Monday, February 1, 2010

A Noble Ambition: Changing the Nature of Political Discourse


I confess it.

I'm impatient. I have little tolerance for games, or insincerity. For that reason, there are times when I have to be reminded of examples that have shown me that, as my grandmother used to say, 'there is more than one way to skin a cat'!

I was reminded of that when I watched President Obama last week in his meeting with GOP Representatives.

I may not always agree with his proposals. I certainly wish that he would be more aggressive with his policy agenda. But there is something else that he is after - changing the nature of political debate in this country, which has grown more sour, course and superficial by the decade. It has resulted in a public discourse which has turned voting against ones interests into a virtue. And has demeaned clear thinking as a something suspicion and exalted 'plain spokeness' (i.e. inarticulateness, a lack of curiosity and a capacity to substitute opinions and feelings for facts in a debate), as a sign of sincerity.

Princeton professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, reminds me that the accepting the challenge of making public debate and discourse something that can be useful to the common good and, at the same time, a noble art, is a worthy pursuit. Especially if both parties are willing to so engage. Even when that is not the case, it is something pretty admirable. Here are some excerpts from her thoughts on Obama's encounter with the Republicans. You can read the entire post here.

"During the years that I was on faculty at the University of Chicago, my graduate students in political science often took courses with Professor Obama. They universally reported that he was a fair, but exceedingly tough practitioner of the Socratic method. He was willing to entertain any idea, question or observation, no matter how outrageous. But he always subjected the students to a series of logical interventions and arguments that often left students exhausted and sometimes a bit embarrassed. They quickly learned to challenge Professor Obama only if they had fully considered the implications of their arguments and prepared significant evidence in support of their case."

"That Barack Obama showed up today. The President put on a clinic in public discourse, political argument, intellectual dexterity and moral courage. It was a reminder of what democracy could be if we engaged our opponents with substance, patience and civility rather than invectives, gamesmanship and boorishness..."

"President Obama is modeling a different kind of democratic engagement. It is a model he adhered to during the election and he continues to follow it now. President Obama refuses to believe that we can have a functioning democracy if the majority refuses to speak to the minority. He takes seriously his responsibility to govern in the interest of both his supporters and his opponents. He remains committed to the possibility that he and his Party may not always be in sole possession of good ideas."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That must be why the health care debate is restricted to Dems behind
locked doors.