanders was the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fast food business.

Comment: Ellison is comparing Muslims to chickens – though not in the sense of dehumanizing Muslims – and Trump to Sanders – though (I'm assuming) not in the sense that Trump is going to do violence to Muslims. Ellison is simply making the point that – just like chickens wouldn't be a fan of Sanders – Muslims wouldn't or shouldn't be a fan of Trump.

"Now, I know the Republicans have been mean to her, and they say terrible things. You gotta respect them. They’re good at this. They delegitimize the people they don’t like."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, May 20, 2016, referring to his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Bill Clinton is resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature, accusing Republicans of resorting to some form of negative politics (i.e., "delegitimizing") that he and his own side don't (in his view) resort to. Is it really true that Clinton and other Democrats don't say terrible things about Republicans in order to win elections? Aren't they "good at this", too?

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