Unspun Logo

The Failure of Intelligent Political Discourse

Posted by Rick · September 7th, 2004 · 5 Comments

In several recent comments to the blog, there is a renewed demonstration of what, frankly, can only be termed the Failure of Intelligent Political Discourse. There’s no other way to look at it.

The current article points out why there’s not much hope for a country filled with Nicks, Nats and the other voters who sit like bobble-heads on so many Republican knick-knack shelves. It’s intended to show how the Failure of Intelligent Political Discourse keeps us from effectively using our votes as the Founders meant for us to — to govern our country.

Republicans aren’t alone either in respect to failing to engage in intelligent political discourse or in suffering from its effects.

It’s time for a change.

Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

I single out Nick and Nat here because they represent the two most common Republican responses to evidence that George Bush is — and actual examination shows that he is without a doubt — the worst President the United States has ever had. Nixon, who was run out of the White House for his actions that demonstrated a clear-cut contempt for the Constitution of the United States, was virtually a kitten compared to Bush. Nixon made a few scratches in the Constitution; Bush has torn huge chunks of it off and, apparently, buried them so deep that even the above-average American has trouble digging them back up into consciousness. I believe it’s true that Kerry is not our best choice for President. Unfortunately, he’s the least harmful of the choices available to us — at least of those candidates who stand a realistic chance of being elected in the currently-pending presidential election.

I apologize in advance because its impossible for me not to believe that some — if not many — people will take this article as a personal attack upon both Nick and Nat. And, in all sincerity and seriousness, it’s not meant that way. It is, as I said, because their two approaches are demonstrative of the two most common Republican responses to political “debate” that I am singling them out. Nick lives right next door to me and I can tell you straight out that he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever know. He’s a funny, friendly and lively guy who — near as I’ve ever seen anyway — is wonderful to his wife, kids, friends and even to me! He is personally involved, as no real Republican I’ve ever known would be, in some pretty serious community support projects for some of the more disadvantaged people: ex-convicts trying to make a new life. And so I hope it will be understood that any attack I appear to launch at Nick is aimed at his approach to political debate and the inability to consider the issues as seriously as he does some of the great work he does.

I do not know Nat, who lives somewhere in Orange County, Florida, as near as I can tell. In private emails to me, he’s seemed a decent guy. On the blog, frankly, he seems to be a bit of a monster. Comparing his emails to his blog comments is like comparing Jekyl to Hyde. For that reason, and the limited time I’ve “known” him, I can make no further comment upon him as a person. Nevertheless, the same mindset that I take in respect to Nick is applicable to Nat: since I don’t intend an attack upon him as a person, but rather upon his approach in the political “battling” on this blog, it does not matter what kind of person he is. It is not him I intend to denigrate; it is the political behavior.

The Overwhelming Power of “Bullshit!”

That said, let’s take up Nick’s approach first. It is, after all, the most common, probably because it’s the easiest.

A Republican like Nick most frequently responds to any political argument, regardless of how well thought out, how well researched and how well backed by evidence, by saying, “Bullshit!” (You can see this actual response in one of the last two comments he made on this blog.)

It’s comments like this one and the other he made to/regarding Mark today that are the reason I’ve quit doing anything with either Nick or Nat except to give them the joy of participating in the verbal equivalent of a food fight that they apparently desire. Regardless of what gets posted here, their comments are virtually non-responsive.

For example, I do something like mention Diebold and voting fraud — and post links to articles which strongly indicate that something funny is up with voting machines currently in use — and Nick responds with such an overwhelming argument that I’m stopped dead in my tracks. Who can argue with the strength of “bullshit!”? Such reasoning, particularly when said right after the evidence is given, is impossible to refute. Any one of the premises for that argument is equally as strong as the argument itself! I mean, one could simply say “B!” or “H!” and the power of the argument would not be any weaker for it.

Think about what I just said. To strip away the sarcasm, a response of “bullshit!” is no response. Period. In fact, not voicing a response would actually be better. As the old saying goes, “better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Distraction: An Alternative Approach

Nat’s approach is not only the more aggravating, but the more dangerous. His typical approach is a combination of non sequitur and a more sophisticated type of name-calling that non-analytical people are often hoodwinked into thinking constitute arguments.

