The latest political topic that the media’s been selling narratives about is the different plans that have been set forth to handle America’s national debt. You can find plenty of solid to poor analyses of the plans, but piggy-backing off of Pastabagel’s post on what’s bothering you today, the important thing to focus on is people’s reactions to the discussion.
McClatchy Newspapers put out a story recently that discussed the reception House Republicans have received at town halls in their districts, with heavy Democratic turnout that the writer contrasts to the anti-healthcare turnout Republicans did. Most of the arguments on the issue come down to cut entitlements or raise taxes. But no matter which side you fall on, the thing to watch in discussions is how people phrase the discussion.
I won’t destroy Medicare,” Barletta replied. “Medicare is going to be destroyed by itself.” Christman talked over the congressman, telling him to pay for Medicare by taxing the wealthy.
The article paraphrases, but when someone’s interrupting you can usually guess the tone and word choice, and even if that isn’t the case most of you have heard a variation of the phrase “Tax the rich!” Saying “Raise taxes for people making more than $200,000″ or leaving it at “Raise taxes.” are different beasts. The first one specifies a quantitative cut-off point that you might not be a part of, and the second one leaves it open-ended to your own inclusion in it. “Tax the rich” separates you from the rich. Someone deserves to pay for it, and it’s not you. It probably isn’t any of your friends who are average middle class Americans. If not you and yours, then who?
The Other isn’t unique to the rich vs. all of us narrative, it’s just as common in every other political gap. Look at the other side of tax cuts with entitlement reform. “Cap Medicare to GDP”, “means-test Social Security” also leave you open to the possibility of being someone who loses out. “Get rid of the welfare queens” and “People just don’t want to work anymore” all are statements about yourself. You and your family are good hard-working Americans who pay your share of taxes and then some, you deserve a (tax) break.
This isn’t just a question of detailed solutions against generic solutions. Pay attention to how angry people are with the phrasing they choose as well. “Tax the rich”/”People need to work harder” both come with a sense of grievance and entitlement. All you want is your fair share. These perspectives are questions of identity. That means that discussing issues with them is an attack against who they are. They aren’t open to changing their minds.
There’s the question then: How do you shift the argument from pathos to logos for someone who’s firmly stuck on the emotional side of the issues? And where the hell did ethos go?
The quickest path to any destination is just a straight line.