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Feet in the Water

For awhile, at least since Jon Stewart got Crossfire cancelled by going on the show and issuing some (fairly vague) complaints about it, I've been wonderng what a political talk show should look like. Bill Maher provided one example of a way to mix the idea with comedy/entertainment, pulling in movie/tv stars along with the very occasional political figure to discuss political issues. The show was moderately interesting, although much more interesting would be to discuss political theory (with figures as well as other people) on a one-on-one basis (talk show-style).

Current events would be a less interesting focus - it'd be interesting to talk more of foundational issues, which are largely neglected in public discourse. I think this neglect is problematic because although I would not expect unanimity on these matters, I don't think we can expect to understand anyone's political philosophy based on what is said (it's like judging icebergs by their caps). More importantly, this creates a culture where lack of conviction seems to be standard faire (whether it actually is or not is hard to tell).

One of the facts of political life in a democratic system is not to take unnecessary stances and be vague when possible - any stance is something that a slice of the demos will disagree with (otherwise it is not much of a stance), and in a society that is politically childish enough (as ours is, I claim), stances are thus a risk - people improperly judge political figures using a "disqualification" lens rather than a "who is better for my value-interests" one (at least, those that don't generally vote party-line (which is theoretically often reasonable if one discounts party-corruption, insofar as the parties represent moderately cohesive clouds of value systems)). Getting figures to actually speak on these matters would likely be tough, but if it raised the level of dialogue, both from the side of those running and fixing the lens people use to vote, that would be, I think, a great thing.

Ideas of questions I would love to regularly ask:

  • Should political figures be statesmen who come to politics with ideas and convictions they hope people will accept, or should they be representatives who come to politics who define themselves by regularly polling their (desired?) constituency?
  • Is it risky for you to define yourself too precisely given that you may accept identities or positions that some people will never accept in a candidate?
  • How do you think our political climate is shaped by the particulars of our form of government, as compared to parliamentary or differently representative systems in Europe? Are there aspects of our system that you would like to see changed, in an ideal world?
  • What is the role of charisma in politics?
  • What attributes does an ideal candidate have? An ideal voter?
  • What party planks do you see as most important in your party? Are there planks that you disagree with or don't see as particularly important?
  • Are political parties important or inevitable in a democracy like ours?
  • What kinds of issues are potentially nonpartisian, and can bipartisian effort work when different values are at stake?, and can bipartisian effort work when different values are at stake?, and can bipartisian effort work when different values are at stake?, and can bipartisian effort work when different values are at stake?, and can bipartisian effort work when different values are at stake?
  • What factional shifts do you see coming within your party?
  • How important is it to support your party's candidate, and have you strongly supported candidates you were not thrilled with out of party loyalty/stronger disagreement with the direction of opposing party candidates?
  • Under what circumstances could you imagine yourself voting for or supporting someone from the other party?
  • Do you think third parties play an important role in American politics in modern times?
Keeping such a show friendly/civil would be essential - hostile discussion of philosophy easily becomes very shallow. More philosophically minded people would of course potentially get much deeper questions than these.

I have a suspicion that I am not nearly charismatic nor well-connected enough to ever be in a position where I could ever have a show like this, and even were I, having the show cancelled for saying something similar to what Bill Maher said that got his show cancelled seems possible (although maybe the point of the show being to talk to others about their ideas rather than with them about mine would make that less of an issue). I'd also like to think that I've become much less snarky from who I was during my undergrad years (ideal: people should usually be very civil and as fair-but-decisive as a judge, with deviations from one or both of that being remarkable events rather than standard faire - failing too completely on either of these puts one much on the way to being a troll, and failing either can easily be an inpediment to really understanding how people fit together mentally -- "I don't understand people who believe X, it's insane" vs "X might make sense a number of ways if you accept that people might not be like you"). Still, it's another absurd fantasy.

It'd be interesting to have eyetrackers in coffeeshops and other places where people often do people-watching of the street to see what kinds of things they tend to look at.