By Frank Hyland
Food for Thought
Naïve critter that I am, it took me quite a while to nail down the reason for my vague, continuing nagging dissatisfaction with discussions on TV. There was, I thought, something missing. I said "naïve" because I believed at first that the media had my interests at heart when they designed the format for what passes for discourse these days. It finally emerged and became clear to me that the media have their own best interests at heart. I know that must come as a shock to readers who beat me to that realization by several light years.
Specifically what bothered me, it is now clear, is that putting two "talking heads" on – one from the Left, one from the Right – and allowing them to rebut each other is merely the first step in the process that I want. There is in the field of Philosophy a concept known as a "dialectic," which explains how ideas progress. For those who aren’t steeped in philosophy (and that includes your humble writer) the dialectic tells us that the standard route is: "Thesis; Antithesis; Synthesis." So, 1) I make a claim. 2) Your response is, "That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, Hyland." You and I then 3) talk back and forth until we arrive at some sort of resolution of the two views. The moderator, if any, is supposed to aid the process.
Those who’ve already made up their mind on an issue likely are satisfied with the present format that includes only parts 1) and 2). Why not? If they believe that they already know the "right" answer, they have no need for 3). The problem is (for me, at least) that later in the day, tomorrow, next week, next month, and on and on into the foreseeable future, I’ll be "treated" to the same two talking heads, holding the same opinions, taking the same positions and continuing to talk over each other endlessly just the way they did last year and the year before that. As much as I hate TV commercials (the reason God gave guys remotes), they break up the monotony of the Lefty versus the Righty talking over each other and yelling at each other, as I scream, "Stopppppppppppppppppppp!!!!!" at both of them.
It’s not enough for me (and for many others, I hope) even if an Anchor or Commentator tries to countermand the outrageous statement by Senator Obfuscate that the "Bush tax cuts were designed to help the rich" by saying, "You’re wrong." Those who take that position (The tax cuts helped the rich) publicly are either so woefully ignorant of the truth that they make the case for euthanasia or they’re lying. In both cases, they are trying to build public opinion the way that a stalagmite is built – a drop at a time. They believe (and they may be correct) that if they can repeat that drivel 7,491 times between now and November, they’ll win. So until they’re stopped in their tracks by facts, they won’t ever crawl back under that big flat rock where they live in slimy total darkness between election campaigns.
So what the Anchors and moderators must begin to do is to treat the speaker who’s gone off the deep end like a tent stake rather than inviting them back again and again and again. To use the example of refuting the statement that the Bush tax cuts were for the rich, it is a simple matter to point out that the top 1% of taxpayers fork over more than a third of tax revenues while the bottom 50% pay roughly 3%, and the very bottom earners pay nothing and still get money from the IRS. The planned
$145 Billion stimulus that seems to be all the rage these days is another example. Per Senator Obfuscate, it would be unfair to not give money to people simply because they pay no income taxes. So Walterino Gnorby, who makes $16,000 per year, will get something like $800. The prevailing theory, the hope, is that Walterino will go out and spend the money quickly. On what, you ask? Good question. Probably the basic necessities – Food, Shelter, Gasoline, Starbuck’s, an X-Box….…. To be fair, there is in Economics something known as the "Multiplier." So part of Walterine’s dollar paid to the local supermarket stays in the community as wages, and gets spent at other local places etc. It finally peters out, though. Contrast that with the much-despised "Trickle Down" phenomenon. Give as a rebate to a more well-off person a larger amount of taxes she has paid and chances are that most or all of it will end up in one of her accounts (Bank, S&L, Brokerage). That money is loaned repeatedly to people who pay it back with interest, making money for the bank and the more well-off account holder. Those who borrow then use the money to open a small store, a house-painting business, a day-care center, etc. Even Senator Obfuscate will grudgingly admit that it is those small businesses that are the primary "engine" of the US economy. It may seem logical at first to say that it’s "better" or fairer to give $800 to a lot of folks making low wages. If your goal, though, is to light a spark under the US economy and to sustain the fired-up activity through a hotter labor market, then the more well-off person is your choice. If your goal is to shamelessly buy votes so that you can continue to obfuscate, then you’ll opt for the less-well-off crowd. Walterino will stay at the job paying $16K annually and hope for more $800 "gifts" from Senator Obfuscate.
As for TV, will anchors and moderators insist that talking heads stick to the facts and back up their positions with verifiable data? Probably not. If they can get folks to continue to tune in for yet another rant ‘n’ rave, with commercials every few minutes, this will go on and on and on. Now where the @#$%& did I put the remote!?!?!?!
Frank Hyland is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.