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Politics : Foreign Affairs Discussion Group

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To: FaultLine who started this subject1/22/2003 1:29:13 PM
From: paul_philp  Read Replies (4) of 281500
I ran across this interesting essay from Jane Galt. The rules for conducting political debate are very good, IMO. I don't enter in the debate about the Bush tax plan because I know it is futile. I simply don't care about the fairness argument. I don't see it as relevant. However, I understand that many Democrats see the fairness issue as central and crucial. With these differing core assumptions a debate about any one tax policy will go nowhere. Experience tells me that very few people change their mind on this core assumption so there will be no conversions on the Road to Damascus scenarios.

Anyway, here is Jane. I think that here suggestions for conducting debate are very good and would be useful on FADG.

Where is the center of American politics?

It's in the smidgen of space between Al Gore and George Bush, children.

There seems to be an idea floating around in the liberal segment of the Blogosphere that Gore is "Center", Bush is "Right", and Nader is left. Honey, the "Center" is not defined by your personal political beliefs; it is defined by the center of American opinion. And like it or not, that's where both the extensively focus-grouped, consulted, and stage-managed major-party candidates were. Bush is Center-Right, Gore is Center-Left, Nader is Far-ish Left, and Buchanan is Far-Ish Right.

It will be news to our brothers on the Left that the conservatives see things the exact same way they do -- except Bush is in the center, Gore is on the left, Buchanan's on the right, and Nader is off in Central America building his guerilla army while he plots the downfall of Western civilization.

The tendency of people to point to conservatives who are really rather moderate as being exemplars of the right's dominance of something, and when it is pointed out to them that there are plenty of counterparts on the center-left, to declare "Why, Brookings is non-partisan and centrist!" is why conservatives won't talk to them. (Full disclosure: family members have worked for Brookings in the past. I have no idea why that would matter, but nonetheless.) And people who complain that we're only discussing social-security privatisation and school-vouchers because conservatives campaigned for them for so long -- implying that anything that wasn't popular around in 1972 is illegitimate -- can't really be unaware that exactly the same thing can be said about social security or welfare, and conservatives could argue as easily that 1922 is the right year to work from. Or 1860. What does the rightness or wrongness of an idea have to do with its popularity in the distant past?

In general, I think that both sides could benefit from a couple of ground rules:

1) No one gets to pick some time in the distant past when everyone was right, and declare that they draw their moral authority from the denizens of that halcyon era. The fifties and the sixties are over, folks. If your idea can't stand on its own now, its popular history won't help it.

2) Stop complaining that the other side is advocating for their ideas. Lying and deception are fair game for outrage; campaigning is not. If your ideas can't stand the heat, throw 'em out and get some better ones.

3) Stop calling the other side names. It's not just counterproductive; it's boring. Unless your rhetorical skills are something special, limit your attacks to their ideas.

4) Stop whining about what happened in the past. If politics were nice and perfectly fair every time, it wouldn't be politics, it would be nursery school. Clinton is out of office. I don't care what he did or did not do with any number of women, and I don't care what the Republicans did to him. It was five years ago. Get a new topic. Ditto the 2000 election. If Gore runs against Bush and loses then, you're going to look a little stupid.

5) Can the hypotheticals. I don't know whether Gore would have done all right in office after 9/11 or not. You don't either. You don't know what the Republicans would have said or not said about him, although I would point out to one commenter on this site that what restrained Daschle & Co. from criticising Bush for so long was neither good taste nor goodwill, and one can assume the same rough factors would have restrained the Republicans. Either way, you don't know. What's particularly odd is that the people presenting these hypotheticals always act as if they were irrefutable facts with which no one with smidge of reason could possibly disagree. "You can't tell me that if a plane had gone down in China on Clinton's watch, the press wouldn't have given him a full pass." Whatever, chum; the Psychic Friends Network just cut me off for non-payment.

6) If you have to fudge numbers and blur distinctions in order to make a case for your ideas, why do you believe them? If you don't understand the science or math behind an issue, why are you arguing with people who understand it better? Do you hope to convince them with the vast inertial weight of your ignorance? Or are you hoping to get them so frustrated by the difficulty of explaining climatology to someone who dropped out of freshman physics that they spontaneously combust? [unfortunately, this does not work -- ed.] Or do you just enjoy looking like a total idiot in public?

