Monday, May 28, 2007

Conservative "discourse"

Newt Gingrich is one of those people who, if you don't hate him already, would be very difficult to hate because of his personal demeanor and conversational style. Since leaving Congress, he has become tame - in a good way - his voice very disarming and his tone very relaxing. George Jr. has very little of the intellect of the former House Speaker, and not exactly imitating of his discourse patterns. Yet, Bush, come debate time, does sound more like Gingrich than like the conservative talking point machines of Limbaugh and Malkin and Boortz. Which is what makes him very appealing to conservatives, and very difficult to out-argue.

The lesson is this: if the right sounded more like Gingrich, the left would have their hands full.

Fortunately for us liberals, the conservative brain is reptilian in nature, striving for the chest-pounding and fear-mongering more than the intellectual and open-minded.

Speaker Gingrich gave an interview to Brian Lehrer (WNYC) a few weeks ago, proposing a series of Presidential debates much unlike those we have now. Instead of the lightning-round, offer-up-talking points press conferences we have on cable news, there would be timed, unmoderated exchanges of ideas in which candidates can question each other once a week from the end of convention season to Election Day.

It is a bit too idealistic for me, and requires a great deal of trust in each candidate that the other won't resort and stick to party-defined talking points.

More importantly, most conservatives aren't equipped to handle, and would invariably lose, that sort of intellectual exchange. What's more, they know it for sure, and get personal right quick at the slightest hint of reason and thought.

I was watching Washington Journal this morning (note: I almost never do - SportsCenter and Daily Show reruns are usually on at the time), listening to John Bruhns of votevets.org and Karl Blanke of the pro-war Vets for Freedom. Towards the end of the segment, Bruhns proceeds to cross-examine Blanke and respond to pro-war talking points by testing his knowledge of the actual facts on the ground and opinions of the major figures involved in the Iraq War.

To Blanke's credit, he acquitted himself well in between the missteps, including advocating the extension of the war by another twenty-five years, "if that's what it takes." Never mind that the war will probably bankrupt the country in five.

That's not important. What's important, however, is the way war supporters got on the viewer phone to C-Span and attacked Bruhns. His cross-examination of Blanke was perceived as filibustering and unpatriotic, never mind the ideas that were exchanged. The exercise in intellect was seen as dividing the country, when Americans should "just support the President."

I wish I could tell you what anti-war callers would've said, but the moderator didn't feel it was appropriate to put any on the air (I've never heard of bias on C-Span, to be honest).

Note to Gingrich: this is, sadly, what is considered discourse these days.

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