Thursday, January 19, 2012

Who Is In Control of the Dials? You are.

We are in for some unpleasant times over the next six months. I got my first sample of it this morning, listening to the Joy Cardin show on WPR. The “Big Question” being debated this morning was whether Governor Walker and other Republicans being targeted for recall should be removed from office. Her guests, one representing the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, and the other the Republican Party, illustrated well what is wrong with political dialogue in the state and nation.

I would have to give the Republican Party representative more credit for civility only because the language he used was less demeaning than that of his counterpart and, while not perfect in this respect, he sometimes allowed his opponent to speak without interrupting him. (That may be creditable to the fact that he, unlike his Democratic opponent who was joining the conversation by phone, was sitting in the studio with the host of the show and thus perhaps found it harder to resist her appeals for the guests to allow each other to speak.) My biggest frustration with the Republican representative was his gross misrepresentations – probably not “lies” as his Democratic opponent wanted to call them but evasions, dodges, and diversions. He was especially adept at avoiding the direct questions from Joy Cardin or her call-in audience, simply reverting, time and again, to the “canned” responses we will suffer through during the wrenching months ahead.

The Democratic Party representative had to be an embarrassment to his mother if she was listening; unable to allow his opponent to finish a sentence without interruption, quick to label statements as “lies”, full of meaningless vituperation for the Governor, and even for his fellow guest, and not alert enough to pick up on errors of fact or inconsistencies in his opponent’s statements – insistent, in fact, upon being rude and depreciative rather than engaging in real dialogue. One can only hope that the Democrats find a candidate capable of debating and chewing gum at the same time. In other words, one who can listen to his opponent’s statements and arguments and tailor his responses to what has been asserted. (Listening to political debates is much like watching a loosing football team whose coach keeps reading the prescribed play book of the week even though every play he runs ends in disaster.)

I suppose Joy Cardin – and other talk show hosts – would find it impossible to fill their guest spots if they insisted that all guests be in the studio. There is no guarantee that such a practice would result in more civility but it might help a little. But there are two things they could do that would improve the quality of their programs. First, they could learn to run a show and chew gum at the same time. By that I mean, they could listen to the answers their guests are giving to their questions or the questions of their callers and prod them to answer the question rather than dodge issues by making pre-canned speeches. Second, since most of their guests are speaking via phones they could use the dials in front of them to enforce a “no interruption” rule by simply dialing down one guest while the other is speaking.

That last suggestion is a very powerful one. I know. I used it just this morning to “dial down” the entire show before it was ended. After becoming aware that I would hear nothing new if I continued to listen to the show, and realizing that I had heard nothing trustworthy or important to that point, I decided that enough was enough. We are in for some unpleasant times in the next six months, my friends. Keep your hands on the dials – or the “remote”.

Here is a baker’s dozen of characteristics I want to see in any public servant: Let’s insist that they be smart, sincere, sensitive, sensible, self-less, scrupulously honest, sympathetic, self-secure, short-winded, sober, soft-spoken, stable, steadfast. If they have those characteristics we can probably put up with a few human foibles.

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