Thursday, March 4, 2010

Regional issue showcases how people who fight dirty win debates

Right wingers regularly hammer left wingers on talk shows, and the reasons have nothing to do with the merits of each side's facts and ideas. The right wingers win because the left wingers believe in letting the other side have its say, while the right wingers believe in silencing the other side--as seen by last years town hall meetings on healthcare reform.

But there's more. Most of the right wing debaters do their best to keep the other side from even completing sentences, and in browbeating moderators into letting them do so. If the moderator objects the radio/TV station gets a blizzard of complaints demanding that the moderator be replaced by someone who isn't "biased."

Right wingers also use focus group-tested talking points, repeated over and over. These may or may not be factually correct, but they're always emotionally powerful, using turns of phrase like "jamming this law down Americans' throats" to describe a legislative majority passing bills that the minority objects to. This rejects one of democracy's fundamental principles--abiding with votes when you lose--but no matter. It plays well.

You can hear all this in action here:

This is a half hour debate between a real estate developer's public relations guy and a public relations person from environmentalist group Save the Bay. The discussion is moderated by a liberal college professor who works hard to be fair to both sides. However, it seems to me that in this case he bent over so far backwards to be fair that he let the developer rep dominate the discussion.

But you can see for yourself.

Here's some backstory for the debate:

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a $120B/yr. corporation headquartered in Minnesota wants to build a 25,000-resident development on the Bay's tidal marshes, now being used for salt evaporation ponds. Environmentalists oppose it for obvious reasons, while realtors and pro-growth types love it.

But it's not that simple. One business group--the businesses that operate around an adjacent deepwater port--oppose the development, because every time residential developments are built next to a port, residents sue the port in droves, even though the port was there first. And they usually win enough to cripple the port's activities.

At the same time, many New Urbanists--usually liberals--advocate building such developments (calling it infilling) because they think it reduces urban sprawl and the problems caused by long commutes. Note that they're careful never to infill their own comfortable neighborhoods, however. They airily dismiss objections by those who are directly impacted as NIMBYism.

Which goes to show that neither side has a lock on either the truth or on fighting fair. Any time student leftists mob an on-campus lecture by a right winger and prevent him/her from speaking, that's nothing more or less than fascism in action.

But on talk shows the right seems to fight dirty--in the ways described here--more than the left. But whoever does it, it's wrong, and whichever side you favor, you should know how to fight it. This requires assertiveness without aggressiveness, which requires not taking the attack personally even if it's meant personally. That's hard but it can be learned.

I don't want Democrats like me to start using Rovian debate tactics. I want both sides to fight fair, and both sides to do their best to prevent the other from doing so, in whatever venue. Our democracy ultimately depends on it.


Anonymous said...

"Right wingers regularly left wingers"

Ehkzu said...

Are you saying my sentences should have verbs? Well (making embarrassed huffing and puffing sounds)!

OK, I fixed that. And some other sloppy stuff. Never post entries at 1am. It's like the marital rule #1: never have fights at midnight...