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Friday, June 16, 2006

Not Going To Play the Game, Going to Change the Game, Part 2

I have had many people ask me what I meant when I said that I am sick and tired of the current political game of vitriol, harsh rhetoric, and seeking to "fire up the base" at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. I have had people ask me what I think about groups like Unity '08 or the Republican Main Street Partnership. From what I have seen from these groups and other similar ones is a desire to seek centrist positions and compromise in order to move away from the more ideological positions being taken and advocated.

The one problem that I see with these groups is a lack of dialogue with those who are less centrist in their positions. While many believe that centrist positions are the best, I'm not sure that this is always the case. Back in the '60s, I don't believe that the civil rights movement would have been described as centrist, yet opening up opportunities and providing legal protection for blacks was extremely important and the right thing to do.

One of the comments made at RedState about my cross-post there hinted at what I believe is a better way:
Generally speaking, I know I have won an argument when the opponent resorts to name calling and personal attacks.
Why not respond to the substance of the post?
Do you believe that a person must toe "the party line" in order to be a real conservative?
Do you believe that playing (almost solely) to the base of the party is a good move or a bad move?
Do you believe that those who don't agree with you should be met with vitriol or engaged in debate (or ignored?)
Finally - and just my opinion - try and write your posts as though you were standing in front of them and speaking. It keeps the discussion civil.
For about three or four years now, I have been involved in a group here in Atlanta that gets together on a regular basis to discuss politics, religion, and various cultural issues. And I am going to break one of the cardinal rules of that group, "You don't talk about Fight Club". Well, what this group has been doing is important enough to talk about here.

Like many groups, we have an online email group where much of our discussion takes place. We often have upwards of 400 messages in a month. And while many of us come from a simliar perspective, it isn't unusual for there to be some very vigorous discussions. Particularly when we first started, there would occasionally be messages between myself and others in the group that I had known for almost 15 years along the lines of "Dude, you don't know what you are talking about. Get a clue."

Of course, some of the members of our group that I hadn't known as long were taken aback by this sort of thing. I would then have to explain the long relationships that some of us had and that what appeared to be a flame war was nothing more than some silly bantering back and forth that none of us took seriously. In fact, we used some of this rhetoric to inject some humor and levity into an otherwise serious conversation. We quickly realized that the subtle distinction between flaming someone and injecting humor was difficult to surmise in an online environment.

This isn't surprising to anyone who has engaged in any sort of disussion online, particularly regarding politics. Sarcasm and humor, while very valuable in person to lighten a conversation, are very difficult to do online. And they often have disastrous effects.

So how did we overcome this problem in our group? We get together face-to-face regularly. And talk on the phone. Pretty much anything to encourage developing friendships. It is amazing what a difference it makes to actually talk to someone on the phone or chat over beers. You find yourself making many of the same points but without the need for stinging rhetoric.

In many ways this has been the model for dialog here at Dignan's 75 Year Plan. I have made it a point to personally connect with many of my regular visitors. I have had numerous phone conversations, private emails, and even in-person meetings with the regulars here and others in the blogosphere.

About a month ago, I figured out who rjohnson was and gave him a call at his office. Because of that conversation, I can't imagine personally attacking or denigrating rjohnson because of his political views. And I'm guessing he feels the same. Of course, our differences are real. But instead of just being a name that I can go off on, rjohnson is a real person made in the image of God that I have great respect for.

I could tell a similar story about many others. It is these sort of interactions that are going to change to political dialogue in this country. It isn't easy. It is much easier to lob rhetorical bombs into the conversation and attack one's opponents. But it is ultimately self-defeating.

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