Most of the people who come to this blog tend to be progressive, so as the election gets closer, and conversations get tenser, it might be wise to think about how we want to conduct ourselves in the coming weeks.
However frustrated you might be with Republican tactics, it is important to remember that our problems are deep and systemic in this nation. In many ways, our worst problems are bi-partisan. We live in a nation that values property over people. We live in a nation that values religious belief and political propaganda over reason. We live in a nation that sees itself superior to the other peoples of the earth. These are some of the illnesses that infect our nation. These problems will not be overcome by “our” side winning one election. They can only be overcome when both sides stop embodying such bad values.
I believe George Lakoff is exactly wrong when he claims that the only way to stop rightwing propaganda is with leftwing “framing.” Think about it. When the other side twists information for propaganda purposes, we don’t call it “framing” we call it “lying.” We cannot end propaganda with more propaganda. We can only stop propaganda with appeals to reason and putting our “facts” to the test. We cannot defeat the sleazy methods of the other side by using the same tactics ourselves. Or rather, when we do use the same methods, the nation is worse off regardless of who wins.
Winning this election will not save our country if we do not move in a new direction. We need to restore civil conversation in political struggles. That cannot be done with superior taunts. We need to restore our lost humanity. That cannot be done if we wound one other in a struggle for power. I would like to respectfully request that in the coming weeks we focus not merely on winning the election, but also on modeling the values we want to see others use. To that end I want to suggest 5 ways NOT to attack Romney:
1. Do not focus on his verbal slips ups. “Binders full of women.” Is a funny line, but you probably will not convince anyone on the other side by bringing up gaffes their candidate made. Instead, use this time to point out the devastating effects his policies would have on women’s lives.
2. Do not keep bringing up his past. If you are tired of hearing about what Obama did in college, then don’t model the bad behavior you detest. The problem with Romney is not where he has been. It’s where he wants to go.
3. Do not attack Romney just for being rich. All of our leaders are rich. That’s the problem. Instead, talk about how Romney’s economic policies will make the problem of worse.
4. Stop attacking, Ann. Period.
5. Do not attack Romney for doing things Democrats also do. Model behavior that shows you are not an ethical partisan. That is to say, demonstrate that you don’t condemn actions just because they were done by the other side. Show that you use the same scale for both parties.
I agree, with a couple of qualifications:
#1 mocking any candidate’s slips of the tongue, grammar mistakes, or awkward phrasing is counterproductive, but I would distinguish this from calling attention to instances where the candidate uses denigrating, racially charged, or or sexist language (particularly when repeated). The latter actually seems to be relevant to the character of a candidate, while having a few awkward, tongue-tied moments is just part of being human.
I think #2 applies to isolated incidents, personal matters, or things like the alleged youthful “pranks” of candidates. However, when a candidate points to his or her past as a reason that you should vote for them, those past actions should be subject to critical examination. Also, past actions, particularly in the course of elected office or public service, seem to be be fair game for evaluating how well a candidate’s words match his or her deeds and can be a reasonable basis for predicting future performance in office.
Regarding #4, personal attacks about Ann Romney are offensive and counterproductive. However, when she is acting as a spokesperson for the campaign or speaking as a surrogate for the candidate, her words and actions should be subject to reasoned critique. The same applies to the rest of a candidate’s family.
I will accept your friendly amendments. Thanks for giving it some thought.
Thanks for posting, Jim. These are really important concepts that we need more of in our political discourse. I would like to share this post.
Mikisha, you’re always welcome to repost anything I do. Thanks.