A Twitterverse of Moderate Discussion.

For all the criticisms of Social Media – perhaps the biggest issue lost in the discussion is that each person’s experience is a self-created environment.  We all choose our connections which drives what we see on our newsfeed. We choose which items to “like” or “comment” on – which in turn pushes that discussion out to the newsfeeds of our contacts.  Hence the echo chamber.

But, for all the criticism of Twitter – it can be a fresh start. I’ve created an account with the express purpose of following centrist, moderate, and/or thoughtful political discussions.  While it doesn’t allow for the same level of (hopefully thoughtful) discussions that I’ve participated in on Facebook – this Twitter account has exposed me to some interesting articles and points of view.  And, believe it or not, in many cases it has actually provided me with some of the best hope that our politics is not, in fact, based solely on memes, conspiracy theories, and partisan insults.Capture

Of course, this well of thoughtful argument is only because I’ve cultivated my feed with as much honest discussion as possible – topics and thoughts shared by these sites include issues that I may not agree with 100% of the time, but that’s OK because it’s typically well reasoned. I’m not looking for validation, I’m looking to be intellectually challenged.

After a few months of looking around, it turns out there’s a lot more rational discussion out there than I realized. Perhaps reason and thought will make a comeback and begin to replace (or at least compete with) tribalism in the marketplace of ideas.

Below are some of the organizations  I’ve found worthy of my time and newsfeed. Even if you don’t want to join the Twitterverse-  many of these also have Facebook presences – so perhaps you’ll consider adding a few of them to your feed.

If you’re already on Twitter you can follow me @realBobW.

(Organizations presented in no particular order)

Centrists

 

 

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Civil Discourse (10/29/17)

A couple of examples of thoughtful discussions from today’s New York Times.  Excerpts are simply one passage from the original article- click the hyperlinked title to read the entire piece.

 

Excerpt: 

“Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “to create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.”

He said that in addition to Wesleyan’s commitment to admitting at least 10 military veterans to every freshman class, it would welcome senior military officials as instructors and would tweak its curriculum to offer, for example, a course on the philosophical underpinnings of free enterprise.”

My Take:

I’ve seen more and more articles, especially in the NY Times by Frank Bruni, arguing for and highlighting examples of colleges becoming more accepting of conservative ideas.

This is a good thing and deserves more attention that it’s getting.  Every speaker that gets shut down by protests will get coverage on a right-leaning media outlet.  The lack of coverage about the “good stuff” happening in terms of free speech on campuses from those outlets is an indication of how invested they are in the conflict, rather than the solution.

As the father of two teenage/young adult children- I want them to be exposed to rational thoughts about real issues.  They should learn to debate, consider other points of view, and even learn that it’s OK to change your mind or be persuaded by the introduction of new lines of thinking/real evidence.

Echo-Chambers, whether they be on the right or the left, are dangerous, especially in early adulthood.  Let’s celebrate real free thinking, the kind which requires honest participation from both sides.

 

Excerpt:

“Madison’s contradictions resonate with our own vexed racial situation. From the 14th Amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and affirmative action, America, at its best, has repeatedly aspired to establish racial equality in the face of our past of slavery and segregation.

Yet the need to accommodate the realities of economics, politics and the prejudice of others — which is to say, the difficulty that even well-intentioned people can have in accepting the true cost of meaningful change — has continued to hold back equality in practice.”

My Take:

Though I’ve long known about the serious discussions and compromises that it took to bring consensus to Constitutional Convention- I didn’t know about the “flip-flop” of the 3/5ths compromise until now.  Proof that the idea of hypocrisy is older than our government.

Also, in the recent speech by George Bush he mentioned that today we in America tend to ‘Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions’. I think that concept is also relevant when looking at history.

While it’s very important that we take a full look at our founding fathers and accept that they were flawed individuals, as opposed the mythical “demi-god” status we may have bestowed upon them in the past – the answer is not to vilify them.

Instead, we should always remember that there were other forces, well beyond the control of any one person or group of people at play. Forces that even those with the best of intentions had to deal with.

Where they perfect? No.  Did they make mistakes? Yes.

Could they have done better? Perhaps.  Could they have done worse? Absolutely.

Have we made progress? Definitely.  Can we do better? Always.

After all, the arc of history never bends as fast as many would hope and politics is the art of the possible, not the perfect.

