Saturday, June 9, 2007

False choices…and deflections

Have you noticed how politicians and the media are great at providing false choices? These are “choices” that are created as straw men to oversimplify the issue to the point of having to choose between either being for it or against it…making things black or white when they are really different shades of gray. Both Republicans and Democrats do it. As do the media.

For example, while the Democrats say they are for “a new direction” and want to set an “exit timeline” the Republicans call any timeline a “surrender date” that will embolden the terrorists (um, like the terrorists haven’t been emboldened already). It’s either “cut and run” or it’s “winning.” The “surge” to some is an “escalation of the war” to others and "reinforcements" to still others. Either we “win” in Iraq or “the terrorists will attack us here.” Regarding the likely failed attempt to resolve the immigration issue, it is either “amnesty” or a "path to citizenship;" a “comprehensive” solution that couldn’t possibly work unless it includes a “guest worker program.” Some Republicans have taken to using the term “Democrat Party” (vs. the proper “Democratic Party”). You are either “Pro-Life” (as opposed to “Pro-Abortion”) or “Pro-Choice” (as opposed to “it's a life, not a choice”). Candidates either "win" or "lose" the debates (er, the election is almost 1-1/2 years away...shouldn't the debates at this point be considered "debates," i.e., a chance to voice viewpoints and perhaps even listen to opposing viewpoints rather than a game of cut-throat?)

You get the idea. Each of these false choices belies the bias of the individual or group spouting them. However, by simplifying complicated issues into “bumper sticker slogans” (as presidential candidate John Edwards recently called the “war on terror”) we lose the ability to have an honest debate about arguably legitimate differences of opinion. Notice how the media pundits focused entirely on the controversy of Edwards’ choice of language rather than the real question of what in fact the “war on terror” actually means. Doesn’t it make sense to look at the “war on terror” in the context of, for example, the “war on drugs?” Clearly the decades-long war on drugs hasn’t come close to removing illegal drugs from our society. Some would argue that drug use goes through faddish cycles and that the billions of dollars we spend is really nothing more than an expensive public relations campaign. Others would argue the opposite, but the point here is we don’t really discuss the effectiveness of programs; somehow we equate the amount of money we spend as a measure of whether a program is worthwhile. The recent immigration bill, for example, equated the amount of money allocated, the number of border agents hired, and the number of miles of fence built as “proof” that the “border security” part of the deal had been met, thus allowing the “guest worker” and “path to citizenship” phases to begin. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set the benchmark as something like “a reduction of illegal border crossings to 5-10% of 2007 levels?” Wouldn't that or similar metrics actually measure the endpoints we're really interested in rather than some false straw man that makes it look like we're doing something? By playing with the language we do ourselves a great disservice and, in all honesty, deflect ourselves from the possibility of resolving the issue at hand. Clearly our elected officials have devolved into making decisions based on the affect on electability. Perhaps we, the people, should take more seriously our own role in this democracy and demand some semblance of accountability?! Perhaps we need to pay more attention and stop abdicating our responsibility.

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