Are We Even Having The Same Argument?
There were a couple of great editorials in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend (actually, there were a lot of them, but a couple I wanted to hit on specificially). One was an article by Lee Siegel on the current political landscape. No, I'm not going to spout any anti-Obama rhetoric here, nor will I make any comments on The Bridge to Nowhere. For once, there was somebody who actually captured the essence of the election. One of the excepts, which WSJ used to tagline the article, summarized the issue rather eloquently:
Liberals always think there's something broken in politics. Conservatives always think there's something wrong with the culture.
That's the problem! Our two sides aren't even having the same argument. What we have is a national version of the husband's irritation about a scratch in the car merged with a wife's annoyance about a constantly vertical toilet seat. They're arguing about the purchase of a new sofa, but he's bringing up issues about how she never takes care of things, and she is countering with arguments about how he can't bring things to closure. Their words and emotions really have nothing to do with sofa fabrics or price ranges. Meanwhile, the kids (nationally, a growing base of disenfranchised voters) see exactly what's going on and want nothing to do with either party because of it.
The other editorial was by Phil Gramm and Mike Solon. It made some great economic comparisons between Michigan's current economy and what an Obama Whitehouse would look like. Looking beyond the obvious slant against Democrats' economic policies, we see another underlying argument flaw in this election. Neither side can even see the positive the other one brings to the table. Each party's platform contains positive elements, but the other side would never consider acknowledging them. We're clouding the issue with rhetoric and smoke and mirrors and character smears. Yes, it is both sides who are accomplishing this. What I liked about the Gramm-Solon editorial was its use of statistics to point out positives and negatives of economic policies. It didn't play to heartstrings about unemployment; it stated numbers and facts. Yes, it was meant to persuade, but to do so factually rather than emotionally.
We do it in our workplaces and professional relationships, also. In office politics, we attempt to villify the other party and not acknowledge anything positive they may bring to the project or the department. We cloud the issues with our own brand of innuendo and rhetoric. The owners of a firm I used to subcontract through were masters of this technique. I've joked with people that the Midwest uses passive-aggression as a food group. I've watched many a meeting, project, and career be derailed by emotion.
Hmmm... sounds like we could all use a big ol' collective time-out to think about how we're running this campaign... and our offices.