T Nation

Villains and Debate

Here is a piece on immigration by Jonah Goldberg, but its more important parts are less about immigration and more about the importance of how we debate (parts highlighted):

[i]Villains and the immigration debate

If the assumption is that one?s opponent is lying or has ulterior motives, we lose our ability to debate an issue democratically

By Jonah Goldberg

Did you hear the real reason President Bush is so gung-ho to cram his immigration “amnesty” bill through Congress? It’s the first step toward creating the North American Union, where the United States, Canada and Mexico become one giant country and the dollar is replaced by the Amero. Just ask Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan about it.

Actually, that’s not it at all. Bush is just a pawn in the Big Business-Welfare State axis (headquartered at The Wall Street Journal’s editorial offices) to create a Latin American-style society with an exploitable brown-skinned workforce by day and pliant clients for ever-expanding big government by night.

These are just two of the theories enjoying wide circulation among conservative critics of “comprehensive immigration reform” today.

Reform advocates aren’t much better.

Linda Chavez, long a valued voice of reason on the right, recently all but declared that fellow conservatives who disagree with her on immigration pretty much have to be racists. “Some people just don’t like Mexicans ? or anyone else from south of the border. They think Latinos are dirty, diseased, indolent and more prone to criminal behavior. They think Latinos are just too different from us ever to become real Americans.”

She went on: “Where once the xenophobes could advocate forced sterilization and eugenics coupled with virtually shutting off legal immigration from ‘undesirable’ countries, now they must be content with building walls, putting troops on the border, rounding up illegal aliens on the job and deporting them, passing local ordinances to signal their distaste for immigrants’ multifamily living arrangements, and doing whatever else they can to drive these people back where they came from.”

So, in other words, enforcement of existing immigration laws is the consolation prize for folks who can’t realize their real dream of forcibly sterilizing Mexicans.

Oh, the hidden agenda

In a recent webcast of a Wall Street Journal editorial board meeting, the Journal’s editors dismissed the editors of the National Review (their allies on almost all other issues) as “irrational” and driven by a “cultural” agenda that we at National Review refuse to divulge.

Even President Bush got in on the act, proclaiming last week that opponents of the Senate bill were nitpicking the legislation and scaring people because the nitpickers “don’t want to do what’s right for America.”

Conservatives normally take great pride in the caliber of our intramural debates. But this is a shameful moment.

Oh, to be sure, there are racists, bigots, xenophobes and the like among the critics of immigration reform. Of this I am quite sure. I am also certain there are people who believe that the marketplace is the highest source of values, and the bottom line is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

There are also would-be aristocrats who probably love the idea of a color-coding system for the lower classes, the working poor, the help. Heck, there may even be some people who really want to make North America into one big American cheese enchilada with maple syrup on top.

But you know what? Even if these are the overriding motives for all of the combatants in the debate over immigration reform, none of them is publicly using these arguments to justify his position. No one ? of any consequence at least ? is saying we need to keep the Mexicans out because they’re racially inferior. No one is openly pushing amnesty as a vital first step toward the nullification of the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps chief among the many problems with these sorts of accusations is that they help no one, advance nothing. Only those already convinced cheer the unsubstantiated charges of villainy. Indeed, crying racism to delegitimize an opponent’s legitimate arguments is typically a left-wing tactic, and conservatives do not color themselves with glory by mimicking it.

The beauty of a democratic system is that it depends on democratic arguments. Even if every partisan is a villain, he has to make his case in a way that will convince people. And it’s those arguments we’re supposed to be dealing with. It’s very easy for me to say that while my opponent may say X that he secretly believes Y because he is a member of a supersecret Satanic cabal or because his fern is speaking to him through his dental fillings. But unless I have proof, debate should be confined to X.

Engage the argument

Besides, are the merits of the immigration debate really so boring and trivial that we need to invent dramatically malevolent motives for each other? Must the editors of the Journal be market idolaters seeking to erase the very concept of America in order to dispense with their arguments? And do my colleagues at National Review have to be cast as secretly rabid xenophobes and racists in order to make the conversation interesting? Does every person worried about the influx of millions of poor immigrants ? here illegally, by the way ? really have to be a eugenicist hiding his phrenologist’s calipers behind his back?

