Monday, August 23, 2010

Leonard Pitts on the Decline of Political Discourse in America

Mr. Pitts writes a column for the Miami Herald which is syndicated all over the country. Today he said something important I think about the lamentable state of discourse in the USA, brought on by too much certainty over matters politicians have no right to be so certain about all the time.  

Pandering to people's prejudices and just being angry that one half the electorate can't see things your way is not a substitute for leadership or telling people the plain truth.  You don't except plain truth from radio talk loud mouths or think-tank mouth pieces who can't rally think outside the bounds of their sponsors biases.  But somebody needs to see being argumentative fro what it frequently is---just a distraction from facing the problems at hand. 

Our ability to rationalize our views to take a stand on one side of an issue--call it  "selective cognition"---may be, according to science editor Sharon Begley of Newsweek, a evolutionary skill humankind developed to win others to our side in a dispute and improve our chances to band together to survive an outside threat.   But the higher levels of our brain should tell us this can be a handicap when we are faced with difficult problems where we might have to compromise to get anything  done.   

 And the plain truth is that our economy is in a mess and we are all--all 305 million of us, at least those who can't move to Monte Carlo or The Cayman Islands--all of us, in the same boat.  

"So much of what purports to be political discourse these days is instead this primal scream of self righteousness and outrage. So much of it seems predicated upon the presumption that ideology is identity and reason, treason.

"How often have you heard a politician say something intellectually dishonest, and you knew it was intellectually dishonest and he knew it was intellectually dishonest and you knew he knew, and you knew he knew you knew -- but he went and said it anyway.

"Because he's not trying to convince anyone of the fitness of his ideas, nor persuade them to his point of view. No, his only object is to tick off his talking points, hit his applause lines, score for his side.

"Sometimes you wonder if anyone is still on the country's side. You couldn't prove it by most of what passes for leadership these days. Which is why we never seem to reach national consensus, never seem to find compromise, never do anything except boil with a free floating, self-perpetuating anger."

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  1. Doug, he's right, of course - what passes for discourse is really self-righteousness or simple outrage - there are few, if any, genuine suggestions.

    Obama is a high-minded man in a low-minded world - the same position in which Kennedy found himself in 1963.

    Our bank-bailout money sits in the Caymans - our bankers have more in common with Monte Carlo than Main Street. It's ugly; as Joe Bageant called it, a "...long, mean trench where civility does not apply....."

  2. I agree, Astra ---its a luxury of partisanship we can't afford right now I would argue. More have to speak for the country first.

    The anti-Washington bias and anti-intellectual mind-set doesn't serve us well either. And its worse when those people who know better fool themselves into not listening to others.

    And, yes there is a sense some of the elite have given up on the long-term good of the country. Not all, but enough to stop us dead in the water economically.

  3. He is right. I don't think there's been an honest politician since Jefferson, including "Honest Abe"! I'm sure they've all had to compromise, but even so, they have all been liars. We don't vote for the best person for the job, we vote for the best liar available and the one that tells us what we want to hear.
    I personally think President Obama is doing a decent job, but for some reason, his approval ratings are going down. I'm not sure why, although I think there may be too many news talk shows on and not enough real news shows on. Everyone has an opinion, and people are fallible. They say what they think, and people hear what they want.
    So far, for voicing my opinions, I've been called a liar and a fool, and this by people I thought were friends!
    Congress is full of madmen, mad for money and power.

  4. Too much heat and not enough light, as they say. Very good points Jacquie!

  5. Gee I say the same thing , but I do not get paid for it. If you disagree with some one of a different ethnic heritage, you are racist in some way. Wrong it just means you do not agree. I read blogs of different opinions. It is good to know what other people think

  6. A lot of times people use their race or religion or past history of their ethnicity as an excuse not to see the other point of view, Tess. A lot of what Leonard Pitts is saying applies to these same paid opinion-makers, who don't give a serious thought that a dissenting voice just might be on to something. Thanks for your contributing.

  7. "...they have all been liars." I don't believe Obama is a liar, or that he was elected because he lied when he told us what we wanted to hear. He hasn't been able to accomplish all that he had hoped, & I never had any expectations that in his first term, (or perhaps even in a second term), he could recover from the eight years of damage we've suffered.
    Most people who watch news talk shows are gullible.
    Remember the anger expressed about health care reform including euthanizing people 65 years or older? They actually believed this!
    I have a friend (?) who was enraged that Medicare won't be available to her, & when I asked her to explain why, she was flustered & unable to tell me other than that she'd heard something on the news, & that she hates Obama.
    People who form opinions from a stink blowing in the wind are the bane of informed, & rational thought.

  8. I do not hate Obama, Actually I blame Pelosi and Reid and Obama's advisers. i think he might have ideas that he thinks America needs, but has no idea what will work.He and America might have a chance if either the house or the senate goes GOP and he gets some good people in place to advise.

  9. GOP. Oh dear. May I please have permission to leave now?

  10. I'll be right behind you.

    It's impossible to be a Republican (at least, a Republican with any chance at getting elected) without being an ultraRight Fundie.