 

Let’s Talk About How We Talk

It’s been a bit (OK 4 years) since I last used this platform to blog- but I’m back at it.  This time my focus will be a bit less on my thoughts regarding specific issues, but more so on the general state of political and national discussions.

One of the things that bugs me the most is how we’ve retreated into our media corners, watching/listening to/reading only sites and stories that reinforce our current ideas.

This has lead us to our current state of gridlock and mistrust.  But when we open our eyes to the full landscape, there is often more good work out there than we realize- it’s just not being shared across social media, hence it doesn’t get into the “daily discussions” – and since these stories don’t generate the views, likes and clicks on social media engagement, they don’t make the money.

It’s this spiral of a profit-driven media that created our current mess. But a profit-driven media is still better than a state-sponsored media.

So, let’s all do better at appreciating good articles, speeches, and outlets with well-rationed arguments – even those (or perhaps especially those) that may come down on an issue with a position other than our own.  Let’s start sharing the ones we find.

Let’s make civil discourse popular and profitable.  It’s up to us and is probably our only hope.

Marco Rubio, the Dems, and the GOP

It looks as if, at least for the time being, Marco Rubio is the face of the mainstream Republican Party.  I’m not concerned with this at all.  In fact, on the whole, I kinda like Rubio.  At least enough to want to hear more.  He seems like a pretty straightforward guy, as politicians go, and I think he approaches his views genuinely.  Make it past those wickets and you’ve gotten my attention.  To be honest I haven’t yet read the Time article, nor do I think I know enough about him at this point to offer either my support, or my opposition.  I do, however, look forward to learning more.politifact_photos_marcorubio

Unfortunately, though, our political discussions are rarely based on facts, or even common sense for that matter.  Instead they are grounded in hyperbole, situational ethics, and one of my personal favorites; cognitive dissonance.  Assuming the Rubio trend continues towards 2016 (admittedly far from a sure thing), it will be interesting to see how both parties react to the shoe being on the other foot.  That shoe being a youthful one term Senator, energizing a minority demographic, with terrific speaking skills and gift for connecting with a plethora of other voting blocks.

The GOP already has a history of cognitive dissonance on things Obama has done, highlighted with a bit by Jon Stewart here. It’s funny, and insightful.  I have also written in the past about the selective memory and hollow arguments on talk radio.

But I also have full faith in the Democratic party’s ability to make fools of themselves, as well.  I wonder, will the same people who wrote articles defending Obama’s thin resume by saying things like, there are two problems with the attack on Obama’s inexperience: it isn’t true, and it doesn’t matter. be able to resist the temptation to question Rubio’s youth? In 2008 some pundits were doubling down by quoting Obama, as he referenced Bill Clinton. Candidate Obama said, ““I remember what was said years ago by a candidate running for president, ‘The same old experience is not relevant. You can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience.’ Well that candidate was Bill Clinton. And I think he was absolutely right., Will those in the media jettison that line of thinking because the subject is a Republican vice a Democrat?  I doubt it. I bet the hypocrisy happens. I see it coming a mile away.

What to do? Well, here’s three things I’d like to see:

1- Rubio needs to lead without campaigning.  He doesn’t need to be on the cover of Time, or take any trips to Iowa or New Hampshire.  If you want some gravitas, do it by leading the way on issues.  Jump in on the sequester and immigration. In so doing, Senator, please take a stand you can still conceivably defend three years from now. Don’t pander to the base now and try to run to the center later. Principles matter.

2- Democrats, please, please, please avoid going after Rubio on the inexperience thing.  That ship sailed in 2008. And when it did, you were at the helm.  What was good for the goose is good for the gander.  You will look like fools if you do this.

3- If the Dems do play the “inexperienced” card, they way for the GOP to answer it would be with positive facts about Rubio, not in pointing out the hypocrisy of the left. Otherwise we will just have more people shouting at each other about how bad/evil/mean/incompetent their opponents are, and not about any actual thoughts/ideas/plans for making a positive change in Washington.

I don’t know if this will happen. It’s obviously a long way to 2016.  I just hope those that will be involved think about this stuff now. Maybe if they do we can avoid some of the “silly season” that rolls around every 4 years.

Don’t Judge a FoxNews Story by Its Headline

Fox News recently ran a story headlined “Republicans want to change laws on Electoral College votes, after Presidential loses”.  What a great headline to grab a reader. Who are these people who want to change their laws? What are their plans? When will it start? This sounds like a juicy story. (It worked, I clicked).

