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David L. Nevins Headshot

The Political Circus

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The suffocating partisanship that most Americans abhor will surely be on display for all to witness in the coming election season. The accusations and innuendos, the misinformation and vilifying of one party by the other will be the typical tactics and game plan employed by those on the left and those on the right.

Since the days of Plato and Socrates, scholars and philosophers have sought to understand and define how two people with differing points of view can express and debate their opposing perspectives with each other in a civil and respectful way that can prove beneficial to both sides.

Socrates developed an approach he called "the dialectic method," which he wrote about in his effort to establish guidelines that would allow individuals with opposing opinions to build upon those differences rather than becoming further separated by them. He wisely recognized that human nature needed to be nudged away from its natural inclination to focus on who's right and who's wrong or who wins and who loses. Instead, he proposed, seeking to better understand thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints that differ from our own, even fundamentally, can give rise to new insights, greater awareness and generate otherwise undetected solutions and remedies to stalemated problems and issues.

As we watch the behaviors of so many of our leaders today posturing against each other with twisted facts and vitriolic disdain, solely to WIN the sacred trust of the electorate, we ought to be asking ourselves, "Is this particular behavior having the effect of raising or lowering the level of discourse and understanding between and among us as citizens?"

In my opinion, things have gotten worse -- not better -- in recent years. The vicious 'winning-is-all' climate, the 'meant-to-mislead' rhetoric, the extreme and polarizing factions along with the sheer lack of decency are tethering our nation to a new low.

You don't have to be a Socrates or a Plato to recognize some of the deplorable techniques that will surely be on display this fall by both Democrats and Republicans as they battle it out for our votes.

The most common technique will be the "ad hominem fallacy" defined as an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out an unrelated and negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. In politics today, this technique is an attempt to undermine another's argument by attacking the person instead of tackling the issue.

Next time you receive one of those political chain emails that are flooding our cyber mailboxes these days, look for this type of statement and pay close attention. If you happen to agree with the position or viewpoint being expressed, you'll probably need to look harder for those hidden ad hominem fallacies.

Another well-utilized technique is "the bandwagon fallacy." This fallacy is committed whenever one argues for an idea based upon an irrelevant appeal to its popularity. This tactic is already being implemented by both parties on the subject of healthcare reform. Democrats like to argue that every developed nation in the world has universal healthcare, while Republicans take the position that a majority of Americans oppose healthcare reform. Neither assertion makes any effort to inform or educate the public on the facts of healthcare reform.

One reason Americans so easily fall prey to such deceptive political ploys is that lodged within our human nature is a tendency to embrace information that supports our beliefs, and to ignore or distort evidence contrary to our beliefs. Although understandable, this tendency can blind us from the facts and the truth.

Renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell summed it up well when he said, "In logic we are concerned with propositions rather than beliefs, since logic is not interested in what people do in fact believe, only in the conditions which determine the truth or falsehood of possible beliefs.

And so, as you approach this election season, see if you can see through the charade. Attempt to understand the tactics of debate and expect more this time around from yourself, your friends and the candidates. In addition to being on the alert for the ploys mentioned above, listen carefully for exaggeration, guilt by association and confusing correlation with causation. (I.e., two things may be related, but not necessarily in a cause and effect way.)

Readers of my previous writings will note that I am a supporter of No Labels, a non-partisan organization that is building momentum throughout our country. No Labels recognizes the dysfunctional dynamics that permeate our political process and that much of that dysfunction is born from decades of deterioration in the quality and integrity of political dialogue, discussion and debate.

The political circus will be on flagrant display for all to view this fall. Watch, listen, ponder and decide for yourself if something must be done to correct the course of a political process that has become a war of opposing clans that value defeating the opposition over working constructively on behalf of all citizens.

No Labels stands apart not as a third party, but as a movement advocating a shift in focus and intention this election year, away from infighting and demagoguery, to civil discourse that is framed by critical thinking. Until now, there have been no political movements in this country based on cooperative, constructive, problem-solving governance. However, with the emergence of No Labels as a viable political force and savvy grassroots movement of over half a million Democrats, Republicans and Independents, there is finally reason for optimism.

Our national challenges and problems are earnest, urgent and serious. They are worthy of being debated in a manner consistent with our great history and heritage. Politicians, just like the rest of us, respond to incentives. Therefore, it is imperative that incentives be developed and implemented that encourage productive dialogue and promote responsible decision-making.

As I find is so often the case, returning to the wisdom within the writings of our Founding Fathers can lead us to the truth we search for today. Thomas Jefferson recognized that democracy was born from discourse and discussion, and that such resulting discussion would be replete with differing perspectives and opinions. Our founding fathers believed that ideological differences would ultimately lead to inquiry, and inquiry to truth.

As individual Americans, we can either be 'near-sighted' or 'clear-sighted' during this election year. Through our awareness, we can each become a bit less susceptible to the common fallacy tactics operating both on the right and the left. If we choose to focus on what the issues are and how they can best be solved as we sift through the barrage of exaggeration, innuendo, and half-truths pressing into the political fray this year, we just might find ourselves closer to the truth and to each other than we have imagined.

We must require a higher standard from our elected officials. A new paradigm of politics; one based on civil political discourse, critical thinking and personal accountability can and should be demanded by the electorate of its leadership, and the time to do so is now.

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Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
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Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
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Holdover
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Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
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New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
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