If there is one thing that the left and right, Republicans and Democrats all agree about these days, it is that there is too much polarization in public discourse -- too much name-calling and not enough civil discussion of the issues. A key reason for this, in my opinion, is the nature of cable news, which thrives on five-minute debates between polar opposites.
There are several reasons why this is destructive. First, few intelligent arguments can be made in such a short time span. Once you have shared time with your opponent and the host puts in his two cents, you may only have at most two one-minute segments in which to make your case.
Under these circumstances, you cannot even begin to do much of anything except make a couple of sound-bite points. These must necessarily be broad-brush in nature, devoid of any nuance, and must avoid anything remotely technical. This tends to make one's arguments sound simplistic, even if they are not.
Moreover, some arguments require a chain of logic to reach a valid conclusion and may demand background knowledge or factual information to be appreciated and understood. Needless to say, time constraints prohibit the former, and decreasing educational standards mean that one cannot assume the latter even about such basics as the nature of the federal government or our nation's history.
Consequently, one is usually forced to jump straight to one's conclusion in a cable news debate and assert one's points without being able to develop them or provide essential facts or the logical steps that might convince the open-minded, ignorant or undecided on your issue.
Another problem is that almost everyone who appears on television is now trained to control the agenda when appearing on camera. They know that when the camera is on them, they can pretty much say absolutely anything they want to say. Often, this means rote recitation of talking points that may have nothing to do with the issue at hand or anything the host or one's opponent may have said.
It is also easy to make outrageous claims and cite bogus facts or statistics in support of one's position, knowing that your opponent may not have time to correct you. And even if he does, it prevents him from making the points he wanted to make and forces him to argue on your terms. In one case, my opponent accused me on camera of lying. Off camera, he conceded that I was right. I won't appear with that person again.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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