As I read though, I couldn’t help but come the conclusion that there is no meat in this story at all.  It’s a story about ambivalence at best. The following reactions are taken from the body of the story, in the order they appear.

– Rience Priebus said states “ought to look at it” but “emphasized each state must decide for themselves

– Michigan Governor Rick Snyder told the AP he “could go either way” and doesn’t plan to push the idea.

– Michigan Rep. Peter Lund, who introduced a bill two years ago, thinks some people “might be more receptive now

– Republican strategist Phil Musser admitted the idea had “potential” but predicted “pressing economic issues would likely take priority

– Pennsylvania Republican Senator Dominic Pelligi “renewed his call for the legislature to consider it” though the Governor has not seen a proposal and therefor couldn’t comment.

– Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called it “interesting”, but not one of his priorities.

– The Wisconsin legislature is “lukewarm” to the idea. The story does note that a similar proposal was brought up 2007 but the speaker (who first brought it up 5 years ago) would “have to hear all the arguments“.

The article does also mention the Democratic outrage in the fifth paragraph of the story (a word sentence paragraph at that). It also has some quotes from local Dems later in the story as well. I choose to focus on the Republican quotes in this blog post to highlight the disparity between the headline and the actual story. There may be valid reasons to review the usefulness of the Electoral College, and if there is ever any serious discussion it should be reported.  But in this case, there is no serious discussion.

C’mon FoxNews……this article is about creating division and getting people riled up, not about reporting the news. There is no real conflict here, at least not yet. Some would say, however, that your organization is seeking to create one.

Fighting Passion With Reason

Despite what many may believe I am regular listener to Sean Hannity’s radio show. This does not/nor should imply that I agree with everything he says. Recently on  the issue of guns and the debt ceiling, he’s had three “back pocket arguments” that he whips out to beat back callers who take an opposing view.  The commute home is not far enough to justify calling in, so I thought I would post my potential responses below.

1- We protect our money, our politicians and our Hollywood elite with guns….why can’t/shouldn’t we put guns in our schools to protect our most valuable assets….our children?  I love how he phrases this because it begs for the caller to respond with “why we shouldn’t”.  This meme has been on his show for over a week now, and it’s not much of a surprise it got turned into an NRA ad.

My answer: Sure we should look at that.  If a community wants armed guards in their schools not only should they be allowed to, but many locations already allow it, and more are considering it.  Although there may be some people who completely oppose this idea, Obama isn’t one of them, the President has only said that it shouldn’t be the only solution.  In fact his recent proposals included money for more School Resource Officers (AKA Cops with guns in schools) and was supported by the National Education Association.

So- while you can debate its potential effectiveness, or even some of the details (Resource Officers vs arming the staff), you really can’t honestly portray this as a President against the idea of protecting our children.  These decisions are being made at the local level, something the Republicans espouse and the principle is being supported by the federal government.

2- New York’s new gun law calls for limiting magazines to 7 rounds is horrible. Hannity’s example du jour about why this is a bad idea is the woman who recently had to shoot an intruder 5 times and he still got away. Sean then will go on to ask what would happen if there had been two intruders or even three?  Sarcastically talking about how she would have to ask them to wait while she changes magazines. I heard this story at least three times this week as I drove home.

My answer: The question would be a lot more valid if Hannity’s immediate reaction to people limiting high-capacity magazines earlier had not been based on a theory that it “would do no good”.  His position at the time was that changing a magazine was not hard.  In fact, he could do it seconds (or less).  Of course this was because he is a responsible gun owner who knows his weapons.  So which is it Sean?  Is it so easy that even a deranged person could change magazines and still inflict mass carnage, or is it so difficult that reducing magazine sizes puts lawful Americans at risk.  I believe you could argue either point….but not both.  Caveat the NY Law that allows for larger magazines but only if they aren’t all the way filled up is a recipe for unintended consequences. and should be changed.

3- Obama is a debt ceiling hypocrite. Hannity likes to run the audio clip of Senator Obama arguing against the executive request raise the debt ceiling in 2006 and asks any guests of the more liberal persuasion if the President is inconsistent in his thinking.  This only gets the guests to move off on a tangent and not address Sean’s question leaving him with the apparent high ground.

