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.