Not every businessman is a mustache-twirling robber baron, and not every advocate of enforcing the law is a bigot.

And even if they were, saying so wouldn’t disprove their math, refute their examples or invalidate their arguments.

Or at least that’s what my Freemason paymasters at Halliburton tell me.[/i]

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/06/villiains_and_t.html#more

Goldberg notes that even conservatives are getting in on the action against other conservatives.

“If the assumption is that one’s opponent is lying or has ulterior motives, we lose our ability to debate an issue democratically” - worth repeating.

Well, I actually agree with this. A few weeks back I saw an interesting thing on youtube. It was Phil Donahue interviewing Ayn Rand back in, I believe, 1980. So, it was the darling liberal interviewing the darling libertarian. You know what. They had an interesting dialogue.

There was no one-upmanship and Donahue did his best to draw out Rand on her views. It was a respectful exchange of ideas, not a smear campaign. Can’t imagine seeing something like that on TV nowadays.

I think the surprise is that it’s happening within one party, because the vilification of the “other side” is basically standard practice these days.

It’s a part of distract, discredit and deny… and it worked very well against Kerry!

[quote]vroom wrote:

It’s a part of distract, discredit and deny… and it worked very well against Kerry![/quote]

I knew I could count on you for partisan hysterics, but had Kerry won, would you be saying the same about Bush and ending it with an exclamation point?

What with Moveon.org, Fahrenheit 9/11, and George Soros?

The bigger point is that national politics has become too polarized in the sense that bad faith is assumed every time in practically every disagreement. You can’t trip over a discussion without the participants projecting their “you have a nefarious hidden agenda” on one another while completely avoiding the merits of the debate.

It indeed harms democracy, no matter what your political preferences. Well, a caveat - if your political preferences are basically centered around the “bad faith” assumptions, you aren’t interested in democracy anyway.

If you are a fan, it is a cause for concern.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
I knew I could count on you for partisan hysterics, but had Kerry won, would you be saying the same about Bush and ending it with an exclamation point?
[/quote]
I don’t know, I guess it would depend on what blatant discrediting tactics were used against him. Since he won, I don’t remember what they were.

I hope you can admit that Kerry was completely discredited with a series of ridiculous claims and attacks.

The whole election made a serious mockery of your political system. Sorry, but it’s true.

I do have to agree with you in general, and I think it is a huge problem. However, I really don’t have any idea how to fix it, since the general public seems to respond best to negative attack tactics.

How would you suggest changing that?

Also, how do you differentiate between legitimate criticisms of policies and strategies and trumped up statements constructed to sway voters?

Unfortunately, I think we might have to learn to live with these poor tactics for the foreseeable future.

They simply work too well. A high proportion of the voting public is uninterested in politics and will spend very little time informing and educating themselves about the issues.

All politicians now know that you need to use that little amount of attention to get your message out with the maximum impact. It’s even to the point that the message itself is losing importance. If your policies are too complicated to explain in 30 seconds, you use that time to demolish your opponent’s character instead. Hence the slew of “negative ads” in which a candidate says nothing about himself or his positions, but simply tries to make his opponent appear to be an unthinkable choice.

It works terribly well too. Most people, I think, still vote for “the guy they like” without much consideration for his positions on the various issues. That fact makes honest public debates nearly pointless, since hijacking the whole process and basically using propaganda tactics on the public yields better results. Once you lose to such tactics, you have no real choice other than adopting them yourself for the next time.

Even the internet, which you’d think would help people find accurate information, becomes victim to the same process with partisan sites packed full of spinned articles supporting whatever policies and candidates they prefer. It’s very apparent in pro-war/anti-war sites who, from the same facts, reports and news releases, reach entirely polarized conclusions.

