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Dialogic Argument vs. the Politics of Resistance Thomas Hollihan August 30, 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "Dialogic Argument vs. the Politics of Resistance Thomas Hollihan August 30, 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dialogic Argument vs. the Politics of Resistance Thomas Hollihan August 30, 2010

2 This study: Analyzed the public arguments during the debate over health care reform. The talk will discuss: 1) Obama’s campaign message and its impact on argument strategy 2) The concept of dialogic deliberative argument 3) Arguments in the controversy used by the administration and the Republican leadership Other lobbying groups contributed arguments to the debate over health care reform, but a discussion of their impact comes in a later study 4) Co nsequences for the political sphere

3 The essence of Obama’s Message:

4 Obama promised: “To change the practice of politics itself.... To reach out to allies and adversaries alike... to restore the American people’s trust in their government by making government more open and transparent.” (Obama Campaign Website, 2008)

5 Message was optimistic and dialogic: Like much liberal political discourse it emphasized scene and agency (Burke, 1945) Created a view of America as broken and in need of repair Emphasized confidence in American people Communicated that government was capable of responding and finding solutions Promised healthy and vigorous public debate on issues with a transparent policy making process

6 Obama expressed commitment to dialogic argument: In his declaration of candidacy speech at Illinois State Capitol: “It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable—that it’s possible to compromise as long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and so long as we’re willing to listen to each other we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.”

7 He emphasized the importance of empathy: In a commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts, Boston he urged graduates: “to cultivate a sense of empathy—to put yourself in other people’s shoes—to see the world from their eyes. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world—one that makes you understand that your obligations to others extend beyond people who look like you and act like you and live in your neighborhood.”

8 Republicans had a choice: They could offer alternatives to Obama’s policy proposals but embrace his call for changing the “style” of Washington politics Or they could challenge the administration on both substance and style through a strategy of resistance The debate over health care reveals their choice

9 The role of argument in democracy: Citizens must engage in arguments to resolve controversies and evaluate decisions (Goodnight, 1991) Citizens surrender power to elected officials to act in their interests (Castells, 2009) Political parties, lobbyists, special interests, and powerful elites must be kept from manipulating the system in the service of their own narrow concerns (Castells, 2009) Democratic governance demands a healthy argumentative ecology (Klumpp, 2009)

10 Characteristics of democratic argument: The identity, history and direction of development in democratic societies emerge from the texture of public arguments Democratic argument assumes that arguers are willing to put their own arguments at risk Arguments in a democracy are a rich mix of self- interest, special interests, and the public interest The ability to locate a unifying spirit of communal interests is at the essence of a healthy democratic political sphere (Habermas, 1962)

11 Dialogic argument: Principles of dialogic argument suggest a process of reasoned interaction on topics of mutual concern (MacKau, 1995) Is rule governed activity that requires special qualities from participants and adherence to principles of mutual respect (Fisher, 2008) Arguers must be willing to learn from each other, should attempt to agree on shared principles, and must recognize their connections to each other (Linklater, 2005) Requires listening as well as speaking, and emphasizes a search for empathy (Pearce, 1995)

12 Effective dialogic argument: Assumes that arguers are intent on making a decision Presupposes a genuine search for agreement Requires that advocates evaluate key principles that are in conflict and offer clearly stated claims outlining their own positions (Hollihan & Baaske, 2004) Dialogic argument may be heated but it presumes sincere caring about the future of the other, the relationship, and the joint project of sense-making and not just winning and losing (Cissna & Anderson, 1994) Democracy is a mode of associated being (Dewey, 1916)

13 In contrast, purely strategic argument: Emphasizes maximizing one’s gains and minimizing losses Encourages arguers to take rigid pre-determined positions in which willingness to change or modifying one’s position, or permitting the evolution of ideas through argument is perceived as a sign of weakness (Klumpp, Riley & Hollihan 2000) Undermines the possibility for public debate and deliberation to serve as a creative process (Osborne & Osborn, 1995)

14 Contemporary politics favors the strategic: Strategic arguers do not put their own positions at risk Focus is on pleasing the interests of one’s core constituency Lends itself to a focus on self-interest rather than public or common interests Means more focus on the direct effect of argumentative actions and less emphasis on the reflexive effects Denies the opportunity for people to weave together competing even incommensurate positions into results less clearly defined as wins and losses (Pearce, 1995; Rapoport,, 1995; Hollihan, 2009)

15 Contemporary media worsens the situation: Increasingly people turn to news sources that confirm what they already believe Social networking in new media pushes out those messages further creating an echo chamber Competition for audiences means an emphasis on conflict frames for news

16 Obama’s arguments in health debate contained clear statements of principle: Declared that health care was a “right” and that providing access to all was a “moral issue” At stake was “not just details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country” Americans are a self-reliant people but “when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand” Americans are entitled to a “measure of security and fair play” and “sometimes government has to step in to deliver on that promise” (Obama speech to Congress, September 9, 2009)

