Op-Ed: Killing the messenger central to politics of destruction

Posted Apr 6, 2010 by Carol Forsloff
Good debate, according to its principles, involves attacking a topic with cogent argument, apart from its source. But the politics of destruction focuses on the person, removing good ideas to a political scrap heap to the detriment of us all.
Keith Olbermann
Keith Olbermann, a news anchor.
by Vaguely Artistic
In simple terms, debate instruction tells us focus on the argument itself and not the person unless that person is the argument. This means if the topic is "Should we nationalize health care?" then Joe who takes the opposing view should be heard as he presents a message that addresses the question.
Joe might say, for example, nationalizing health insurance would create an unwieldy and unmanageable system and because of its size could get us into all sorts of trouble like the fraud that takes place in Medicare. He could say the bigger things grow, the less personal they become, like the phone company that makes the customer wait long periods to answer questions outside of the automated choices. These are significant arguments, as there are others, that could allow the presenter to make serious points, thus winning the argument and in the case of politics, requiring the argument of the opposition to be reformatted or abandoned.
Attacking the person is done only if the person is central to the argument in classical debate, something lost on a Michelle Malkin or a Keith Olbermann. If the presenter is the head of a national insurance company opposed to a government-sponsored plan, and the practices of that company have been found to have flaws, then the leadership, as an entity, can be discussed within the argument itself. This means Joe might be asked how the management of a private company could ensure health service delivery in a more efficient manner than one managed by the government.
But in modern political discussions, at the highest levels in fact, the messenger becomes the target who is disparaged in a fashion so his/her good ideas become undermined and never reviewed. When the idea is lost, certain freedoms are as well, the kind that develop from thought and reason and intelligent design.
What happens, therefore, to the health insurance questions? They get lost in the exchange of labels and outright libel as people scream "socialist" to the notion of a single payer system for medical care, creating fear and anger as substitutes for discussion that might bring about the best resolution to health care problems. Conversely, it may be a bad idea simply because of the arguments given in this piece. The public seriously loses in a debate that ends in finger-pointing and meanness as opposed to problem resolution.
I suggest our politicians take a course in classical debate and not be allowed to serve until they can close arguments using the formal instruction of that type of debate. I further suggest that newspapers heed the same notions and present opinions in the mainstream press, on radio, television or Internet that target ideas as opposed to a messenger that bears them. This would bring more carefully-considered material for discussion and provide a better political platform for making decisions than the destructive one now used for discourse where many good people are actually afraid to speak at all.