Documentaries like “Farenheit 911” and “Farenhype 911” show a similar pattern. Watch them back to back and you can believe what you want and have enough argument to support it. Unfortunately, they can’t both be right. They’re probably both wrong, with the truth somewhere along the middle; but nuance and reason seems to have mostly disappeared with the 90s.

[quote]vroom wrote:

I don’t know, I guess it would depend on what blatant discrediting tactics were used against him. Since he won, I don’t remember what they were.[/quote]

Well, that is fairly convenient amnesia.

The Swiftboating was a smear attack regarding Kerry’s war service and subsequent antiwar stances. Below the belt? Quite possibly.

But let me refresh your delicate memory. There is a documentary exclaiming that Bush was not just a bad politician, but an evil schemer involved in a host of conspiracy theories that, if true, would be nothing short of treason against the country.

That “documentary” grossed over $200 million worldwide. Beyond that, the DNC chairman endorsed the film, as did prominent liberals throughout the states. The support for the propaganda got Moore a seat beside Jimmy Carter at the Democratic primary.

So, we have Swiftboaters trying to sleazily impugn the integrity of Kerry - and a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign to brand Bush a traitor to his country and a fascist.

Kerry is “Unfit for Command”, Bush is “Hitler”.

And you only remember the first, and not the latter?

I am not entirely sure the American public likes it. Look at the approval ratings of both the President and Congress. Polarization has not paid off.

More later.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
But let me refresh your delicate memory. There is a documentary exclaiming that Bush was not just a bad politician, but an evil schemer involved in a host of conspiracy theories that, if true, would be nothing short of treason against the country.

That “documentary” grossed over $200 million worldwide. Beyond that, the DNC chairman endorsed the film, as did prominent liberals throughout the states. The support for the propaganda got Moore a seat beside Jimmy Carter at the Democratic primary.
[/quote]

Did you actually watch the film? I recall a lot of people arguing about the content of the film, but refusing to see it, hence speaking only from talking points.

No, I’m not defending it, but seeing it would be appropriate if one wants to say what it contains and does. Did you actually see it?

The reason I remember the swift boat event is because it was so monumental to me. Here is this war hero, the type of person that is usually publicly lauded for service, being trashed for that very same service.

I was quite simply, shocked. It seemed hypocritical, even here on this forum, to trash a man for his military service in this way.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Did you actually watch the film? I recall a lot of people arguing about the content of the film, but refusing to see it, hence speaking only from talking points.[/quote]

Seeing it is not enough. Michael Moore does not simply “give you the facts,” he editorializes and presents the images in a way that supports his views.

Pure, honest objectivity is (nearly?) impossible to have.

[quote]The reason I remember the swift boat event is because it was so monumental to me. Here is this war hero, the type of person that is usually publicly lauded for service, being trashed for that very same service.

I was quite simply, shocked. It seemed hypocritical, even here on this forum, to trash a man for his military service in this way.[/quote]

That was a particularly poorly done job. And yet, it still worked. It raised enough doubt about Kerry’s convictions to make a lot of people think that he shouldn’t be president during a war.

[quote]pookie wrote:
vroom wrote:
Did you actually watch the film? I recall a lot of people arguing about the content of the film, but refusing to see it, hence speaking only from talking points.

Seeing it is not enough. Michael Moore does not simply “give you the facts,” he editorializes and presents the images in a way that supports his views.
…[/quote]

He does more than that. He edits people comments so they out of sequence and he pairs up their answers with different questions.

[quote]vroom wrote:

Did you actually watch the film? I recall a lot of people arguing about the content of the film, but refusing to see it, hence speaking only from talking points.

No, I’m not defending it, but seeing it would be appropriate if one wants to say what it contains and does. Did you actually see it?[/quote]

Yes, I saw the film. What does that have to do with the fact that without question, the “bad faith” campaigning was overwhelmingly from the liberal camp?

I agree that the Swiftboaters went too far - but Kerry ran on his Vietnam service, so it was likely he was going to be exposed on his anti-war activities after the fact.

That is material information in consideration for the job of commander in chied. I don’t like the Swiftboating approach as they did it, but just because Kerry announced he was a “war hero” doesn’t mean everyone was required to believe it. They should have attacked his actions and let them speak for themselves, and less attacks on the man.

