The De-Evolution of Political Debate

March 29, 2010

An article posted on CCNMoney.com brings to light a much larger issue than the subject within.  Assuming the sources are valid, the story seems balanced enough, though from a writing standpoint it does have some technical problems, but that is more a critique of the editor than the author.  When compared to a lot of material out today, it does a pretty good job of avoiding politics and simply reports a story.  If you step back and look at the article compared to the comments, the real problem comes into focus – people simply will not accept differing points of view.

The piece in question is titled Why a $14/hour employee costs $20[i] by Catherine Clifford, a staff writer.  As the title implies, it’s about the costs an employer pays beyond the figure that shows up in the payroll check.  While debate over the article’s details certainly is possible, the venomous nature of the comments seems over the top.  They call CNN everything from “socialist” to “promoting extreme right-wing ideology.”  For example, Thomas Macie calls it “stupid CNN Socialist Propaganda,” while John Egan refers to it as “More right-wing reactionary crap.”

Everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion but that does not necessarily mean that opinion has any merit.  At its core, the article is about the obstacles an employer faces and how the current government program to encourage hiring deals with it.  The comments quickly devolve into political arguments of every flavor.  Few, if any, of the comments even address the factual points.  Instead they focus on subjective aspects that call back to the same sort of the military policy used when dealing with nuclear weapons – mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Mutually assured destruction counts on a balance of power, where you may destroy your foe but they destroy you in return.  Thankfully, the theory was never put into practice with weapons of mass destruction.  The same cannot be said politically.  In political terms MAD means when you’re attacked with lies, you fire back with lies of your own of equal viciousness.  In the case of the article’s comments, this is certainly so.  Of greater concern is the hate possessed by the readers.  Are we now so blind with hate and rage that truth no longer matters?

As Lincoln noted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand[ii].”  We cannot continue as a nation with such high levels of animosity towards each other.  Our political leaders have encamped themselves at opposite ends of the poles and give not one inch to compromise.  From the leadership the hatred spreads to citizens who seek only to understand the position of government.  Lincoln knew the folly of this, for there could be no compass pointing North without South to temper the swing.  The more entrenched the ideology, the less effective the government to represent the nation as a whole.

The current political climate insults our heritage and slaps the founding fathers square in the face.  In 1787 fifty-five men sorted through a wide range of topics, everything from whether to have a monarch or president to the vile practice of slavery.  On every point compromise was found.  Without it, the United States would never have formed.

Even great minds like Benjamin Franklin understood the need for it; on the issue of slavery he wrote “the hypocrisy of this country, which encourages such a detestable commerce by law for promoting the Guinea trade; while it piqued itself on its virtue, love of liberty.[iii]”  Even with Franklin’s feelings on slavery, he compromised his position.  As heartbreaking as it was, Franklin understood that to end slavery later on, it had to be allowed at the time in order to form the Union.

Given the wide gulf of opinion that existed, the resulting document is a remarkable example of what is achievable.  It is a lesson for us today as our issues and differences are petty in comparison.  Returning to the remarks on the article, how can we move forward, debate topics, and reach a consensus when even a topic like the true cost of hiring an employee becomes a partisan battleground?  It does not reflect the nation we started off as or the nation we should be today.  We have de-evolved into the feudalistic form of political debate where the one that screams the loudest carries the day.

[i] Clifford, Catherine. “Why a $14/hour Employee Costs $20.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network (CNN, 28 Mar. 2010. Web. 29 Mar. 2010. <http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/26/smallbusiness/employee_costs/index.htm&gt;.

[ii] Lincoln, Abraham. “A House Divided.” Speech. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
Vol. 2. Roy P. Blaser (Editor), [1953]. 461-68. Print.

[iii] Franklin, Benjamin. “On Slavery.” Letter to Anthony Benezet. 22 Aug. 1772. Life and Letters of Benjamin Franklin. Eau Claire, WI: E.M. Hale & Co, Unknown. 193. Print.


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