My answer: Yes….Absolutely…He is inconsistent….This is an undeniable Flip Flop.  The next question would then be; Who was he arguing with?  Turns out it was a Republican President that wanted the debt ceiling raised.  It was raised (many times) with “yea” votes coming from the likes of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell .  This isn’t about principles it’s about a Congress (any Congress) that has the power of the purse, yet seeks to paint the executive branch as the root of our problems.  Both sides do it, which is bad.  Worse, are those who pretend it doesn’t happen and use selective examples to stir the passions of their base.

These are just some examples of how the infotainers in our country whip people up into a frenzy about “the other guys”.  Both sides have these people who make money pandering to the base and they are equally at fault for the toxic political environment. Rational thought, unfortunately, doesn’t get the ratings on TV and doesn’t get “shared” on Facebook.

Knowns and Unknowns of an Undecided Voter

Saturday Night Live recently had a skit mocking the undecided voter, portraying those of us uncommitted to a certain candidate as completely unaware.  I can take a joke, and to some extent it was funny, but it does not describe me.  I am certainly undecided, but certainly not unaware.  So if I don’t know exactly who I’m going to vote for, then what do I know and believe?  Well………

1. I think we need fiscal responsibility

2. I believe in Social Justice

3. I know the first two points are not 100% compatible

4. I believe we need a strong military but know there is a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse in the DOD

5. I believe the recession is complicated and the only way out involves much more than the funding of PBS

6. I believe PBS will do just fine without government funding, but ceasing to fund it will not make any significant difference in the federal bottom line.

7. I don’t think there is a war on Christmas, guns, or women and people who rail against these “wars” are using politics for personal power and influence.

8. I know there is a war in Afghanistan that costs a lot of money and lives but is no longer on the radar of most of the country.

9. I believe there has been a natural creep of executive branch powers that is enabled by political parties who can not bring themselves to push back against one of their own.

10. I believe Mitt Romney really wants to make America successful and believes his plan will do that.

11. I believe President Obama feels the same way.

12. I believe there are very influential people in the Republican Party that are more concerned with making money than with helping the less fortunate.

13. I believe there are influential people in the Democratic Party that are more concerned with making money than helping the economy recover.

14. I believe Social Security and Medicare will need significant changes in order to survive.

15. I believe basic health care is a right, but extensive health care is a privilege.

16. I believe military health care is essentially socialized, single payer, health care and it works pretty well (all things considered).

17. I believe even a well intended voucher system will not be able to keep pace with health care costs, mostly due to government administration issues.

19. I believe if it did keep up, we would be in the same boat we are now.

20. I believe every candidate on the ballot in all 50 states should be allowed to debate (See: Gary Johnson).

21. I believe people have different views of the need for government based on their personal life experiences.

22. I like Moderate Mitt, but dislike the extreme right wing of the party to which he had to pander.

23. I liked the idealism of Barack Obama and was disappointed that he was unable to work more with Republicans.

24. I believe his inability to work with Republicans was mutually acceptable.

25. I think that if Romney wins, the most vocal Obama critics will continue to find new and interesting conspiracy theories to support.

26. I believe the tax/debt ceiling issues that we’ve put off for so long could have been solved if not for political gamesmanship by the parties.

27. I do not believe this election will make either side more willing to compromise than before, no matter who wins.

28. I believe too many people view politics as a spectator sport. I think they root for their home team candidate in order to improve their own self esteem.

29. I believe the playing field is rigged by the parties to exclude any other legitimate challengers.

30. I believe many Americans are unwittingly being duped by their party of choice through scare tactics about the opposition.

31. I believe Congress is the most polarized institution and represents the worst part of us as a country.

32. I believe the redistricting that led to “safe” districts for parties is the primary cause of the polarization.

 

Here’s what I DON’T know:

1. Can Mitt Romney influence the Republican Party…or will it be the other way around?

2. If Obama wins…..can the Republicans ever work with him?

3. Is a vote for Gary Johnson worth anything more than a personal statement?

4. Does it really matter who wins the executive branch if Congress remains so dysfunctional?

I have my absentee ballot (for a swing state, no less) and will vote, but not until after the debates and probably not until the last minute.  Any thoughts or comments that are respectful and intelligent are welcome.  Honest debate is good and I welcome any opportunity to learn more about the candidates and issues.