Perhaps most frightening of all, some in Congress are pushing for new restrictions on our freedom to listen to the radio programs that we choose, proposing a return to the so-called Fairness Doctrine with broad regulation of broadcast ownership and content. Essential outlets of debate and opinion like talk radio could soon be subject to bureaucratic oversight.

There is no excuse for cutting off or diminishing dialogue in our form of government. Since when does the First Amendment allow Congress to regulate our free speech on the airwaves? Since when does it become necessary to skip the ardor of public debate for the convenience of quick fixes-and multi-trillion dollar debt that will burden us for generations? Since when does an economic crisis override our form of government, our deliberative democracy?

In one sense, the threat to dialogue is larger than one political party. It is a defect of our political culture, which stages sound bite competitions in the guise of candidate debates. It is impossible to have a real discussion of the issues when each candidate has a minute to answer a question before moving onto the next weighty issue. If you want a real debate, go back to Lincoln and Douglas in 1858: The first speaker had an hour, the second speaker had an hour and a half, and the first speaker had thirty minutes to rebut. And it was over one issue: slavery. That's a real debate, one that requires real study and preparation, and real seriousness about finding policy solutions.

When our political life is reduced to a series of sound bites and talking points rather than deliberation, and if the only reason we vote for somebody in an election is that he has a pleasant slogan like "Hope and Change," we may find ourselves stuck with a crisis far worse than the one that made "Hope and Change" resonate in the first place.

No matter how much we may agree or disagree with President Obama's policies, all of us-Republican and Democrat and independent-should demand a return to substantive, constructive and civil dialogue.


Hans Zeiger

Hans Andreas Zeiger is a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union.