25 May 2005

Arguments Are Good

Jonah Goldberg today:

A second and related annoying assumption is that arguments are bad. Whether you think the Democrats were right or the Republicans were, their disagreement over judicial nominations was healthy. It informed the public about extent of judicial power today. For the first time in a generation (at least), Democrats were speaking eloquently about the glories of constitutional tradition and the need for the Senate to curb government activism. I may disagree with the substance of many of their points, but this was a grand teaching moment for the public and both parties. But nooooo, once again, the assumption was that arguments are a danger to the republic.

I’m sorry, but the Senate is a debating society. Its job is to debate and then vote on the strength of the arguments presented. Comity and collegiality are fine, but they are supposed to elevate the arguments, not obviate them.

Besides, it is far more dangerous when democracies choose not to have arguments. This is because political arguments represent conflicts of legitimate interests and legitimate perspectives. Intellectually shabby compromises by their very nature don’t settle the disagreements, they merely postpone and exacerbate them.

Darn straight? Recalling my brief encounters with Speech and Debate back in high school, the purpose of the 'debate' side of things was to discuss both sides of the issue, with the ultimate goal of presenting a more persuasive argument than your opponent. Granted, one could be assigned to the side of an issue opposite how you really felt about it, but still... engaged, rational discussion should be the rule. The majority and minority will have their positions, each side should be given the opportunity to persuade the other of the validity of its position, and then in the end the position with sufficient support (strict majority, 2/3 majority, whatever) should have its way.

The filibuster is an interesting historical institution, though one that in the past has probably at times probably beneficial. However, as in the language of the Memorandum of Understanding put forth by the Senate on Monday, it should only be used in 'extraordinary circumstances' - when a Senator in the minority strongly believes that something should not be allowed to come to pass, not just to play partisan politics.

Debate is good. Let's stick to that.

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