7) People should not be referred to as "Fascists", "Marxists", "Communists", "Nazis", etc. unless they are actually devotees of the schools of political thought, or members of the political parties, that those labels describe. Many people will be surprised to learn this, but those terms actually have specific meanings, which are not "The political orientation of anyone who strongly disagrees with me."

8) Assume, until proven otherwise, that your opponent is a person of goodwill. Accept that some things are value judgements that will not be argued away: between, for example, a higher absolute standard of living for the poor, or less inequality of income. Between economic growth and wilderness preservation. Between great taste and less filling. If you know that your opponent is factually or theoretically wrong, assume that this is ignorance or misinformation, not malice.

9) Do not walk in assuming that you occupy the moral high ground. No one listens to sermons except the converted.

10) If you're wrong, admit it at once. No one will fault you for being mistaken. Everyone will hate you for refusing to admit it. Andrew Sullivan et al. didn't go after Tapped because they got the numbers wrong, but because they refused to admit the possibility that the numbers were wrong, and wrote snotty posts about anyone who suggested they should check again.

11) Many people wander into the other half of the Blogosphere having carefully nurtured a plethora of witty responses to the straw man arguments that flourish in the echo chambers of both the liberal and conservative press. They are therefore expecting that as soon as they have shone the cold light of reason on the ridiculous notions of those rubes on the other side, all but the mean-spirited and vicious among them will immediately see the error of their ways. When they find out that those people have real live reasons for believing as they do, often bolstered by real live facts, they are hurt. This is not what they expected. They feel surprised, and somehow betrayed. At this juncture, they often choose to go on the offensive, name calling and writing sarcastic, bombastic screeds which often seem to center around the silliest and most biased material available to their side, yet are shocked to find out that libertarians are, for some reason, unconvinced by the latest publications from the CSPI. Often, defending their initial assertions against angles they hadn't, in their previous hothouse environment, really considered, leads them to take increasingly extreme positions in defense of their original unnuanced view, until having found themselves arguing that in order to, say, prevent abortions we should take down the name and phone number of anyone who ever paused in front of a Planned Parenthood Clinic and then hunt them down and shoot them, they flounce away after declaring that everyone on the site is a bunch of ignorant [expletive deleted] who kill babies for fun. If you find yourself caught in this cycle, I have news for you: they're not the ignorant [expletive deleted] here.

12) If, when someone seems to refute a point you have made, you say "That's not the point", you must then state what the point is. If they then refute that point, you are not allowed to say that that actually wasn't the point either, and the real point was some third thing that hasn't been yet refuted. Neither may you change the subject to tangential or related issues until you have conceded that you were incorrect about the first topic.

13) If you are going to attack someone for citing sources that are biased, do not try to prove this by using sources that are equally biased in the other direction; i.e., do not try to prove that Cato is wrong about something by flashing up a talking points memo from a Nader group. Your opposition could get seriously hurt laughing that hard. It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

14) No one is much moved by exhortations to the effect that they're just selfish and mean. First of all, it's rarely true, except in the case of Objectivists, and they don't care.

15) I don't care how mad you are -- I mean it. No name calling. Unless they call names first. Even then, it's polite to fire a warning shot across the bow.

16) No, drug testing in schools is not the same thing as jack-booted thugs coming to our house in the middle of the night and making us "disappear". Neither are trigger guards on handguns. As much as you may disagree with these particular decisions, let's tone it down a little, 'kay?

17) And fer gosh sakes, will you get out a little more? The sureness of your own ineluctable moral superiority, of the venal stupidity of the other side, of the patent weakness of the opposition's arguments and moral fiber, is a little tiresome. Cruise around and see what the other side has to say. Then attack them. Nicely, of course. Really, it saves a lot of trouble putting words in the mouths of straw men when you can probably find some idiot somewhere who said pretty much the same thing, and think of how much less typing you'll do. Oh, and after you've slapped them around, it's polite to offer a handkerchief with which they can clean themselves up before they have to go back to work.

Now, I'm sure that many of you are even now mentally compasing notes which point out the ways in which I have violated these precepts. No doubt. I have also been known to snap at my family, put off until tomorrow what I ought to do today, and leave my bed unmade. Manners and morals should be mountains to which we aspire, not caves in which we hide.

Anyway, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong
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