Tuesday , 22 May 2018

The Death of Intelligent Debate

The subject line of an e-mail I received recently has been stuck in my mind for a few days. “VERIFIED: 100% Conservative.” The e-mail was from Ken Paxton’s campaign for Attorney General.

The Texas State Senator from McKinney is currently engaged in a primary race for the Republican nomination for Texas Attorney General. His opponents are Dallas’ Ken Branch, a Texas State Representative, and Texas Railroad Commissioner Chairman Barry Smitherman.

Because it’s a Republican primary race, all three men are racing as far to the right as they possibly can. That’s what “VERIFIED: 100% Conservative” is all about. Paxton’s campaign is touting his 100% conservative rating by the Concerned Women for America as something that all conservatives can support and believe in.

The e-mail states “We were scored based on many important votes regarding religious liberties, national security, education, sex trafficking, and of course the pro-life bills that made their way through the House and Senate. All along the way, I proudly stood for the principles that hold our state and country together.”

That last line jumped out at me. “I proudly stood for the principles that hold our state and country together.” So, what part of being 100% conservative is holding our country together right now? Why don’t we go ask everyone in Washington how being a hardline, dug-in, 100% conservative or 100% liberal is working right now?

Oh, right…it’s completely shut down the federal government because no one is willing to negotiate. There’s no gray area. There is only 100% Conservative or 100% Liberal. It’s all or nothing.

But, can you really blame our politicians? Going full force to one side or the other is how you win a primary or general election these days. You make yourself seem like THE MOST REPUBLICAN (or DEMOCRAT) candidate out there. And you do it because it works.

And you do that because there’s no space in our society for nuance anymore. You can’t be for lower government spending and also pro-choice. You can’t be against Obamacare and for gay marriage. You can’t be anti-guns and for state’s rights. That person doesn’t exist. Or at least it seems that way.

Ideologies now rule all. Two people can’t sit down and have an intelligent, measured, reasonable and considerate debate. Instead, we shout at each other. We assume that if we keep repeating the same ideological babble over and over, we will somehow convince the other person to change their mind. When that doesn’t work, we shout louder. And when that doesn’t work, we call each other names and walk away.

Think I’m wrong? Have you seen Facebook lately? Try talking politics on Twitter. Check the online comments section of any remotely political article. Our politicians stick to their poll-tested talking points and bash the other side to get ahead. We sit at our computers and lob insults at strangers because they have the audacity to believe something different.

We decide how we feel and we stick to it. You’re either Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal. There is no independent. We don’t allow silly things like facts or reason to cloud our judgment.Ben

We celebrate things like being “100% conservative.” Look at me! My ideas are always right and yours are stupid! We’d rather shut down our government than even allow for the possibility that someone else’s ideas might have some merit.

Maybe our country wouldn’t be in this mess if we actually listened to each other instead of just waiting for our turn to talk. Maybe our society would be a little better if we were a little nicer to each other. If we tried some civility for once, I think we might actually be surprised with the results.

Can’t we aspire to be better than this? To be better than talking points and rhetoric? To be better than shouting insults at each other? To be better than all or nothing? Isn’t there some space in the middle for intelligent debate?

We live in a world where being “100% conservative” is worth bragging about. I’d rather live in a world where it’s worth being ashamed of.

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