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Deceptive political advertising: My favorite is the anti-Perlmutter ad, in which one young woman says to another that Ed Perlmutter voted to provide convicted rapists with Viagra, since, apparently, the health care bill failed to create a new exclusion specifically for convicted rapists. As a spokeswoman for the Perlmutter campaign aptly put it: “The bill also doesn’t stop Martians masquerading as humans from getting a proctological exam.” This ad was brought out to replace one that Adam Schrager had reported made two claims that were absolutely false (http://blogs.denverpost.com/thespot/2010/10/21/viagra-martians-the-latest-in-the-7th-cd/17205/). The left is not completely clean on the issue of false campaign advertising, and I’m not sure that the two sides are not equally culpable. But the right doesn’t seem to have any moral compass whatsoever. It appears to me that they will say anything, do anything, lie about anything, to dupe people into giving them the power that favors those who historically have most benefited from and least needed government’s favors.

The irony of dogma: After writing an essay (Personhood, Politics, & Truth) in response to Susan Greene’s column taking umbrage with being booed for daring to state that there is some moral complexity to the abortion issue (http://www.denverpost.com/greene/ci_16392181), another pro-choice reader of Greene’s column took me to task on the comment board for pointing out the basic similarity between a late-term fetus and a newborn baby as part of an illustration that a pro-choice position survives acknowledgement of facts that are not convenient to it, and that our willingness to put all such facts on the table rather than sweep them under the rug is essential, in all matters, to governing ourselves intelligently. I’ve found that it’s almost inevitable that, as soon as you argue against dogmatic certainty, someone who is dogmatically certain finds something in your argument that is offensive to them. And it is usually someone with whose conclusions you agree. Part of the irony in this case is the weakness of the argument she finally relied on to “prove” that there was no room for argument (you can find it on the message board of Greene’s column that I linked to above). True-believers can’t tolerate even those who agree with them, if the latter can’t also agree with their insistence that there is no other way of thinking.

This dogmatic intransigence has many facets, and is such a large part of our basic political dysfunctionality that it merits focused attention and frequent repetition. One left-wing poster posted an oversimplistic model of “corporate fascism” on the fairly like-minded blog SquareState, announcing that he welcomes all reasonable criticism, and then defined reasonable as “not harveyisms,” meaning not any kind of analysis that does not already agree with his. (If he hadn’t mentioned my name, I wouldn’t have noticed his model. It turns out that he’s someone who has gone ballistic several times when I’ve challenged his on-line counsel to Democrats not to vote for Michael Bennet, on the basis of the same shallow analysis mentioned just above).

And, of course, dogmatic intransigence is the foundation of “Political Fundamentalism”, which characterizes Tea Party adherents as well as the two posters I just described. It shouldn’t matter whether your issue is reproductive rights, corporate political influence, or the caricature of “fiscal responsibility” that Tea Partiers claim as their main issue. If it’s strong enough to prevail within your mind, then it should be strong enough to accommodate all facts and arguments. We should be secure in our positions not by insulating them against challenges, but by honing them in response to such challenges.

Some positions have no legitimate arguments at all, such as those that are outright predatory or bigoted. The challenge then is to make that case. But if a postion can pass a minimal threshold test of presenting some legitimate points, no matter how committed one may be to the position that opposes them, those arguments should be acknowledged before being dismissed, and then dismissed by counterarguments that do not simply disregard or sidestep them. That is what robust public discourse should look like.

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