The winners of the third Republican debate are almost unanimously agreed to as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie performing well, and Ben Carson being Carson – steady as always.
The losers in this debate were definitely Jeb Bush and, sadly, the American media and the American people more generally.
DEBATES ARE designed to give substantive policy positions and, to a lesser extent, glimpses into the characters of the vying candidates. The third debate delivered on these two points – but, it seems, at the displeasure of the moderators. But can we expect more from the media?
It appeared the CNBC moderators were attempting to force the candidates to attack one another; to attack one another’s records and even character flaws; and to attack past failings and disappointments – all, it seems, to demonstrate a theme of Republican disunity.
But to be fair, the Republicans have done a fine job at it themselves up until this past debate.
Many pundits, politicians, citizens and members of both political parties have criticized CNBC for this seemingly bizarre direction of the debate. But is it that bizarre? Don’t we behave like this in our own lives? Take a glance at any column written in these pages (especially the online postings), and what you will see more than academic discourse, engaging dialogue or disinterested disputes are personal attacks. Attacks are aimed at the content of the piece in question, and astonishingly, attacks on the writer.
But this disease extends beyond journalism. An honest academic will admit that the university institution generally – not any specific institution – suffers from the same syndrome: callousness. Different academics, the supposed intellectual 1 percent of the American population, ruthlessly attack one another’s opinions, thoughts, political traits and ideas rather than engaging with their colleagues’ patterns of thought seriously.
MORE SADLY, academics often attack one another’s characters based on nothing more than something that has been written, and usually taken defensively and out of context. But this too extends further and deeper.
Honest, hard-nosed debates about controversial issues, based around academic theory and scholarship, is lost within many higher education classrooms. Instead of investigating the truth claims each person makes, students, and unfortunately many professors, become too invested in their opinions of the truth, rather than searching for the light itself. The classroom, the lighthouse of freedom of thought and expression, becomes nothing more than a bastion of personal attacks thrown without careful thought and without attention to the content.
This is the America we have become. And if academia is as such, who are we to expect more from the media? And if we can’t expect honest, soul-searching dialogue from the media, should we honestly expect it at a political debate?
Who is to blame for this? We are. The American people.
When is the last time you sifted through an argument to catch the purposeful nuances or sarcasm well-placed within a verbal or written argument, intended to make the audience think outside their comfort zones? Most of us don’t. We react defensively if
there is any hint of something that may go against our own personal leanings. Oh, how the Constitutional Convention of 1787 would have turned out if America’s Founding Fathers were as insecure and temperamental as today’s typical citizen. We must return to a citizenry that is truly inclusive of freedom of expression, thought and opinion.
WHY ARE WE afraid of others’ arguments? Why do we attack the person instead of the logical flaws of an argument? Why can’t we separate our existential selves away from personal opinions? It’s because we have made gods of ourselves. To have a better political system; to have better candidates; to have a better society; to have better universities; we must turn inward and correct our flaws that make us so susceptible to attacking one another.
Tolerance is not enough. In fact, tolerance should be considered a four-letter word. It means, “I detest everything you are and all you stand for, but to be politically correct, I must act as though you matter.” That is what tolerance means today. Rather, America needs an inclusive society – one in which we truly accept politics of difference and identity differences opposite and in direct confrontation with our own.
A SIGN OF A true thinker is one who does not get offended at this politics of difference. A sign of a great or “serious” citizen – as Plato, Aristotle and many of our Founding Fathers argued – is the citizen who can seek truth dispassionately, and respond to oppressive attacks with gratitude and humility.
The political philosopher Montesquieu was unquestionably right: A society gets the government it deserves. I would add that a citizenry gets the discourse it deserves.
To correct the political and media game, let us turn inward and enlighten our souls.
(The writer is an assistant political science professor at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter, @polscountrydoc.)