Yesterday’s Thoughts

March 14, 2005

The Conversation

A conversation is a way of knowing.

When we converse we expose our ideas to the light of another’s mind. Whatever holes, rough edges, overlooked facts, logical fallacies, and excess baggage present in our ideas are aired out and exposed. If the idea can survive the conversation, it can live; if it cannot, it must die.

Having survived the conversation, we can have more confidence in our idea. Having confidence in our idea, we subject it to more conversation.

Currently our national dialogue is a mockery of a conversation. President Bush is on a 60 day road show where he talks to regular people (who just happen to agree with everything he says) and takes their questions. Without anyone in the audience who doesn’t agree with him to ask the hard questions, the dialogue cannot convince. It isn’t a conversation, it is players reading from a script.

For what its worth, the hard questions aren’t only the questions a lawyer, economist or actuary would ask. They are the questions that people care about because of their own interests and experience. They are emotional as well as factual. My list of hard questions would include some about projections for future shortfalls and the sanctity of the trust fund, but also more direct, but unrelated, questions like, “President Bush, you stand there today and make these confident claims about what will happen to Social Security in 2017, exactly as you stood there three years ago and made confident claims about WMD in Iraq. Why should we trust you again?”

Until the President has the courage to answer that last question, there will be no shift toward his views. Until the White House allows a conversation to occur, the question cannot be asked and the question cannot be answered.

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