But, if you watched the Republican primary, when a speaker mentioned Kerry’s service, the crowd applauded.

At the Democratic primary, a propagandist who tried to label Bush a fascist and a traitor gets a skybox.

I am not here to say the GOP is innocent - a plague on both their houses - but you have this curious selective amnesia about how 2004 campaigning went.

It was nasty, but not exactly surprising considering Kerry’s anti-war activities after the fact. That said, I really don’t think the Swiftboat attacks lost Kerry the presidency.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
Yes, I saw the film. What does that have to do with the fact that without question, the “bad faith” campaigning was overwhelmingly from the liberal camp?
[/quote]

I do remember the news fiasco concerning Bush, more so than I remember the film event. Perhaps my view of what happened is more “news channel” based.

Living in Canada I am thankfully spared from the day to day election nonsense. I’m not sure it’s fair to suggest I have a selective memory, as there was one singular issue on my mind, it’s not like I had a laundry list for one side and nothing for the other.

[quote]
I agree that the Swiftboaters went too far - but Kerry ran on his Vietnam service, so it was likely he was going to be exposed on his anti-war activities after the fact.

That is material information in consideration for the job of commander in chied. I don’t like the Swiftboating approach as they did it, but just because Kerry announced he was a “war hero” doesn’t mean everyone was required to believe it. They should have attacked his actions and let them speak for themselves, and less attacks on the man.[/quote]

Anyway, the issue of demonstrating after the war is certainly a fair issue, but denigrating his actual service, presumably because it was a weak point given how Bush went through the period, was just silly.

Also, I’m not sure what Kerry said, but I saw the news media raising the issue of being a war hero, I don’t recall Kerry saying that himself. That is an important distinction if it is even an accurate recollection.

The flip flop issue (it’s starting to come back to me as we discuss it) was also silly. I’m not sure voting records are a good indicator, due to all the other crap involved in votes, but that’s a common one used by both sides for years.

[quote]vroom wrote:

Also, I’m not sure what Kerry said, but I saw the news media raising the issue of being a war hero, I don’t recall Kerry saying that himself. That is an important distinction if it is even an accurate recollection.[/quote]

Perhaps it is a function of your media blackout experience in the Great White North as you have suggested, but Kerry could barely utter a sentence without mentioning his four months in Vietnam. Instead of running as a Senator, he tried to run as a war hero who was a better commander in chief than Bush.

That was his entire campaign strategy.

This is why legislators have a hard time getting elected as executives.

But that said, Kerry was berated for timely flip-flops regarding the Iraq war. Some criticize that, but it still aggravates people when you speak out of two mouths on an issue central to the campaign, especially when you want the job that decides when people are sent to war.

That said, when someone can make a case that you are trying to change your position to cater to a growing anti-war left in your party, you better explain yourself well, because that is a fair scrutiny. The Left is currently doing the same thing to Hillary on the basis that she is catering to the “middle” - and she is riding a tiger on the issue.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
Perhaps it is a function of your media blackout experience in the Great White North as you have suggested, but Kerry could barely utter a sentence without mentioning his four months in Vietnam. Instead of running as a Senator, he tried to run as a war hero who was a better commander in chief than Bush.
[/quote]

Hmm, I can see the point of having served and faced combat being important when discussing ability to work well with the military.

I can also see the anti-war protests as a big problem in this exact same respect.

However, I still think it is important distinction between highlighting combat service versus highlighting the medals earned… or being a war hero.

I’ll have to trust your judgment on whether it was him saying he was a war hero, or whether that was a characterization based on the topic due to others raising the issue on his behalf.

I think this is part of the appeal of Ron Paul… he does not seem to have changed his views based on public opinion very often.

Obviously, it doesn’t matter what I think or want, but something like a Barack vs Ron Paul election would be refreshing compared to the same rewarmed political crap we get time after time.

Of course, there may be issues with both Barack and Ron Paul that I’m currently unaware of.