big but…or…what not to say in political discussions…

A friend posted this the other day. It’s a rather compelling explanation of Occupy Wall Street….and it’s also an opportunity for PJ O’Rourke to make fun of that explanation. Family fun for everyone.

Whether you agree with Mr Grayson or not I’d like to ask you to watch the video because it stirred in me an old familiar rant which I will gladly detail below.

This is my number one issue with discussions of this ilk, political, religious or otherwise. PJ O’Rourke’s response after Mr Grayson outlines his understanding of Occupy Wall Street was to make a joke about hippies. I guess one could say that being on Bill Maher’s show means that they are supposed to make jokes. I get that. This isn’t Meet the Press.

The problem here is that he’s not making a funny or clever joke. He’s not giving a witty comeback. He’s not expressing some interesting slant in a clever way. He’s just grasping at unfunny straws here. I’m all for making smart and clever replies to an opposing viewpoint. I’m not for simply making fun or calling names without having any kind of real point.

Mr O’Rourke’s response tells me that he doesn’t know what to say so he’s just going to try to shoot for the lowest level. He’s dismissive. He chooses, rather than engaging the point, to draws a picture of the Occupy Wall Street protesters as hippies who don’t care where they go to the bathroom. Really, PJ? That’s what you came up with?

You see, while I happen to agree with Mr Grayson on this I’m also willing to hear a counter argument. I’m willing to have some clever banter from the other side and I’m willing to hear a retort that gives me, as a viewer, more information for the discussion.

Responses like the one Mr O’Rourke gave just stop the conversation, they stop the engagement and this is a problem.

To his great credit Alan Grayson didn’t let that comment end the conversation. He answered not with a humorous jibe but with real passion. I admire that. Apparently the audience admired it too. What they don’t show in this clip is the standing ovation that came when he finished. So maybe this is where it is supposed to end, at a convenient commercial break. Maybe what he said is just the be all end all truth. I’m willing to consider that…and yet…I think I know from experience that a soundbite from a television show on a topic with such emotional cost can never be all-encompassing. Soundbites aren’t enough.

The reality is that we have a highly divided country on pretty much every single level. No one is going to sign on blindly to a sound bite. The only line it’d be possible for us all to agree on might be something like:

“We all want to live and live as well as possible.”

And frankly, that might even need engagement and discussion. As Pee Wee Herman says, “everyone I know has a big but…” We might all sign on to the statement above although I’d wager we could each offer up a big but-

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want to pay higher taxes for it”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want a republican president”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want national healthcare ”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want prayer in school”

Your big but and my big but are the reason we need to be able to have discussions and engagement. We need to be able to say, “yes, I hear you but I have an issue with this piece or that piece” and that cannot happen if your response to my articulated argument is to just tear me down by calling me names.

This is particularly fresh to me because I had a political discussion recently and after making a point my conversation partner said, “Well, you are such a good little Obamaite.” I don’t even know what that means. I’m pretty sure it’s not a compliment my friend was offering. It’s dismissive. It says, “Nothing you have said has any value to me” and it ended our conversation. I want to be heard and I’ll go out on a limb to say that you want to be heard too. I’m not asking you to leave your opinion by the wayside and come to my way of thinking, I’m just asking to be respected in our conversation. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. If your argument is sound and you’re confident you can articulate it then there is no reason to tear down the other.

The bottom line here is that calling people names doesn’t make your point Mr O’Rourke, and it doesn’t make you funny. It just makes me stop listening to you.

That’s all I’m saying.

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