Dueling Debaters

I don’t know whether this advice is still in fashion or if a newer “best advice ever” has already appeared, but numerous articles say that when you are arguing with someone you should repeat what they said so that they know you listened to them. After you make your point, they should do the same, so that you know that they heard you. I’m sure that quarreling couples, parents with teens and maybe even friends have found this advice useful, but quite frankly, if my husband repeated everything I said, I think it would drive me mad.   We tend to figure out if the other person missed a point without turning into parrots.

However, I think it is a great idea to bring into politics. Years ago, a well-known radio show host and good friend, John Carlson, frequently invited individuals with opposing views to debate. He never skewed the discussion by pitting one articulate speaker opposite a fool or by inviting five people, four of whom shared the same opinion. Although John had strong beliefs of his own about the issues under discussion, he didn’t ask one person loaded questions while lobbing softballs at the other. The two sides actually dealt in facts and convictions, asking each other pointed questions. The host didn’t even allow the show to devolve into ad hominem attacks as a way of deflecting difficult inquiries. I very much appreciated those debates and even if I didn’t change my mind, I came away with additional perspective. How quaint that show seems from today’s perspective.

As a member of the minority, politically conservative Jewish community, I feel a kinship with African-American conservatives. Whatever negative reactions I get, they get a hundred-fold. They are frequently ostracized and condemned and I am sure that even family get-togethers overflow with controversy.  Two brave pundits who fit in this category are Star Parker and Crystal Wright. I have met Star, an articulate speaker with a compelling story, and I would be delighted to cross paths with Crystal as well. For this reason, I was particularly interested in an article each woman recently wrote about E.W. Jackson, the candidate for Lt. Governor in Virginia. The two came to exactly the opposite conclusion about his selection, each passionately advocating her opinion.

One of the drawbacks of the our Internet culture is that when articles like these appear the comments section quickly sinks to the lowest common denominator. Personal attacks, vulgarity and atrocious grammar reign (my children will tell you that they aren’t sure to which of these I object the most). Rather than advancing or enhancing the columnist’s points, the comments decrease the writer’s effectiveness.

Instead of reading comments, I would much prefer to hear a debate between the two columnists, with much more than thirty-second sound bites allowed. I’d love to hear Star and Crystal actively engage each other and courteously respond to the other’s points.  While they won’t change each other’s mind, I would be better off for the exchange, which in many ways reflects a fault line in the Republican Party at large. Without being able to hear each other, even if we need to use the “latest” psychological advice for arguing, conservatives will continue to disappoint and demoralize those of us who wonder if we are actually advocating for the same side.


8 thoughts on “Dueling Debaters”

  1. Dear Rabbi: you should teach many a Sunday School with your uplifting messages of hope!
    Dear Ms. Susan…you are so right, that the fine art of debate is sinking to depths uncalled for. It is so easy to attack the person rather than the idea, and to resort to vulgarity, flinging revolting epithets at one’s opponents. The anonymity the Internet affords simply adds fuel to the flames.
    It is my observation, however, that it is chiefly the Left that must resort to such tactics. The Left adheres to a new religion that espouses certain critical talking points, such as a large, authoritarian government able to enforce its “loving kindness” and charity by confiscating your property and mine at the point of a gun, and promotion of the Leftist State by any and all means, fair or foul: the end justifies the means. Riders to this ‘policy’ include such sacred cows as Global Warming, gender equality in ‘marriage,’ the redistribution of wealth as envisioned by Karl Marx, and the rabid destruction of all perceived enemies to their Cause. Given their abandonment of all godly principles and precepts, no tactic is too low, no accusation too outrageous, no epithet too vile.
    We see again those people who talk about ‘things’ and ‘other people’ when they should be discussing IDEAS. Perhaps the ideas they follow are so unsupportable and intellectually bankrupt that ad hominem attacks are their sole logical conclusion.

  2. Dear Susan,
    You bring up the most interesting ideas. I cannot exactly remember the point at which political discourse disintegrated into just plain school yard name calling. I tell my children that name calling shows a distinct lack of intelligence when making a point. We as a people and a nation should be able to calmly discuss issues without the expletives. We are seeing exactly the type of politics when Hitler came to power in Germany; by marginalizing different groups Hitler sought to make them irrelevant. By calling an individual a name, it denigrates both persons by showing a lack of respect. The person calling the name lacks respect for him/herself and the issues as well as the person who is being called the name. I so appreciate your column and the weekly discussions. Keep at it! You are so right that we are a nation of kvetchers rather than thanking God for the greatest country on earth where we have more freedom than any other country!

  3. Thanks for finding the comment button, Karen. I haven’t figured out a way to make it more visible, but we have some web upgrades in the works, so hopefully things will improve.

  4. Hi Susan –
    Thank you for the insight into the Virginia governor’s race. They’re right next door to us here in North Carolinia and we’re already seeing ‘Ken Cuchinelli for Gov.’ ads on television (quite nicely done in my opinion).
    Crystal Wright wrote “During a recent visit to a Virginia women’s Republican club, a few white conservatives mentioned Jackson to me, assuming I would like him because he’s a black conservative like me.” and then proceeds assume it was the Virginia Lt. Gov. nominee’s race that these women had in mind when assuming she would vote him.
    For one thing, what difference does it make what skin color these “few white” Virginia Republican women are? And how is it that Crystal Wright knew what they were thinking? It sounds more like Ms. Wright is projecting her way of seeing the world onto them – and then proceeding to assume an air of indignation (or really, one of moral superiority).
    Ms. Wright goes on to Parrot the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s use of the expression “right-wing nut” to describe the Virginia Lt. Gov. nominee. When is the last time you or I have heard or read the term “left-wing nut”? Anyone who would deign to use the term “left-wing nut” will be immediately shouted down as a “right-wing nut”, while any and all pejorative descriptions of conservatives most often results in, well … crickets.
    One thing that self styled “conservative” Ms. Wright isn’t telling us in her article is that Barack Obama LOST the state of North Carolina to Mitt Romney in 2013 – and one big reason was because of a referendum on the ballot for a State Constitutional Amendment for the Defense of Marriage – which African-American North Carolinians came out in STRONGLY in favor of.
    The fault line in politics today runs not so much through the Republican Party or even between the two major parties as it does through the heart of each and every American. We don’t need to listen to each other’s side of the debate as much as we need to listen to ourselves. And when we do, maybe that will wake us up enough to start listening to God’s still small voice continually calling us back to Him.

  5. You are so right. While the internet is a fabulous tool for dissiminating information and ideas, it also becomes to easy to slide into incivility behind the cloak of a keyboard.
    I so appreciate what you and your husband do here and look forward to reading your weekly emails.
    Just an observation for you – once you commented that you don’t receive many comments to your posts. I didn’t even notice there was an option for comments (until then) The comment button is almost invisible – especially compared to most blog formats….
    Again, thanks for what you do and the example you and the Rabbi set for us

  6. My Dear Susan,
    When you mention in your article how the comments section of any internet periodical quickly sinks to the lowest common denominator I am so with you all the way and yes, sometimes, I wonder whether I am more incensed by the appalling use of my language, (I am English! ’nuff said!) the fact that these could appear within a Christian magazine – gosh Christians can be sooooo very nasty – or whether I do indeed disagree with them. I don’t know about you but, in the end, I just give in and let them get on with it, it is just not worth the hassle. So, all in all, as usual I am completely behind you in what you are saying. BTW please tell your husband I love the word ‘kvetching’ – no idea what it means but it sounds great!
    May the One we all love keep you close to Himself.

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