A day or three back I was watching the news, when one commentator or guest pundit was addressing some topical issue. Maybe it was immigration, maybe defunding Planned Parenthood. Maybe it was Russia, or abortion, or Red Sox vs. Yankees.
The guest ended his remarks by saying that we "needed to have a national debate" on the issue. And boom, another column.
I have heard that term, "national debate", tossed around more times than I can imagine. But never, not even once, can I recall there having ever been a national debate on anything. Certainly I cannot recall anyone saying "Well, we had a national debate on that issue, and we decided X."
Let's say that President Trump responded to the call from that pundit by saying, "OK, cool, I agree. I call for and direct that there shall be a national debate on that topic." Then what? Follow what I'm saying? What is a national debate?
Well, obviously there has not been one, there never will be one, and we should probably stop talking as if that sort of thing is a possibility. Let's purge the term.
A "debate", in pretty much every acceptable meaning, consists of two sides with opposing views on the issue in question, making their cases to each other or two a third entity. In competitive debates, the third party is a judging entity that decides not who is "right" but who made the better case.
That's why a "national debate" doesn't match that at all. I don't care if tax policy or abortion advocates or their opponents make the better case; I care that we determine what is "right." Which, of course, we never will in the former case, because abortion is a moral issue with half the USA on each side.
In a national debate on a non-moral issue, like tax reform, who makes the case for each side? And who votes? I mean, Congress can't be the forum, since the members are so completely unwilling to tolerate the arguments of those of the opposite party that we have Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren literally playing the "children will die" card on the health insurance issue when they know it to be total elk dung.
What if someone like Steve Mnuchin or, better, Mick Mulvaney took the side that tax cuts are inherently positive, and Schumer took the other side. Suppose Mulvaney gets 20 minutes to go through the historical precedents and show that Federal tax cuts invariable increase revenue and stimulate the economy. Then Schumer gets up for his 20 and says Schumer stuff, like "fairness" and "tax the rich" and "children will die."
Who then decides who won and, therefore, what legislation should reach the President's desk accordingly?
See what I mean? The next guy or lady who calls for a national debate needs to get called on it, and to say exactly what that means, the terms, the participants, the outcome, the jurisdiction and jurisprudence, and the outcome when one side is declared the winner.
Yeah, that'll do it.
Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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