Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Great Debate

Costco, the box-box retailer, has its own "lifestyle" magazine, The Costco Connection. One of the recurring features is "Informed Debate," where a yes-or-no question is asked, a couple of experts weigh in, and various Costco members offer their "man on the street" perspectives. There is then a survey form for readers to vote for a side, and offer comments, some of which are published in the next issue of the magazine.

July's debate question was: "Should it be harder to filibuster?" Perhaps predictably, the "expert" for the Yes side was Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and the No side was represented by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). (One wonders if they would have been on different sides four years ago.) This was, in a way, too bad. It gave the question an air of direct partisanship that might have been avoided. The comments from others seemed similarly partisan, but with a twist on the No side - the idea that the system had been deliberately set up this way. One of the member on the street answers was:

Our forefathers got things right the first time, and we shouldn't be tinkering with a system that isn't broken.
Perhaps more direct was a writer in the August issue:
NO. The original framers of the Constitution got it right in the first place. Leave it the way they wrote it.
Sounds reasonable. Only one small problem. "[...]the Constitution does not contemplate the filibuster in any way, directly or indirectly."

Well. So much for "Informed Debate." Although I suppose it's simply an unfortunate side effect of the fact that so many of us get our information secondhand from sources that we trust and that often, we chose whether or not to trust a source on the basis of its agreement with what we already believe or wish to believe. And this is a difficult problem to get around. Not all of us have the time or the inclination to be Constitutional scholars and when you don't know yourself, you have to trust someone.

It seems that the cure for such things is a greater emphasis on and respect for doing the research. But I don't know how you get there. It's easy to say that we should have more respect for knowing what one is talking about, but that's likely to lead us back into an echo chamber, where people praise each other for agreeing with them. And people are often unwilling to credit as truly independent someone who doesn't share their view. And what do you do in a situation where the facts are in dispute or the topic is subjective? (Although in this case, the editors at The Costco Connection could have made clear that the filibuster is not a constitutional issue, but merely a rule of the Senate.)

This is going to be a solution a long time in coming.

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