Friday, January 29, 2010
It is important to understand that holding this kind of dialogue doesn't require that you pull any punches, or that you concede anything to your adversaries, other than what you have to concede if you want to be intellectually honest. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the president's idea of bi-partisanship requires that he give up his principles, or roll over for his opponents. As can be seen in this video, however, that is not at all what the president is doing. He is forceful and hard-hitting, and makes as strong a case as he can for his positions. The only thing he asks is that the tone of the debate be respectful: that participants listen to the other side, find areas of agreement where they can, refrain from ad hominem attacks, and try not to misrepresent each other's positions. In other words, let's have an honest and fair debate.
Is it possible that such an approach could succeed in making a few Republican members of Congress think twice about the strategy of blanket opposition to everything the administration proposes? The President makes a good case that not only is such opposition difficult to defend on the merits, it may not even be good politics, because it backs the Republicans into a corner where they cannot even support positions that they know are useful and necessary. But more importantly, Obama makes a good effort at demonstrating that facts and logic may be more powerful tools in exposing your political adversaries than hyperbole and counter-denunciation. Let's hope this effort helps tone down the negativity, and ushers in some civility to political debates.