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Yeah, but YOUR Candidate…

This pattern has probably been around since the first election. My sense, though, is that we’re hearing more of it than usual. See if you agree.

Imagine that I have decided to vote for Barack Obama and you have decided to vote for Mitt Romney. We’re having coffee one day, and you say something critical about Obama. At this point, I have several options. I can mull over what you just said, determine whether it has merit in my opinion, and respond to you directly. That comes closest to dialogue.

I could also defend the president against the criticism you made. Though that leans more toward debate or conversation than dialogue, it could lead to a healthy, vigorous exchange of views. We might both gain some insight from it.

A third option seems to be the most popular these days. In response to your criticism of Obama, I respond instantly with a criticism of Romney. My point may not even cover the same topic as your point. Perhaps you criticized Obamacare and I disparage Romney’s vast wealth.  In essence, we stop talking with each other, or even to each other, and start talking past each other.

OK, so this third option does come with the territory of politics. But at times, it seems to be all I hear—not only from folks like us, but from the candidates themselves. While they have certainly spent time laying out their basic positions (the viability of these positions, and the unspoken details, are quite another matter), there just seems to be a higher percentage of trash talk in the air.

And that leads me to wonder: do we have so little to say in favor of our own candidates that we have no choice but to trash the other candidate?

There may be something to this. Both candidates, as we discussed last week, have substantial flaws. Many Republicans have found it difficult to generate enthusiasm for Romney. Many Democrats are disillusioned with Obama. This is too bad, because (as we also discussed last week) both candidates have considerable qualifications. We could do—and have done—much worse.

The issue with the high percentage of other-candidate-trashing, from what I can see, is that it saps our energy, heightens our cynicism, and sharpens our divides, leaving us with few personal resources to do the hard work of democracy (i.e., to participate actively in improving our civic and community life).  A civil delineation of differences, on the other hand, can enlighten us. And a description of a candidate’s strengths and accomplishments might even inspire us to think that, maybe, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if said candidate got into office.

Are you hearing this too? More than the usual percentage of trash talk? I’d love to hear your perspective, so feel free to share it here (or on Facebook).

5 Responses to “Yeah, but YOUR Candidate…”

  • Suutzi says:

    To be fair, there are always 2 ways of responding to an argument. You can defend or you can counter-attack. Part of “defending” is admitting a mistake: you had incorrect information, and therefore your previous position is defensible within a context. Admitting a previous error may seem more objective to us now, only because we’ve gotten use to not being wrong – ever. So the admission is startling, refreshing and shows a type of fearlessness that we find genuine.

    Now, don’t get me wrong; I began my thought with the idea that this is argument, the main goal of which is persuasion. I think dialogue is different as it suggests a different group of participants: those with a common stake in an outcome. Elections, by definition, are the opposite of that. Hence, the patterns of discourse are more confrontational, rude and counterproductive to productive dialogue.

    Perhaps the voting constituents will realize that elections should be a time for productive dialogue. That would be an enormous achievement for mankind, perhaps worthy of a Nobel Peace prize.

    • admin says:

      Somewhere during the past few months, I seem to call hearing David Brooks say the electorate was waiting for a candidate to talk with them like grown-ups. If that’s true (and I’ll bet it is, for many people), it’s a very hopeful sign.

      Actually, “talking like grown-ups” is what I heard Barack Obama doing in 2008. The talk of “bringing people together” sounded like a new way to govern. The fact that he has been largely unable to do so may be attributable to several things, but one of them is surely systemic. We’re back to “fixing the culture in Washington.” I have no idea how to do that. What do you think it would take?

      • Suutzi says:

        Personally, I think it takes a culture that needs to be fixed in Main Street, USA. Never mind the broken culture of the place where our representatives meet. Do you have an ideas about that?

        • admin says:

          ::getting down on one knee:: Susan, will you be my publicist?

          Seriously…yes, without a doubt, the culture fix must take place within and beyond the halls of power. It is true that the systems in which we all live and breathe–instant media, argumentative pundits, hyperactive pace of life, etc., as well as intransigent elected officials–do a lot to shape our attitudes and approaches to one another on Main Street. However, we still have the power to change the one thing we can change readily: ourselves. Dreamer that I am, I believe that if enough of us commit ourselves to such a change, it will eventually make an impact on the wider society.

          This is why I write so much about the potential, in partnership with God, to change ourselves from the inside out, so that our first instinct is toward curiosity and compassion. It’s a big part of my upcoming book (which you can pre-order here–hence the publicist business above). When we change in this way, the change is more likely to be permanent, to become more part of ourselves, than if we try to approach dialogue from a process level alone.

          Does that make sense, Susan? More comment is certainly welcome.

          • Suutzi says:

            Yes, it makes a great deal of sense to me! “Curiosity and compassion” are two very powerful dynamics because they *over-ride* the barriers and limitations of our own individual egos.

            I think the most important lesson I learned from the past Election (and I was a very vigorous volunteer, and a partisan), was that even within a given “tribe” of people, there are DIFFERENCES. When confronted with someone who challenged me with a different viewpoint, I found it helpful to say “I hear you; and I like the way you think”. I guess that helped me communicate a level of respect for them, as I believe all human beings should be given credit for at least developing a thought or opinion. And they should be able to feel that they can tell me whatever is on their mind, and I will listen. I may not always understand or agree, but the first step in any dialogue or discussion is saying: I hear your voice, and I’m not threatened by it. We can coexist, even in our disagreement, and we can be agreeable in doing so. THAT, in my mind, is the fundamental step in establishing a healthy discourse.

            I still have a lot of work to do in the way I have discussions on social media like Facebook. I’m so much better in person-to-person interactions!! My husband always teases me that I could be in a bar, sitting next to Attila the Hun, and I will be so engaging with that person. He always says I have such a nice way of listening to and engaging them, in a non-threatening and curious way. Well, being a short woman has its positives, I guess! :) However, I am not so nice on Facebook, and I wonder if it’s because of the “public element” to it, and the element of pride and humiliation that we seem to fear when we think other people are watching us, and when someone disagrees with us – in public. I should try to be more like myself when in a bar, and not try to come across like an authority or to defend a position I’ve staked out. It’s hard.

            I will certainly pre-order your book, although my husband will excoriate me for bringing *yet another book* into the house. I fear my “to be read” pile of books is growing by the day.

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