The non sequitur is essential, because his comments would normally be considered — by the nature of this blog and the fact of my ownership of it — as “responses” to things I’ve written, yet they seldom, if ever, are. The astute and knowledgeable reader recognizes they never could be; as with Republican politicians in general, Nat is unable to refute arguments presented on this blog and must therefore ignore and distract. Just as Vice-President Cheney, in the otherwise brilliant hatchet job he did on Kerry with the speech he (Cheney) delivered at the Republican National Convention, was forced to ignore any substantive issues, so, too, must anyone “explaining” why Republicans should get your vote in November 2004. Republicans cannot discuss issues that impact the lives of the majority of Americans in a real way. Things like our jobs that are being increasingly outsourced; our economy that has some of us — like Nick — paying about $500-plus for gasoline each month; the rising tuition fees that put a college education beyond the reach of more and more people just as our society becomes sophisticated enough that a college education is a baseline requirement for gainful employment; health insurance that actually protects you from financial ruin if a chronic illness or major accident strikes; the costs of medication — which has elderly U.S. citizens driving to Canada on special bus tours (and sometimes being detained by U.S. authorities supportive of U.S. pharmaceutical companies along the way!); social security that allows those who don’t make enough money to create their own significant retirement funds to live out their old age with some dignity; the now non-existent budget surpluses we had racked up under Democratic Presidents — none of these things can be discussed by Republicans. Distraction and subterfuge are the only options left.

Hence, name-calling is the quickest distraction, especially when it is sophisticated enough to make listeners (readers) think there is an actual argument.

When you repeat that someone’s opponent — whether it’s Bush or Kerry — is “THE BEST and ONLY choice” to be our leader a million times: the mere statement does not constitute an explanation, let alone an argument, of why the particular individual in question should be elected. The reverse — name-calling so as to label your opponent as not “THE BEST and ONLY choice” — is no better. Take these words, for example:

[S]peaking of an ill wind, the vile, contemptible, unprincipled Kerry continues his preposterous and thoroughly fraudulent campaign. Having seen his churlish, mean and small midnight reaction to the RNC in New York, I am even more convinced that this is a man with NOTHING but ambition at his core.

There is nothing nice or generous about him. He does not bespeak of any personal warmth or sincerity. There is nothing spontaneous. Just a complete void. He is just an android. An automatron droning his stupid Socialist slogans which he, as a multi-millionare, cannot possibly actually believe in. Nat Dawson, Comment in response to “Kerry ‘Honored’ by Hanoi War Crimes Museum,” posted September 6, 2004 at 10:56 a.m.

These words explain nothing. Were it not for the inclusion of “Kerry” and “RNC,” they would not even actually support a particular candidate. I could, for example, say the same words of George Bush. Even the word “Socialist” doesn’t really save the day, since much has been written (here and elsewhere) arguing that it true “socialism” involves the sort of entwinement between government and business such that business benefits from government subsidies. Neither — John Kerry’s wife’s wealth notwithstanding — does the word “millionaire” save us. Have you any idea how much money Dick Cheney or George Bush have? (Hint: They’re both millionaires and neither requires repeated references to his wife’s wealth to earn that label.) Much of this type of “argumentation” is simply thinly-disguised name-calling which tells you nothing whatsoever about the candidate who is being called names. People interested in issues and smart enough to recognize this are not fooled.

This is why, even on those rare occasions they do not resort to name-calling, Republicans using Nat’s approach exhibit an apparently depraved indifference to the truth. (Not that the depraved indifference to the truth can’t accompany the name-calling, as well. Witness the Orwellian-named “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” on that point.) The political leaders create a lie and the marketing arm of the party drills it into the people, often with the help of “news” stations that apparently do no investigatory reporting on the truth; they simply parrot what they’ve been told until it’s ingrained in everyone’s thinking. The average American, unable to take the time to find out whether the claims are true — not even recognizing that they should take the time — is brainwashed.

And this is why the approach of most Republicans is like that of Nat.

With Nat’s approach, one can write (as I have) articles clearly showing the falsity of the few substantive claims he has made about Kerry (e.g., the Hanoi War Crimes Museum articles being pretty much the totality of anything “substantive”) and he will still bounce back at some future date — perhaps even in his very next comment — by simply repeating the same statements as if the refutative proof had not been proffered.

How We Are Hurt

So long as this is the approach to political “debate,” we are all damaged. First, we’re damaged because the issues are never actually engaged. We cannot learn where one person or the other stands; we do not learn which policies a party promotes. We thus cannot make a decision in our own interest. Do you support a free America? You can’t figure out which party is most likely to give that to you, because the issues that might impact America’s future freedom are not discussed. Do you really dislike “socialism”? You cannot know which party supports socialist programs, because you get “Botox-addicted poodle” as the issue du jour. Do you want to hang onto more of your money rather than pay it out in taxes? You can’t know which party will help you with that, because we don’t want to talk about the issues; you’ll never get the chance to understand how (or whether) huge deficits under Republican-controlled government save you money, or not.

Americans vote not because a popularity contest has been shown to be the best method for selecting leaders, but because the Founders who implemented the system Montesquieu called “republican democracy” intended it that way.

Don’t get confused by the term “republican” here. “Republican democracy” refers to the system Montesquieu summed up when he said, “In a republic when the people as a body have sovereign power, it is a democracy.” Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws 10 (Anne Cohler et al, eds., 1989) (1748). It’s the kind of system our Founders, who were very familiar with Montesquieu’s work, meant to establish.

And that explains why this is such a great danger. We, the People, are responsible for governing our great country. We, alone, have that right. Because we cannot do so on a day-to-day basis, we hire others to do it for us. We do this by electing them to the job. In order to ensure that we hire the best people for the job, we put them through an interview process; we call it a “campaign” and with respect to the presidential election it’s accompanied by intermediate votes (a “primary”) and a “convention” where delegates from the parties decide what the party “platform” will be and choose a candidate to advance that platform. What will the party consider important? How will the party likely respond to particular issues? Loads of speeches are given not just at the convention, but throughout the campaign. Theoretically, this is how we, the People, learn about the platform and the person chosen to advance it.

When attacks against individual candidates are based on name-calling and lying, rather than on an actual discussion of the platform or the issues, we, the People, have no real information upon which to make a choice. We would not choose our doctors, our lawyers, our file clerks, or our burger-flippers based upon such personal attacks and misinformation. Why do we accept this as the standard approach to selecting a President?

By allowing ourselves to be brainwashed and thereby refusing to subject our candidates to a realistic “interview process,” we not only fail to elect a government that truly represents our interests, we end up with the opposite of what most of us want.

We, our families, our friends, the rest of the country and — because of the power we’ve enjoyed for approximately the last 50 years — the rest of the world, suffer for it.

It’s time for a change. Cut through the crap. Demand that before you agree to hire our next President, the candidate for whom you plan to vote must tell you what he plans to do with the job and why you should want him to do what he says he’s going to do.

Only that way can we avoid the damage inflicted upon us by the Nicks, the Nats and others who — whether intentionally or not — subvert our political processes by promoting the Failure of Intelligent Political Discourse.

Categories: Politics-In-General


5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Sep 7, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Interesting …

    There is a ‘celebrity’ for lack of a better term named Tony Robbins that said one thing that has stayed with me for years. His line was something like this…’The information age is dead. We are overwhelmed with information today. People only remember WHAT THEY FEEL.’

    As much as I agree with everything in the article, some blame has to be laid at the feet of the Democrats.

    1 – Clinton’s legacy is usually not measured in terms of government, but terms of ethics. This caused some people to feel in a very negative way, and they remember that feeling even to this day. That feeling is what the Republicans use to inflame their followers not unlike a good coach inflames his team before the big game. It gives the followers a sense of morality, purpose and integrity. And above all, it makes them very active.

    The Republican Party is taking advantage of emotion, not fact. Their followers don’t rely on fact and don’t respond to fact.

    Just like a good preacher does …:)~

    2 – Just what has the Democratic Party offered to counter this? Who can fire up the people and have them follow? Kerry? Edwards? Cuomo? Kennedy?

    To counter an emotional opponent in a debate you match their intensity. No Democrat has fired up the troops on a national level in years.

    Frankly, the Democrats are not fighting fire with fire, the emotional fire that creates causes, not just votes.

    I’ll go away now and let the experts hash it out …

  • 2 Rick // Sep 7, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    I can’t disagree with you on this one, Bob.

    That’s why, in a recent article titled “Kerry ‘Honored’ by Hanoi War Crimes Museum,” I recently said:

    And insofar as my defense of liberals became confused — even by me at times — with a defense of Democrats, I owe that Bob an apology. Increasingly, Democrats — though I still disagree that all liberals get painted with this same brush — are beginning to play the same game.

    About the only points you and I might differ on these days is a) the extent, or pervasiveness, or deliberateness, of the effort at distraction and b) whether getting people emotionally fired up is important.

    On that latter point, I’ll probably have to concede on pragmatic grounds, but such a move would have to be tempered by considerations of what enhances our ability to self-govern; that is, by what enhances our ability to make intelligent choices in electing our representatives.

  • 3 Mark // Sep 7, 2004 at 7:12 pm


    I don’t understand laying “some of the blame” at the feet of the Democrats.

    One party routinely and regularly lies about the other side and going absolutely ape when the other side tells the truth. And you’re going to blame the party that tells the truth?

    Maybe I misunderstood your post. Help me here. How can you blame responsible adults for the likes of Druggie Rush and Bill O’Lielly?

  • 4 Bob // Sep 8, 2004 at 8:20 am

    Fire up the troops with words about God and country and then send them out on a holy war, facts be damned! That’s the Republican Machine in a nutshell.

    Mark, my point is that these Shrub Troopers will not respond to fact. Fact is not an issue when you have God and country on your side.

    The fault of the Democrats lies in that they cannot / do not fire up people like the Republicans do. They must fight on the same level of intensity.

    Here is a writer that makes my point. It’s worth taking a look at.

    Look at it this way: When you have an angry, patriotic God and the red-hot promise of the juicy apocalypse on your side, there is no such thing as a counter-argument. There is no such thing as competition. There is no such thing as giving a damn what anyone else thinks.

    Source: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2004/09/08/notes090804.DTL&nl=fix

  • 5 Mark // Sep 8, 2004 at 10:34 pm


Leave a Comment