America Has A Problem
The problem is the absence of political debate that is conducive for the formation of an informed public opinion. An understandable reflex to this assertion is to deny this and point out the abundance of political talk on the airwaves. On the internet, on TV, on radio, and still in print, a probably globally unsurpassed amount of pundits and politicians continuously voice their political opinion. This is indeed true. Yet if one looks at all this talk carefully, one will see that they are a multitude of monologues and do not constitute a debate.
A debate is the discourse between two (or more) people whereby arguments are made and consequently validated or invalidated in the process of a dialectic. This way the audience, i.e. the American electorate, can form an opinion on the merits and persuasiveness of an argument. On the basis of such an analytical process the truth is revealed. A representative democracy such as the United States can thereby function effectively.
Yet my assertion is that public opinion in the United States is formed on the basis of talking points and not debate in the true sense of the word. What we have in the United States is that political actors (politicians and media pundits) generally make brief and scripted statements that are then ad hoc disseminated through sympathetic outlets. An intellectual engagement with one’s argument only occurs in absentia. Political debate in America is then largely shadow boxing. This phenomenon of a narrow-focus on self-display and presentation can be found from high up with president Obama to all the way down to the local school board.
The past government shutdown and the political fight over Obamacare is exemplary for my argument. In the course of this prolonged political fight, political speech was limited to monologues and largely an act performed by reading prepared talking points (from a teleprompter for example). The lack of direct human intellectual engagement is the lamentable result of this.
At the very top of the political hierarchy, Obama made numerous statements. Quite literally every other day the president made a statement full of assertions and accusations. Going down the political hierarchy, politicians and pundits on the Democratic and Republican side augmented this spin, devoid of intellectual engagement between humans. The goal and effect of such spin was to assert one’s point of view, irrespective of its content of truth.
Thus political actors were literally talking past each other for the duration of the most politicized event of Obama’s presidency. Public opinion in this country was thereby not swayed by who had the better argument but by whose statement was more effectively spread. If no direct personal exchange occurs then political discourse is naturally all about presentation and not substance. Political positions of the other side are in this context not refuted but trumped or simply ignored.
A by-product of this impasse is that the division between argumentation and accusation is leveled. Furthermore, the democratic quality of a political system suffers, and in the end the American people. The low approval numbers for both Congress and President Obama evidence this confusion created by the absence of genuine political debate.
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