Whether it be debate over Clinton and the Starr report or a local civic association stoplight, different points of view have become too bitter, personalized and strident. Personal attacks are more the order of the day than shedding light on a subject. What has happened to civil debate.
Some elections have turned into attacks on character with the negative commercial leading the way. Negative research is the first assignment of political consultants. Where have all the issues gone? Where are the days when honest debate would be followed by people on both sides going out to the diner for a cup of coffee?
Each week, as Larry Levy and I prepare guests for Face-Off on WLIW-21, we have a litany of instructions. One of the guest guidelines is to ask each person to be civil and not talk over each other. We want to entertain, but we also want to shed some light on the evening's topic. In spite of the instructions, the discussion becomes so confused at times that I throw up my hands to stop the stridency.
Beyond the guests, Larry Levy and I try to keep our personal feelings under control during the shows. While we vigorously disagree with each other during most of each show, we are actually good friends. And both of us love sushi. It is not unusual for us to be seen at a local Japanese restaurant breaking fish! And many people wonder how we can disagree so energetically and still be friends?
The point that I am trying to make is that honest philosophical differences can be debated without losing respect for the person on the other side of the issue. Hammering out an argument does not have to be that the opponents hammer each other.
Why has political debate today become so strident? Television, in my opinion, is a major factor. Many political people look for their moment in the sun -- 20 seconds on the evening news. Unless the exchange is sharp, unless there is controversy, the debate does not play well on the tube. As a result, the public discussion of issues becomes more strident, in order to attract attention.
Another reason for strident debate relates to all of us as the audience. We seem to like it. Before disagreeing, think of the popularity of the talking heads on television. People are watching and advertisers are paying the way. Kind and gentle voices get nowhere on television or at a local civic group. And that is the unfortunate part of this piece.
The stridency can also carry over into some work places. Can you really win only by intimidation or raising your voice with subordinates? I hope not. Perhaps, we will never see the days of honest people honestly and quietly disagreeing. Marches, pickets and loud voices too often get the attention.