The Dreaded Conversation about Politics

November 2, 2008 § 2 Comments

As we’re closing down (thankfully) on the election season, I’ve been somewhat encouraged, but mostly saddened at how incapable so many of us are to openly discussing politics. This is just a rough thought for now, but I think one of the reasons we have a hard time is because we talk about policies that we’ll never agree on or key on reductionist arguments about which candidate is a bigger hypocrite or slimebag. We then tell ourselves whatever we want to tell ourselves about which one is worse. And then we dig in for trench warfare.

Frankly, this sucks.

Instead, I prefer to think that all candidates will always appear hypocritical or slimy when put under the unblinking public eye. Because of that, we should just assume that all politicians are hypocritical slimebags so that we can move on to real conversation. (Yes, background information on candidates is important, but I think constantly breaking candidates down actually serves to destroy voters’ ability to have meaningful, non-combative discussions about a candidate.)

So, I began thinking about what qualities good political conversations tend to have. And I think that most quality political conversations aren’t a debate about policies or character, they’re actually conversations where we think together about the underpinnings of politics, not debate policy. Policy debate too quickly devolves into unalterable, unbending personal beliefs, like abortion or gun control. That won’t go anywhere.

While this is merely the roughest draft of an idea, I’ve quickly jotted down what I like to think about when I think about politics with someone:

• How is society at-large reacting to a candidate? Why? Can it be overcome? How?
• What is a campaign’s message and strategy?
• Why is the campaign espousing that message? Who are they targeting? Me? You? Who?
• Who might the campaign be alienating through their message and strategy? Will it matter?
• How is one candidate trying to “frame” the other? Why? How does this affect you?

I think that by looking at a campaign and candidate through these questions gives context to a candidate’s statements, arguments, and message. By seeing the context, you see how a candidate is poking at your pressure points to get a reaction (i.e. vote) out of you. But I also think that by two or more people thinking together about the context of a message and strategy, it can allow for more fruitful, less hostile discussions between potential voters.

I don’t think this list is exhaustive by any means, and I don’t know if it will help anyone at all, but these are the things I think about when I think about what I like to think about regarding politics. Or, in the parlance of our times, I focus on the game, not the players.

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§ 2 Responses to The Dreaded Conversation about Politics

  • Kip says:

    I think it’s also good to think about how one candidate would defend the other candidate. In that scenario, there is (hopefully) some respect.

    I loved hearing about John Adams and how he defended (and won) the redcoats who were accused of making the first shots during the “Boston Massacre.” It was definitely unpopular for him to take their side (and he probably didn’t want to), but it was the right thing to do and brought about justice.

    I think we need more of that. Perhaps that is the very thing that a “design project” has the capability of doing.

  • jefftzucker says:

    That’s a really great insight. There is a great lack of empathy in political conversation, which inevitably leads to reflexive, divisive rhetoric and polarization.

    Defending the other candidate would also be an interesting way to conduct debates. Imagine if Obama and McCain had to defend one another’s policy proposals instead of saying why the other person was wrong/foolish. Defending each other might actually serve to highlight their policy differences and similarities in a much more constructive manner.

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