Of all the crimes against standards of decent discourse that we observe in contemporary politics and media, several are congealing into an ugly mass that stifles free expression and civil interchange.
In roughly inverse order of dysfunctional magnitude, they are: the tendency for sophists and demagogues to rely on mere unsupported assertion as a tactic; cheap, pejorative name-calling descending to the level of smear and slander; and violating a basic rule of argumentation by questioning, or presuming to know, others’ motives.
Perhaps the only way to make matters worse would be to apply the poisonous amalgam to the most sensitive of all issues; namely, race. Readers surely have noticed that the topic of race itself has become the No. 1 conversation stopper of our time — except for those who incessantly exploit it.
For anyone uneasy about this unwholesome pattern that has transpired lately, and who may be not quite able to put their finger on it, here is a deconstruction in the form of elaborated and grounded hypothesis: There is a reason why liberal Democrats resort to sophistry and other dishonesty so regularly, whether on national television, around the water cooler, in Congress or the White House.
Evidently, they know they cannot win a fair debate because the facts are against them. Their retreat to the illegitimate tactics itemized above suggests their awareness of this deficiency — consciousness of guilt, as it were.
Then, combining the inherent disadvantage of substantive weakness with their political intensity, the offenders are given to extreme rhetoric. Unlike conservatives and Republicans, for liberals and Democrats, politics is paramount because government is everything to them. This premise is demonstrable, not assumed.
An especially sordid tactic that has become tediously familiar is use of the race card. Liberal Democrats can hardly resist throwing around the “racist” accusation against political opponents.
In fact, they overuse it so much that they are like “the boy who cried ‘wolf,’” except for two things: The supposed neutral referee — the mainstream media — does not call them on it, and the flat-footed fecklessness of their Republican foes allows them latitude to get away with it.
A brief tutorial can help expose the Democrats’ playbook. First, the absolute worst verbal insult someone can receive in today’s America is “racist.” It is worse than being called a murderer. (During the O.J. Simpson “trial of the century,” the prominent lawyer, Oscar Goodman, once actually said, “At least O.J. Simpson isn’t a racist.” Really.)
One who is going to use something as serious as the “R”-word against another person had darned well better be in a position to prove it. Whenever liberals or Democrats use the accusation as a bald assertion, it therefore has no credibility, and the tactic is vacant. The race-mongers literally lose the debate by disqualification, rightfully.
The calumny, though, still acts as a show-stopper and is effective with the dumbed-down audience of our low-information U.S. populace. When Republicans and conservatives are victimized by this shallow device, they ought to be prepared to rebut it in a way that even the low-info crowd can comprehend.
Such a response incorporating my suggested verbiage should be easy enough, but apparently is beyond the capabilities of conservative TV talkers and the Republicans in politics. They don’t call the GOP “the stupid party” for nothing.
Speaking of debate forfeiture for use of illegitimate methods, conservatives and Republicans could call liberals and Democrats on that issue all day long, nearly every day — especially when the faux “racist” gambit is employed — for one additional reason: It transparently is the archetypal argumentation foul of assuming another’s motives without basis.
Conservatives and Republicans could spoil many liberal slander-fests that way, and clinch many public debates, but how often do we see them hit that fat pitch out of the park?
Instead, what passes for public discourse in our country has been unremittingly polluted with a new, and worse, McCarthyism. (The term is actually not fair to the late Sen. Joe McCarthy himself, because he proved to be right about the big picture in the 1950s, despite his unsavory practices.)
All the liberal Democrats need to do these days is hurl any wild accusation — the worse the better, from their perspective — and they win debate points. The nominal media umpires are unethically in their corner, their opponents are too thick to even realize what is happening to them, and the brain-dead audience laps it up because they have been dumbed down by 40 years of educational malpractice by the liberal education establishment.
It appears as though the American masses may have become too ignorant for our nation to be able to survive, and the ease of exposing these issues, which have remained opaque to so many, confirms it.
If only Republicans and conservatives would enlighten the national audience through more adroit public interchange, there could still be some hope for the nation. The fodder I offer here could provide startup guidance or a primer. If not, maybe public talkers on the right should repeat their high school debate classes.
John F. Gaski is an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of “Frugal Cool” (Corby 2009) and “The Language of Branding” (Nova Science 2011).