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When All Else Fails Attack and Belittle the Messenger (Update)

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to take debate in high school. Yes, I admit, I was/am a nerd. But that’s not the point of this tale. Instead, this is about the art of debate. When you’re discussing a specific topic, in theory, you rebut whatever your opponent is saying with data. Use cold hard facts in order to win the argument. Now, if you’re clever, there are ways to win the argument (persuade listeners) without winning the debate. It is possible to overwhelm your opponent with a barrage of facts which really did not address the central argument. It is also possible to misrepresent the facts. One popular method for “winning an argument” is to attack the messenger and not to attack the central question. Of course, you actually aren’t winning the argument. You’re not really addressing the fundamental logic or facts of the debate.

This brings me to Virginia Speaker of the House William J Howell. First of all, I love his name. I’m not sure that there is any name that exudes aristocratic pompousness more than this name (see Gilligan’s Island). But, I digress. Speaker Howell is introduced to Anna Scholl from Progress Virginia. Here’s the encounter –

Basically, as I see this encounter, Anna Scholl, the Executive Director of Progress Virginia, has Speaker Howell in a position that he does not want to be in. Speaker Howell appears uncomfortable in spite of his “warm greeting.” He begins to attack immediately. Yes, he is smiling, but he initially takes out his verbal sword for combat. “I’ve been on your website. There’s nothing there.” Really? Nothing there? There may not be anything there that he wants to read. There’s plenty of stuff on the Progress Virginia website. So, from the initial opening greeting, the attack starta. Anna Scholl redirects the conversation to try to discuss some inaccuracies or conflicts that the website has produced on the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). (Speaker Howell served as the national chairman of ALEC in 2009.) Instead of answering her question directly, he throws out some meaningless stat. Notice, he’s on the defensive. He never really makes eye contact. The stat that he is quoting is that over a ten-year period the Commonwealth of Virginia spent over $230,000 to send legislators to ALEC conferences. He never presents any data to refute the central point. While this is not a huge amount of money compared to the state budget, Speaker Howell basically concedes this fact. He tries to use a verbal jujitsu in order to get Anna onto another subject. Then, when that doesn’t work, he decides to attack (verbally) Ms. Scholl by using the belittling phrase, “I guess I’m not speaking and little enough words for you to understand.”

Progress Virginia website

There are ways in our society to carry on a civil debate. Then, there are ways in our society to belittle constituents and not to address their underlying claims. Now, I readily admit, in this post, I have belittled House Speaker Howell by talking about his name which resembles the Gilligan’s Island character Thurston Howell, III. This was my attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor. Yet, the overall point of this post is that, in a debate, in a discussion, belittling your opponent does not win the argument. It makes you look like a pompous fool. In today’s environment, it would seem to me that belittling women would not be a winning strategy.

What are your thoughts?

Update: Virginia House Speaker William Howell has apologized. From his press release – “After the news conference, I responded to a series of questions from Anna Scholl, Executive Director of ProgressVA, in a manner that was not consistent with my own standards of civility or reflective of the way I believe discussions over public policy disagreements should be conducted. I have since called Ms. Scholl and offered my sincere and heartfelt apology for my comments to her.”

Personally, I’m happy to see that Speaker Howell has apologized. Now we can move on to the main issue. ALEC is bad for Virginia and bad for America. Legislators that don’t understand that aren’t standing up for the American people. They are standing up for corporations which are lying their pockets. WE, the American people, need to be vote for congressmen who vote for the American people and against those that side with corporations. (Oh, the other issue which is just as important the belittling of women. Somehow, Congressman Howell has not taken this issue off the table. His contemptible treatment of Ms. Scholl was reflective of a disdain which bores deep into his soul. I’m not gonna sit here and try to psychoanalyze Congressman Howell. I hope progressive Virginians band together and vote him out of office.)

