the end of meaningful discourse

Posted: September 4, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , ,

It is no surprise we seem to be fast reaching the end of meaningful discourse and debate in the United States, at least during the political campaign season. Any shred of dignity which those running for office may try to cling to (or at least the illusion of such) is constantly torpedoed by people who seem to believe forthright discussion about real solutions is not the answer. What counts is total humiliation of the opposition. This strategy is short-sighted. It may win a few elections, but it weakens all of us and will ultimately erode whatever fragments of decorum our society is desperately clinging to.

Paul Ryan gave a stirring speech at the Republican National Convention last week. He touched upon those aspects of the current administration’s policies which drives Republicans absolutely batty. The next day he was rightfully called out for gross misrepresentation of the facts and a few bald-faced lies thrown in for good measure. People responded. Those who don’t like the blue-eyed senator from Wisconsin roasted him like a fattened pig at a summer BBQ. Those who like him reframed his comments with the caveat he was speaking in general, broad-based terms about policy and whoever said he messed up on a few piddly details were clearly missing the larger point. Then we have the more recent non-story about Ryan’s experience as a marathon runner. He claimed he has run several marathons, each time finishing in approximately three hours or so. The truth is 20 years ago he ran one marathon and it took him over four hours. No one really gives a shit about his marathon running, but the casual and seeming ease by which he distorted his experience speaks to a more telling characteristic of his personality: exaggeration is perfectly fine in pursuit of greater truths. When someone exaggerates for this reason it is always easier to swallow if you agree with their vision. Despite the lies. Ryan is hardly alone with this tendency. Every politician does it, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders.

Even if a politician tries to minimize it, their minions are all too glad to fill in the murky gaps. On Facebook there is a very popular group called “Dogs Against Romney.” The gist of the group is sustained rage over the fact Mitt Romney once strapped his dog to the top of his car during an extended family car trip. That sounds worse than it was, although the truth is still pretty ugly. In actuality he strapped his dog Seamus’ carrier on top of his car (with Seamus in it) for a twelve hour drive. Poor judgment? Absolutely. But this was in 1983, almost 30 years ago. Should Romney, then in his mid-30’s, known better? Of course he should have. Of course. It was stupid, cruel, inhumane and dangerous. Still if you ran for president is there anything you did 30 years ago which was stupid and dangerous? Say “No” and your memory is most likely failing. Or you are reframing history. The problem with this whole “Dogs Against Romney” offensive is it sucks valuable energy from passionate people who could focus their outrage against candidate Romney for more recent actions and statements. Instead they choose to belabor their efforts with this sideshow.

Decisions and comments are framed and reframed by both parties so often that it becomes impossible to uncover the truth in any meaningful way. Democrats and Republicans speak in riddles and hyperbole which does not truly illustrate specific plans. They shout, “We’re going to reform this!” How? “We’re going to improve that!’ How? The country is dissolving into a place where shadows and sleight of hand rule the campaign process. Honest debate offering concrete solutions (or at least reasonable plans) seems too risky for the fear someone somewhere will latch upon those words and seek to pulverize the people who say them. There are those, Paul Ryan among them, who apparently don’t care. He realizes everything is a flash, a vaporish moment which slips past the public in a few days. This is endemic of a lot of people running for public office. It makes you wonder how effective a candidate would be who said something novel like, “With all due respect to my opponent’s experience, perspective and love of country, I disagree with their position. Now I’m not going to spend my time telling you why I think they are wrong. Instead, here are the reasons I believe my solutions will lead ultimately lead us to a better place as a nation.” In the end this is what should guide the campaign process, not vague promises and inane distractions which have nothing to do with anything. Our future should not be packaged like a reality show in search of the highest ratings, no matter how easy it is to do so.

  1. rangewriter says:

    So utterly true.


  2. kayjai says:

    Nicely written, John.


  3. Let’s all write in a different candidate this year – someone honest and with civility. Got any ideas?


  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Well, Traskie, that was a very passionately written piece! I’ve never heard of Dogs against Romney, but like you say, who hasn’t done stupid stuff 30 years ago? Me, I’m sure I’ve done stupid stuff in the last two weeks! Reframing history – I LIKE that phrase! That applies to old people as well as politicians…my mom told me the other day she had never spanked me growing up – ha! She just reframed history to suit her vision. tricky.


  5. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    I’m not sure politicians have ever had meaningful discourse. Presidential campaigns are littered with misinformation and attempts to blast the opponent. The difference is that we hear about every utterance in today’s world. And, their minions have bigger soapboxes.


  6. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors on both sides. I’m frankly sick of it. I miss the days when the media was neutral, professionals who didn’t push their own agenda.
    I hope the debates are serious and allow the candidates to show their differences.
    I think the conventions are gonna be a wash.


    • John says:

      The conventions are a Show and Tell, nothing more. It’s hard to take anything said at them with the degree of seriousness those who speak would like.


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