17 Obama was dialogic in his willingness to listen, compromise, and find solution: Called for a calm debate Offered to create demonstration projects to test alternative ways to proceed Asked members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to submit their ideas and to work together to find a solution Expressed a willingness to consider GOP alternatives such as malpractice tort reform but indicated that this is not a path to guaranteeing access to all citizens

18 Obama attends GOP retreat: Accepts an invitation to speak at Congressional retreat in January, 2010 Challenges the attacks that have been made against him by opponents to health care reform and expresses a commitment to continuing a dialogue Promises that he reads all the GOP proposals that come before him and “the good ideas we take” But reminds GOP that it “can’t be all or nothing” and that governing requires compromise because: “If there’s uniform opposition because the Republican caucus does not get 100% or 80% of what you want, then its going to be difficult to get a deal done, because that’s not how democracy works.”

19 Obama holds day long summit: Surrenders presidential authority Not at White House Conference table setting Obama moderates discussion Opens meeting with a call for dialogue Urged participants to use it for real “discussion and not just talking points” Kept searching for “points of agreement”

20 GOP Refuses to engage in dialogic argument: Senator Mitch McConnell declared that the GOP: “is simply and flatly opposed to the core of the Democratic health care reform proposal” “Only by scrapping the whole proposal and starting over could he win Republican support” “The core of the bill is a trillion dollar government attempt to take over one sixth of the U.S. economy”

21 Party leaders demand opposition to the bill Intent on thwarting not just health care reform but all of administration’s agenda Unanimous opposition prevents Obama from demonstrating he can change Washington View takes advantage of impatience and cynicism of American public Minority leader Boehner declared the GOP “did not just say No, we said Hell No!”

22 GOP fails to clearly state their own clear principles: They do not concede that health care is a right and refuse to state how they would extend coverage to almost 46 million with no health insurance (16% of population) and millions more with inadequate coverage; but also do not say when it is OK not to provide medical assistance Use a vague rhetoric of “health care as a responsibility” but do not suggest how to turn this into policy Seem to suggest that health care can be rationed on the basis of ability to pay (as is housing, food, educational opportunities, etc.) but refuse to openly espouse this position for fear of creating a backlash If health care can be rationed then precisely what is a minimal level of care?

23 GOP engages in name calling: Rep. Joe Barton: “The president’s proposal is a radicalization and some would say socialization.” Governor Sarah Palin warned about “death panels” Rep. Boehner declared “Obamacare is a job killing monstrosity” Sen. Jim DeMint promised to “make health care reform Obama’s Waterloo”

24 Tea Party activists are mobilized: Series of “town hall” meetings mobilize public opposition Tea Party says it is not affiliated with any party but Washington protests are organized by Freedom Works Foundation which is headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey

25 Tea Party opposition becomes increasingly hysterical: Protests are held all around the nation Polls suggest that more people doubt Obama is a citizen People begin to express concern that their government wants to take away their rights and harm them

26 Yet GOP leaders align themselves with Tea Party: Governor Palin gives keynote address at a Tea Party convention and declares: “I will live, I will die for the people of America. Whatever I can do to help. This movement is the future of politics in America.” Republican Party head Michael Steele describes the Tea Party as “a revelatory movement” and says “It’s important for our party to appreciate and understand that so we can move toward it and embrace it.”

27 Tea Party extremism radicalizes the GOP: Senator Bob Bennett loses reelection in the Republican primary in Utah Rand Paul wins the Republican nomination in Kentucky Sharon Angle wins the Republican nomination in Nevada Tea Party announces it is seeking to take over local Republican Party organizations by electing precinct level officers

28 GOP position clarified: Government is unreliable so thwarting government seems an acceptable strategic maneuver One way to convince the public they need less government is to exploit their cynicism and impatience with their government (remember those arguments about death panels!) Of course, this serves only to deepen public cynicism, discourage voter participation and increase feelings of political alienation (Riley, Hollihan & Klumpp, 1998) Polling confirms the strategy is working (Pew studies)

29 The strategy has consequences: Threats were made to members of congress who voted for health care reform The Southern Poverty Law Center reports there has been a 244% increase in anti-government “patriot” groups (from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009) Militias –the paramilitary arm of the movement – grew from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009

30 Does history repeat itself?

31 Civic virtue matters: Elected officials are sworn to the following oath: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same” This obligates them to conduct themselves in a manner that strengthens and not undermines our democratic form of government – remember Dewey’s notion of democracy requiring arguments that “preserve our ways of associated being” Those who profess to love their country must learn to responsibly disagree and argue in good faith When they don’t their fellow citizens and the media must call them out on it


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