    Anyone running as a Republican is an extremist.

  11. This was an interesting post...I liked Pitts' article (though I do have to say I was appalled at Huckabee's stance on quarantining AIDS victims at the time as well)...

    I think the biggest philosophical problem of today is a tendency toward fundamentalism...not only in religion but in ideology. People firmly place themselves in X camp and toe the line instead of looking at each problem and finding solutions. Plus, as someone pointed out (I'm too lazy to scroll up and see who) the anti-intellectualism that seems so prevalent just compounds the problem. It's a peculiar secular dogmatism that is leading us astray. It's getting to the point where my choice of one cola over another is indicative of my partisan or political affiliation...pretty crazy!

    I wouldn't say ANYONE running as a Republican is an extremist...but I do think that party has a tendency to pander to its more radical wing far more so than the Democrats. In order to get the full power of the party behind them, a Republican certainly has to play ball with the far right, willingly or not; this need probably increases with the size of the position being sought.

  12. Doug, I do like this and I especially like the term he used - ""selective cognition". Thought I may add.

  13. Thank you!

    Republicans are infamous for their extremism in decisions that only benefit the rich, & the rest of the country, (is it 95%?) can go to hell in a hand basket.

    That is what has happened to us due to the reign of GWB & his cronies.

  14. half of my 8 children are Dems and half are GOP and none of them are radicals. They vote for who makes sense.

  15. it is best to discuss without one side thought process, no party is all right or all wrong . If you identify yourself by your party. it is not good for America.

  16. It seems in the last two years especially the GOP has gone a little over the cliff. What happened to the centrist Republicans?

    Reagan would have a hard time swallowing a 630 billion dollar tax break for the wealthiest Americans with our deficits.

  17. I agree with the first part, Tess. But I don't think Leonard Pitts' point is to give up our party affiliation. We just can't be slaves to the conformity of party hacks.

  18. I agree Shedrick. There have been times when the far Left has tried to take over the Democrats and failed (in 1948 and 1972), but the hard right has succeeded with the GOP. And a hard-left reaction just leads to more demagoguery. This country has survived this many decades because we listen to each other and stand away from fundamentalism.


  19. i guess the point is that those who stick to their guns in primitive societies prevail. The question is how primitive can we afford to be in a modern nuclear era?

  20. Something to think about. Very much so....

  21. Answer in my own manner is no...I shall come back this Doug.

  22. As the US is in fact only a small part (albeit a very noisy domineering part with more killing technology than the rest of the world put together) I don't think we (non Americans) can tolerate any more atavistic behaviour at all.

  23. I understand that Iri Ani. As an American, I am also concerned about the behavior directed within the country against citizens. More and more issues like immigration and taxation are becoming unbargainable to some leaders, particularly on the right.

    Almost any representative nation is liable to produce toxic "leaders" and media drum-beaters. The one thing that binds us together is that we should be able talk to, rather than over, each other. We have to wait now until the November elections to see how much this trend is reversible.

  24. I didn't say one party is all right or wrong.
    Please don't put words in my mouth!

    Republicans are very much inclined (do you like that word better?) to legislate & vote for what benefits the rich.

    Even Republicans know that is the truth.

  25. "Reagan would have a hard time swallowing a 630 billion dollar tax break for the wealthiest Americans with our deficits."

    There you are. There's no denying it.

  26. "albeit a very noisy domineering part with more killing technology than the rest of the world put together"

    I've often thought of this, Iri. I think of the U.S. as the bully on the block.
    For some strange reason, we're entitled to weapons of mass destruction, but selectively choose who can have them or not.

    Also, as I may have mentioned, (I've been on so many blogs today), we BUY what we want even though our deficit is out of sight. Where did the money come from to buy off the Hague, she asked rhetorically.

  27. <<== blames Sarah Palin and the mass media
    WHERE IS PARK 51 (photo blog)Yes folks - I said Park 51 not Area 51

  28. There are a few blogs yours Doug and Lucija's that really started to make me think. Today for me is going to be a ease day. And I have some changes to make around here however I still do have to come back to this as these writes are most interesting.

  29. Isn't that what politics is supposed to be all about Doug, taking sides, having a point of view etc?

    I think the weakness of Sharon Bagley's position is that it doesn't really acknowledge the deeply political nature of being the science editor of Newsweek and where that role lies in the evolutionary scheme of things.

    As you know I consider American politics like the politics of the entire developed world to be absolutely beyond all hope of redemption.
    The boat we are in is I think a lot bigger than a mere 305 million though, this vessel has 6,800,000,000 passengers at the last count..... and as it happens Obama is answerable to all of them, because that's how colonialism works I'm afraid.
    Nobody said this gig was going to be unproblematic I don't think, or did they?

  30. You're right, AA. Yes ,we have to take views and take stands but we also have to reach agreements on issues we can do something about at least for short-term benefits.

    The long-term view may indeed be quite dire as you say.