There is much debate over the health care reforms proposed by President Obama. But I’m actually using the word wrong. Debate happens when both sides discuss the reasons for and against some object or objective, but there is no debate if there is no dialog. If one side makes it impossible for the other to talk, then there is no debate. When former Representative Tom Tancredo tried to address some students and faculty of the University of North Carolina, he was prevented from doing so by the boisterous and destructive actions of some protestors.

“No dialog with hate!” some people chanted at Tancredo, but I don’t understand why. If someone is going to say something hateful, stupid, or incredibly offensive, I want that person to say it. I’m not going to shout him down or stop him from saying it, partially because I believe that others have a right to free speech as I do, and partially because I love to hear people clearly state their hateful, stupid, or incredibly offensive ideas. It makes it easier to reject them. And mock them.

But not everyone believes that people should be free to speak. The people who protested Tancredo obviously didn’t believe he had any right to speak at the university. And as Andrew Klavan explains, some of the debate tactics used by people is nothing more than a way of telling the other person to shut up.

When someone tells you to shut up, they are telling you that the debate is over. Their minds are made up, and no amount of talk or facts will change their minds. Does that sound like someone who is looking for truth, or someone with his eyes tightly closed, his fingers in his ears, and going “la, la, la! I can’t hear you!”? Pretty childish, no? They can’t handle the debate, so it’s much easier if you’d just shut up and go away. So what does that say about our Dear Leader when he says something like this:

“But I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”

This is not the voice of someone who wants to discuss and debate. This is the voice of someone who wants you to shut up, sit down, and take whatever he shovels out to you. And you had better be grateful for it, too.

We went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday, and bought some yummy cherries at $3.33 a pound. That’s a steal for Rainier cherries–yum! While we were there we noticed an older gentleman with a satchel over his shoulder. A placard attached to the satchel read: “PENTAGON IS EVIL.” My wife said, in a voice deliberately loud enough to be heard, “Jeez, some people don’t have anything better to do.” I was more discreet as I whispered to my wife, “He doesn’t like five-sided shapes!” I don’t think he would have gotten it if I had stood there with placards reading “SQUARE IS GOOD” or “TRIANGLE IS AMBIVALENT.”

I find it strange to use the locale of a farmer’s market to peddle one’s political point. Perhaps he was prepared to pass out pamphlets pulled from his pouch. OK, enough alliteration, but why would someone think that a public gathering like a market is the proper venue to vent one’s spleen on divisive issues? I love a good debate; however, people who stand around with large placards are not generally willing to discuss the issue in a rational manner. Their vehicle of expression is usually to shout, rant and automatically disagree with anything that is said. And as Monty Python pointed out:

Argument Clinic

M: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isn’t.
M: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isn’t!

Unfortunately, the level of political debate these days is too often more along the lines of simple contradiction, veering dangerously close to getting-hit-on-the-head lessons. Did that man at the market really want a serious discussion of the issue? Is there anything I could have explained or pointed out that would have changed his mind about the Pentagon being evil? I don’t think so. I suspect he had already made up his mind and nothing could shift him. Now I don’t have trouble with people who have a firm conviction of their beliefs, but I do have trouble with people who, once they’ve made up their minds on a political subject, refuse to acknowledge any evidence that they could be wrong.

Incidentally, whenever there is a public gathering, why is it that the most common placards and opinions to be seen express leftist sentiment? Other than people at ball games with “Go Team” and “John 3:16″ quotes, when you see people holding up signs or plastering bumper stickers to their cars, they’re almost always leftist slogans. Maybe it’s just that I live in a very blue state, but I don’t think so. Back when I lived in a very red state, the right-wing political bumper stickers I saw were almost always limited to two per car: one for a specific political candidate, one for a pro-life sentiment. And they were discreet. Even in this red state, when I came across a car sporting leftist political bumper stickers, they were usually in-your-face and all-over-the-place–cars held together with multiple slogans like “Somewhere in Texas there’s a village missing an idiot,” “Where are the WMDs?”, “Frodo has failed! Bush has the ring!”, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. In any case, what I sense from the plethora of bumper stickers is not a willingness for rational debate, but a shouting match. You don’t get rational thought or reasoned argument from a bumper sticker; it’s the printed equivalent of a shouted slogan. I don’t see there being much opportunity for discussion; all you get is the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

I find very little debate on issues and ideas coming from the American left. If you watch the talking-head shows on TV where there are two pundits discussing a liberal vs. conservative theme, notice how often the liberal interrupts, talks over or shouts down the conservative whenever he or she is speaking. It’s an easy tactic to deny one’s opponent the ability to express a thought by shouting that person down. I’ve suggested elsewhere that the political left doesn’t really believe in freedom of speech for everyone. Based on their actions, I believe that they want freedom of speech for themselves and the force of law to shut up everyone else who takes a contrary position. How much longer will it be before leftist “discourse” becomes outright getting-hit-on-the-head lessons for conservatives?

Argument Clinic

I noticed a headline on the Drudge Report today that said the presidential debate audience is fading away. I’m not surprised. I have not watched a single debate so far, and I don’t think this will change as we get closer to the November 2008 elections. My apathy doesn’t come from a general disinterest in politics, but from the lack of debate in the debates. The questions are mostly insipid, and the 30-90 seconds allotted each person for a response gives us meaningless sound bites and mumbles.

When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated during 1858, they met seven times and spoke for three hours each. The first speaker spoke for 60 minutes, the other spoke for 90 minutes, and the first then finished up with a final 30-minute address, with Douglas and Lincoln alternating for the first speaker slot. While they were speaking, reporters transcribed the addresses in full and published them in newspapers for people to read. These debates weren’t even for the presidency — they were for a Senate seat. When I look at the debates between Douglas and Lincoln, I have to laugh at what passes for a “debate” nowadays.

I can’t help but believe that our society just doesn’t have the patience for long debates anymore, based on the crappy formats we have now. How can politicians fully discuss a complex issue or stance when there are only seconds to debate it? The simple answer is that they can’t. We end up with short sound bites, sniping remarks, and politicians ignoring the question they were asked in favor of answering another question of their own choosing.

I also can’t get all that excited about a presidential election that is still more than a year away, especially when none of the current presidential hopefuls excite me much. Is it any wonder that people don’t care much about meaningless debates between third- and fourth-string candidates so early in an election cycle?