Jul 31 2010

Rules for Political Debate

Editors Note: this post was actually written in Oct. 2009. This week my older brother started a little “political journal” and his first post reminded me a lot of this post. So I’ve added a couple new links and I’m pushing it out there just for fun.

In the last 2 years, I’ve stopped myself many times from posting political rants on this site. Consequently I haven’t posted much at all- apparently I have no other material.

Well I’m giving in just this once. Partly because these rules apply across issues and parties. And partly because I want to look back 5 or 10 years from now and see how my political ideas have changed.

First let me set the context regarding my political leanings. I’m currently non-partisan and mildly progressive.* I’m a strong advocate for Fixing Congress First. I can’t stand cable news pundits on any end of the political spectrum, and will defend NPR to the death as the least-biased source of news.**

And now, here are Jed’s rules for political debate.

1. No “Slippery Slope” Arguments

I’m really tired of this one. Okay, I’m really tired of all these, but this one is frustrating particularly to my progressive self. It’s an attack that’s too easy to make against any change. A small liberal movement swells into a “Tide of Socialism” and a nudge in the conservative direction becomes a catapult that’ll “Return Us to the Nineteenth Century.” Our government is set up such that it’s difficult to make changes quickly,*** and the current party polarization exacerbates this effect. If each side continues to view every proposed change through a telescope that shows only the bottom of the slippery slope, we’ll never make meaningful progress.

2. No Comparisons to Hitler, Nazis, or Commies

It’s been almost 20 years since Godwin’s Law was created as a response to the tendency of internet discussions to go Reductio ad Hitlerum. It’s time for a revival. The last straw on this one was when I tripped across an article a few weeks ago by an otherwise smart and thoughtful author, in which he declared anybody who eats chicken eggs to be just like the Nazis.****

3. No Justifications Based on Similar Actions by the Other Party

Avoiding this one take a lot of restraint. Just tonight I heard an example that I’ve heard several times before: “Republicans are opposed to Obama’s deficit increases, but where have they been for the last 8 years?” Or how about “All these anti-town-hall-protesting Democrats were the same hypocrites that were protesting the Iraq war in much more outspoken ways”. I get it. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. You want to point it out because of how absurd and obvious it seems. But it’s also completely unproductive. If overspending by the government should be avoided, then let’s push to reduce it rather than justifying it by comparison. If there’s a level of civility required in public debate, let’s uphold that standard everywhere, not just when we want the other side to calm down and listen.

3.b No Justifications Based on Similar Hypothetical Actions by the Other Party

It’s a subtle difference, but one worth noting. “If President Bush would have said something like that…” It’s another easy place for your frustrated mind to wander. But again, it’s totally unproductive. The issue at hand is what it is, and we should address it appropriately, rather than guessing what the “other team” would do if the tables were turned, or projecting something back several years to what a previous President might have done.

4. Give People Room to Change

People grow. Situations change. More information is gathered, or existing information is better understood. When our elected officials seem to flip-flop, I get skeptical; it’s hard to believe somebody who is always changing their mind. A campaign promise that’s blatantly broken within months of election deserves to be called out. However, I don’t agree with reaching back across the decades, digging through obscure interviews to uncover some “gotcha.” I think Ezekial Emanual has some great ideas about healthcare reform.***** I was familiar with his proposed ideas long before Betsy McCaughey began spreading her bizarre interpretations of his previous medical journal publications. Even if they weren’t mis-interpreted or taken out of context (which they were), I care much more about his current suggestions for healthcare reform today. I mean, where were all these people 5 years ago when I pointed out that George W Bush used to be Pro-Choice?******


* By progressive, I mean the generic definition: “…is a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform,” not whatever boogyman Glenn Beck concurs in your mind when he yells about Progressivism. (via Wikipedia, which is always right).

** Unfortunately, listening to facts and unbiased reports doesn’t change our minds.

*** Except when all the congresspeople (other than Ron Paul) panic and approve bazillions of dollars in bailouts in a matter of weeks.

**** link intentionally omitted because it’s too easy to get sucked into the meaningless forum discussion…

***** you’ll probably agree with me. Just listen to him

****** I wish I were a good enough writer, and had enough of a loyal readership, that everybody would catch my intentional irony there. But unfortunately neither is the case, so I have to ruin the effect by pointing it out.

Sep 27 2009

Up close with Billy McLaughlin

I’m 32 today. Since turning 30 I’ve regained most of that weight, become a bit more cynical, and I’ve picked up my guitar fewer times than I’ve taken business trips. But Friday night I was part of a really special concert, and today I’m feeling less cynical. Tomorrow I’m going to play my guitar.

I’ve mentioned Billy on this site one other time. I’ve been listening to his music for about 6 years now, and revere him as one of the pioneers of the two-handed tapping style of acoustic guitar.

Before I discovered Billy, he was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder that made it impossible for him to play his own songs. He dropped off the scene for several years. But now he’s making an incredible comeback:

What I didn’t realize until last week is that Billy is from Minneapolis. By a stroke of Google-based luck, I happened upon a concert Billy was playing at the tiny 318 Cafe in Excelsior, MN. For some reason it wasn’t listed on his site. Chelsey and I already had a sitter lined up that night so we could go celebrate my birthday.

I had high expectations for the evening, and they were exceeded. The place was almost empty before the show, and Chelsey and I took the little table right up front. Billy was joined by mandolinist/violinist Nathan Wilson. When the show started, there were less than 20 people there. I thought Billy would be discouraged or upset, until I heard how sincerely thankful he was to be playing back in his “favorite favorite favorite place, to such a manageable crowd.” You could tell he was really enjoying it.

When they took a break, Billy pulled a chair up to our table. We chatted about music, his condition, Chicago and Utah, his kids and ours. I tried to explain to him what a somewhat-surreal privilege it was to be there. I can tell you that this guy is the real deal; he loves the music, and he loves the connection it gives him to his fans. Being right there, watching him play those songs, and getting to meet him has really sparked my desire to get back to the guitar.

You can follow the links on Billy’s site to download his music, check tour dates, and learn more about focal dystonia.

Apr 5 2009

Lucy Laughs

Zoe was a little older when we caught her laughing, but unlike Zoe, Lucy spends a lot of time crying. So we scrambled to capture this while it lasted…

Feb 4 2009

Limited Edition Lucy Bobblehead

I love it when babies are first learning to hold up their heads. There’s this constant over-compensation in the quest for equilibrium.

Dec 27 2008

Is this ADA approved?