By |2013-11-03T17:13:37-04:00April 13th, 2012|Party Politics|Comments Off on When All Else Fails Attack and Belittle the Messenger (Update)

The Banks Want More

stack of money

I know it is hard to fathom, but for some reason the big banks don’t believe they have enough power or influence in Washington. They’ve even taken out a SuperPAC so they can throw more money around. The whole thing is depressing. The fact that we went into the biggest recession since the Great Depression because the big banks were playing roulette with our money doesn’t seem to phase them. They have no pity. They have no shame. The fact that they treat us like small piles of money instead of as individuals doesn’t phase them either.

From Alter-Net:

Friends Of Traditional Banking is a new super-PAC formed by “traditional” banks that can raise unlimited amounts, and can direct unlimited money to races without restrictions.

One banker calls this “a big stick” with which to punish lawmakers who vote with the public interest instead of the banking industry’s interest. Another banker says the purpose is to make lawmakers “afraid of bankers” instead of having them respond to the public. Another says, “… if you say the bankers are going to put in $100,000 or $500,000 or $1 million into your opponent’s campaign, that starts to draw some attention.” Another makes it all clear, it is about raising “a lot of money” to “hammer” lawmakers who are in the way of bank profits.

The story from American Banker, Bankers Form SuperPac for ‘Surgical’ Strike at Industry’s Enemies, explains,

Frustrated by a lack of political power and fed up with blindly donating to politicians who consistently vote against the industry’s interests, a handful of leaders are determined to shake things up.

They have formed the industry’s first SuperPAC — dubbed Friends of Traditional Banking —  that is designed to target the industry’s enemies and support its friends in Congress.

“It comes back to the old philosophy of walking softly and carrying a big stick,” says Howard Headlee, the president and chief executive officer of the Utah Bankers Association. “But we’ve got no big stick. And we should. We have the capacity to have one, we just aren’t organized.”

… “Congress isn’t afraid of bankers,” adds Roger Beverage, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association. “They don’t think we’ll do anything to kick them out of office. We are trying to change that perception.”

The arrogance of these guys is killing me. The power the United States lies with the people. It is that simple. It doesn’t lie with the politicians. It doesn’t lie with the political friends of the politicians. The power does not lie in the rich or the well-to-do. The power in the United States lies in the people. It is time for us to rise up and take back the power that is rightfully ours. Politicians should be listening to us and not to special interests like gun lobbies or bank lobbies or anyone else.

By |2012-04-09T20:24:31-04:00April 9th, 2012|Congress|Comments Off on The Banks Want More

Are we seeing the rope-a-dope from Obama?

The rope-a-dope was made famous by Mohammad Ali, used most famously against George Foreman. Ali would make an opponent think that he was helpless and the opponent would punch himself out. Once the opponent has punched himself out, Ali begins a thunderous attack. Is this what we’re going to see from President Obama?

Yesterday President Obama announced that he was going to open new areas to offshore drilling. Offshore drilling? Is this progressive president we voted for? Offshore drilling is not a progressive position. This is something that Republicans have been asking for for years. More domestic drilling… is this part of an overall strategy for climate change because, if so, we’re heading in the wrong direction, unless Barack Obama has an ace up his sleeve.

Is it possible, from a political standpoint, that Barack Obama is giving away something in order to pressure the Republicans into giving up something on climate change? This is the only reason I can think of for offshore drilling.

As if to balance out the awful news of more drilling, the White House announced several new initiatives today. The EPA is going to put new restrictions on mountaintop mining. Think of mountaintop mining as stripmining on steroids. Mountaintop mining is extremely destructive to the environment. This restriction is something that progressives have wanted for a long time.

The White House also announced new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. Average fuel efficiency should be 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. This is intended to save oil and push more car manufacturers to hybrids.

So, what do you think? Is Obama trying to outsmart the Republicans or did he just cave in?

By |2010-04-01T18:46:19-04:00April 1st, 2010|Big Oil, Economy, Environment, Obama administration|Comments Off on Are we seeing the rope-a-dope from Obama?
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