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Monday, September 8, 2008

Why it can be tough to argue about political candidates

Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy:

"There are many acceptable criteria for evaluating candidates and no real agreement as to which criteria are more important than the others. As a result, it's easy for commentary to focus on what many will perceive as minor points while ignoring what many perceive as bigger ones, and it's easy for commentary to speak to a very small slice of the ideological pie while ignoring or even alienating the rest. The result is that a lot of blogging about candidates ends up just running in circles."

This makes a lot of sense to me. Even if two people are arguing in good faith (harder than it looks, especially in today's somewhat toxic, caged-death-match campaign climate) bad feelings can develop as people continue to talk around each other, everyone sure that everyone else is purposefully trying to "spin" his own candidate (which of course we often all are).

The entire post here.


Ken Roberts said...

Hi Zabelli - dropping in from Knight's castle. Yeah, you're right we'd likely choose to disagree on many things. But that's the essence of civil discourse, isn't it?

I've come to believe that no-one ever (well, exceptionally rarely) convinces another person of anything. What can, and should, be done is to set out the case for one's viewpoint and let the other person adopt what part of that fits their needs. With that perspective discussion can be quite enjoyable. Part of the advice I gave my oldest granddaughter as she left for univ this fall.

Interesting that you live/work in India. Are you a Bollywood film fan? I like most Indian cinema, perhaps my favourite is Bunty aur Babli - very frivolous, my tastes. Raj Kapoor and Nargis in remake of "It Happened One Night" are another favourite, among older films - many of the scenes in that are written better than in the Hollywood film, because Kapoor knew he was working with a story that would appeal.

Re Hitchcock, are you aware of the DVD's of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" which have been issued? First two seasons issued, so far.

Glenn said...

Yes, indeed, it can be tough to argue about political candidates (political issues, religion), or anything else of importance, without alienating someone you'd rather not.

The long list of criteria reminds me of the various attempts to rank the Presidents of the United States. Clinton Rossiter, for one, had eight criteria, several of which had multiple aspects. How you weight those criteria is a major step in trying to evaluate the presidents.

There is another aspect to this problem: salience. (One of my favorite political science terms.) How you weight various criteria almost certainly depends upon their importance to you, how much you perceive them as affecting your life, and whether you think they have long-term effects.

For example, McCain and Palin are pro-life, while Obama and Biden are pro-choice. Lots of people agree with one position or the other, while some people are undecided. But, between the Iraq war, the war on terrorism, the general state of foreign policy, questions about trade, the credit crunch, housing problems, and a few other economic questions, abortion may be a lot farther down some people's lists than it might have been four years ago.

For another example, McCain may have been right about the surge, but it might do him more harm than good. The better things look in Iraq, the less people are going to worry about it, and the less important it will seem to have a guy in the White House whose prime value is as a war leader. That is, people will give McCain credit for being right, but then they'll look at the issue that's most salient to them now, before they decide how to vote.

Ken Roberts said...

Well put Glenn. Salience is useful concept.