There were a couple stories off digg that I found interesting today.
One was Cindy Sheehan calling for impeachment. She made a lot of good points, and was accessing the right memes, but from a prima facie standpoint, I’m not sure it would faze an unsympathetic observer. Cindy did a great job speaking to me, because I knew exactly what she was talking about. However, with indifferent people, I think most of what was said just went over their head, and it had to do with how Chris Matthews conducted the interview.
Here is a short caricature of the interview that captures, what I feel, its spirit.
Matthews: So you are calling the President and his administration a bunch of war profiteers?
Sheehan: Yes, and you don’t have to take my word for it, General Smedley Butler said the same thing.
Matthews: So, what was the thinking of the administration when they invaded Iraq?
Sheehan: Natural resources, such as oil.
Matthews: Really? That sounds outrageous!
The point is that Matthews isn’t coming into the debate as a devil’s advocate or even an open-minded individual. What he manages to exude is incredulity. Sheehan constantly has to offer proof, and Matthews only has to offer his apparent disbelief of claims. He asks her for insight into the thinking of the administration, which she can only at best, conjecture, then he simply balks at any of her claims. He doesn’t have offer evidence or theories of his own, only the occasional: No way!
The essential problem with television interviews is that all the interviewee can really do is give an elevator pitch. Even if you are very good at elevator pitches, constant summaries, attempts to get people up to speed and endless distractions drowns much of evidence and argument. That is why nuanced arguments seem to be much better served by books and documentaries rather than Hardball-esque talk shows.
On the other side, the rhetoric tends to be bombastic. We are spreading democracy, freedom, and defeating terrorism. The rhetoric offered by Bush and his Administration is ultimately intellectually shallow, inconsistent, and effective. It is a triumph of a strict dichotomy of the world. Here is an example argument.
- We are for freedom.
- You are against us.
- Therefore you are against freedom.
- We are for democracy.
- You are opposing our efforts to spread democracy.
- Terrorists are also opposing our efforts.
- Therefore, you want terrorists to win.
The appeal is that they are both simple, offer clarity, and most everyone can see that the conclusion follows from the premise (assuming the world that can be broken into strict dichotomies). Both of these can be easily defeated, but only by attacking the base premises. However, many people pander a totally black versus white world, where the enemy of your enemy is your friend. I’ve given up trying to decipher if they actually believe that, if they just find the intellectual dishonesty convenient, or alternative explanations irrelevant or too complicated and therefore not useful (possibly because it doesn’t support their agenda). To properly defeat the argument, it takes time, an acceptance of nuance and reflection upon the evidence. In short, show that one argument makes better predictions about the past and present than the other, and conclude which one is more likely to predict what will happen in the future. Unfortunately, talk shows focus more on the spectacle of debate than the sober reflection of fact.
Of course, Sheehan’s fight against the war started after she lost her son. On the other side, Max Blumenthal went to a College Republican convention talking to people who support the war and so far haven’t had to sacrifice anything. Although, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that when going to a college republican convention in the states, you will find college students who support the war but aren’t serving. I leave the drawing of the venn diagram as an exercise for the reader. However, the excuses are lame when contrasted against the rhetoric. Along with the flawed logic of, we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. However, the most shocking piece was what Tom DeLay said, if we didn’t have 40 million abortions then we wouldn’t need immigrant labor… think about it? Are you kidding me? I guess it is just a thing that Republicans share amongst themselves when they think the rest of the world isn’t listening .