Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shaken

For reasons I'd prefer to keep private, I spent the last month disengaged from political discourse. My mental and emotional faculties were needed elsewhere, and I'm pleased I was able to step back from what has always been an addictive interest in political debate.

I do love a good argument. I also love a bad argument. When it comes to politics, there are few things I enjoy more than popping the hood and getting a good look at what makes an argument run.

That's why I jump into discussions with people I disagree with. I think it's important. I'm convinced healthy democracy will wither when we stop listening to the other side.

But I have limits.

Today, two people who I have occasionally engaged in political argument prompted me to doubt my faith in the utility of discourse.

The first person posted an link to a Washington Times piece about a book on tax policy. The book might be interesting, but that is not what got my attention. Citing the Heritage Foundation, the WT author presented the following evidence to argue that lower tax rates on the wealthy are good for the American economy:

1920s: The top tax rate fell from 73 percent to 25 percent, yet the rich (in those days, those earning $50,000 and up) went from paying 44.2 percent of the tax burden in 1921 to paying more than 78 percent in 1928. 

You read that right. The author used the wealth-friendly tax policy from the 1920s to argue for more wealth-friendly tax policy.

How can I argue with a person who cannot see how stupid that is?

I can't.

The second person who shook my faith in the utility of argument was a Facebooker responding to a question about the new job numbers. The lead off to his argument was "Govt jobs should not count."

On a better day, I might have been able to stomach this, maybe even construct the reasoning that informs such a statement. But then I think about people serving in the military, fire fighters, food inspectors, judges, teachers, transportation safety officials, EMTs, sanitation workers, civic janitorial staff... I could keep going. But with each item on the list, I hear those words echo: " Govt jobs should not count."

How can I argue with someone who would posit that teaching or protecting a community shouldn't be counted as employment?

I can anticipate the response, but no matter how eloquently stated, no response could walk that back.

I can't imagine a way to reasonably converse with a person who would make that statement.

I'm at a bit of a loss. I would like to listen to people who hold political beliefs that are different than my own, but I've become convinced that those people aren't even listening to themselves anymore.