ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Political Discourse in the 21st Century – Learning from Lincoln

I have not written a political word in months. There is a reason for that. I am disappointed, depressed and embarrassed by the level of political discourse.

In the last week or so I started reading Lincoln, particularly the Cooper Union speech and his arguments in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. The comparison to what passes for political discourse today is striking.

One of the things missing from today’s politics is simple logic. This is true on both the Right and the Left. Even for those few who attempt logic, they enter into Voltaire’s “madness.” That madness is a belief held despite all the evidence. It is a sincere belief, simply wrong. This is most commonly seen on the Left but is also seen on the Right. From that belief they argue well, but it is madness. Lincoln never did that. He marshaled his facts and argued from truth.

What Lincoln did is simple but difficult. He took the people seriously and argued seriously to them. Today’s politicians do neither. Their appeals are almost universally emotional rather than rational. I have come to believe this is dangerous and must be reversed.

This approach to issues of the day is fed by the media. The appeal to emotion is a drumbeat. No news story can be rendered, especially on television, without some reporter telling us the story is emotional, or heart rending or inspirational or any of another of words telling us how we should feel… rather than THINK Again from the media we get emotion charged language as in their use of the word “semi-automatic” when referring to firearms. Semiautomatic has become synonym for machinegun. We hear a word and we are supposed to be programmed to have a specific emotional response. From the blogosphere we get name calling rather than debate. This is a pathetic state of affairs.

From the politicians we get shrieking Hillary Clinton’s, “We are patriotic! How dare you say otherwise!” From Rumsfeld we get there really is no major problem in Iraq and we are mastering the situation. Goodbye Mr. Rumsfeld! From John Kerry we get… well we get John Kerry. And on and on it goes.

I enjoyed Lincoln’s arguments with regard to slavery. He stated that there were people in the country that believed slavery was wrong and there were those that believed it was not wrong. The Republican Party was organized around the former belief Lincoln said in 1858. There was a core belief. From that core belief came policy.

He then went on to put a finger in Douglas’ eye. Lincoln said he could not find that Douglas ever said slavery was either wrong nor not wrong. Without a core belief, Douglas proposed the Kansas Nebraska act, or “popular sovereignty,” that would allow the states to elect for slavery or Free State status. Douglas proposed this without passing on the issue of whether slavery was wrong or not wrong.

I found it interesting Lincoln did not pose the question of whether slavery was right or wrong, but rather whether it was wrong or not wrong. Lincoln laid it right on Douglas: “Mr. Douglas says…” Where is that level or argument today?

The core belief, if you can call it that, of today’s politicians could well have been uttered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” So they talk in circles, appeal to emotion or live in Voltaire’s madness.

That may do in times of peace and tranquility. But these are not such times. It is time to take the people seriously and argue seriously to them. It is time to look to Lincoln, rediscover our core beliefs, argue them wisely and well, take them to the people and act upon them

Comments (2)
St Wendeler said...

Great post, John...

I for one look forward to the Obama presidency. Because if you thought McCain's Straight Talk Express was pure shrewd political calculation wrapped in fawning media hype, wait until you see Obama in 2007...

I too have had difficulty posting, mostly because of demands from my work. But, also because there seems to be no good news to comment on. We as a nation do not appear to have the stomach for a generational fight to the death for our civilization... and we are our own worst enemy.

This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Although President Achmidenajada... err, President Tom is doing his best to have it end with a bang. So, we got that goin' for us.

Bungle M said...

Video from the debate can be found here: