Agreed-Upon Facts

In the world of America’s National Football League, a former coach, Jim Mora (Sr.), is renowned for a press-conference at which he is asked whether his team will advance to the playoffs. “Playoffs? Playoffs? Playoffs!” he shouts, repeatedly and sarcastically–to indicate that his team first has to show it win A game and play with skill. Playoffs? Out of the question.

In our pseudocracy, one might be forgiven for reacting the same way to the idea of agreed-upon facts that may underlie or precede a debate. Facts? FACTS? Facts! You must be joking.

On the radio the other day, a spokesperson for a politics/media not-for-profit organization said he believed it’s now virtually impossible to have a real debate with “the other side” because “the other side” won’t agree to any facts and because it isn’t interested in genuine policy-debate, or even in principle-debate.

To my mind, it doesn’t matter which “side” this fellow represents. He’s right.

So, today, President Obama did what presidents do: spoke of getting the economy going–“making stuff and selling stuff.” All well and good, but I think regularly we need a primer and what the government can (literally, is able to do) to stimulate the economy and what it can’t do. Clearly, it can, and did, save GM’s bacon. It can also forcefully encourage car sales, the purpose of which was to clear out a massive world-wide inventory (I know a car-dealer or two who agreed that there was simply too much inventory out there). But otherwise, what’s cyclical and structural and what isn’t? Most economists must agree on a few consensus-points in this regard.

Then there’s the Republicans’ stated claim that the health-care reform program “kills” jobs. There seem not be data that support the claim, and there do seem to be data that do support the counter-claim, tentative as it might be, that the reform may create hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs–in addition to achieving some of its main purposes: getting 30+ million into some kind of insurance program, modestly regulating insurance-companies, and so on. But the GOPers’ proposal, of course, is not data-dependent. It may not be data-cognizant.

Data? Data! You must be joking. It’s hard for me to joke about this, however, because I have some familiarity with the Aristotelian tradition of rhetoric–in which some consensus or common understanding of a situation, its facts, is essential to deliberative debate, meaning debate about what to do about something in the future, as opposed to forensic debate, which concerns an interpretation of something in the past.

What do do? Well, when in doubt, create a TV show. “Agreed Upon Facts.” Before two or more people may debate or discuss, they have to agree upon some facts. No agreement, no discussion. “Next!”

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One Response to “Agreed-Upon Facts”

  1. wildbillhaltom Says:

    I like this premise for a show. “Agreed Upon Facts” won’t attract audience, however, so we’ll have to play with titles. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan or the late James Schlesinger is usually credited with some variant on “You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.” Is there a title therein? Or should we call the show “More Than You Know” after the Youmans/Rose/Eliscu tune? [I’d be happy to enhance the lyrics to fit the show:

    More than you know / More than you know / You’re doing fine / And then you blow]

    Contrast the envisioned show with a slogan at the beginning of “The McLaughlin Group” — ” … the hardest talk …” In Ann Coulter’s America, is that supposed to be a virtue?

    Since 1994 Ben Wattenberg has hosted “Think Tank” on PBS. That is as close to “Agreed Upon Facts” as television has gotten, to the best of my information. Take a look at his conversation with Ben Stein — “Bueller?” Bueller?” — in 2008. http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript1306.html Isn’t this the sort of reflective, calm, thoughtful conversation you have in mind?


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