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July 20, 2012

An Argument, A Paragraph, A Sentence, A Word

It is nigh impossible, the co-host said, to have a serious discussion in this election season. The two candidates for the Presidency are waging campaigns of distortion, taking their opponents words out of context and assailing him for what was said. When will the campaign turn serious?

Another member at the table, a correspondent at the White House, begins to talk about the President's controversial statement -- the President, he says, was pointing out that we provide the services that businesses need to succeed -- the roads, the bridges, the safety -- we provide that collectively, and....

The host leaps in ... "collective" ! He launches into a rant on collectivism, resurrecting visions of 1950's communist rule in the no-longer-existent Soviet Union, and insisting that we are not a collectivist country, we are built on individualism...

And thus we find the answer to the question of why we can't have a serious discussion. The explanation of what the President actually said is drowned out by a rant triggered not by the explanation, not by the thought or the paragraph or even the sentence, but a rant triggered by a word -- "collectively".

Had the correspondent used a synonym -- "together", "as a whole", "as a society", "through our shared contributions" -- perhaps he might have finished his explanation. Perhaps he might have taught us something, we might have a better understanding of the issue, we might be able to evaluate the issues behind the statement.

But this is television -- cable television -- talk-show television -- political talk-show cable television. And here, understanding and learning and careful thought take a back seat to controversy and verbal assault. Is there any surprise when that same approach is adopted by viewers and then by the campaigns themselves?

Good Government means that we must shape policies that are based on thoughtful consideration of facts, but thoughtful consideration never gets a chance when a single word -- stripped of the sentence around that word -- becomes a launching point for an assault.

The correspondent never finished his explanation. It was sacrificed to the ludicrous overtalking shouting match that ensued around the issue of collectivism.

Good Government has no chance if we cannot be allowed to think and speak in complete sentences and whole paragraphs.

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