A Truly Debatable Issue
The term “That’s debatable” is perhaps the most incorrectly used term in the American dialog today. To anyone who has had formal debate training even at the high school level the term debatable and arguable are distinctly different. There are three descriptions that define politically charged issues today; absolute, arguable and debatable. It is unfortunate that debate is not a required course for all high schools today. The debater is required to not only look objectively at the opposing point of view, he is required to research both sides of an issue and be prepared to argue both the pro and con side with equal fervor. Next year every student who takes a debate course in the state of Texas from Mule Shoe toDallas will study the same UIL sanctioned debate question. By definition the question will have equal logic and merit on both sides of the issue. The student will burn gallons of midnight oil and countless hours for months researching the merit of both sides of the question. Only minutes prior to the actual debate after long hard hours of study will the debater learn which side of the question he or she will argue. There is an old saying with debaters, “If you have a favorite side you’re probably not very good”. The debate question universally addressed by the high school students inTexas will be determined by learned scholars in the field after months of professional research. It can of course be justly argued that no question can literally have a mathematical exact amount of merit on both sides of the issue. However, the attempt to find equality on both sides is the criteria used by the scholars who select and approve the debate question. The lack of equality of the logic and evidence of a chosen debate question directly affects the level of the playing field for the young debaters who participate in the contest.
Those issues that may be fairly labeled as absolute are few. An absolute question is one that has no merit on one side of the argument. The overwhelming majority of issues in the world of politics are arguable not debatable. An arguable question is similar to a debatable question in that there is logic and evidence to support both the pro and the con of the issue. Where the two differ is in the equality of merit on each side. Unlike a debatable question an arguable issue has the majority of evidence on either the pro or the con side of the question. The problem with the rhetoric from our news pundits and politicians regarding arguable questions is that both sides try to treat the issue as being absolute with no respect for the merit of the opposing point of view. Frankly the inept practice of declaring the other side to be totally void of merit weakens the best of arguments. Only by recognizing that your opponent’s argument has merit can an intelligent proponent or opponent of an issue make a creditable case. It is common knowledge that a good debater listens for his opponent to make a statement that can be rebutted. However, it is not as well known that a great debater delights in hearing a point from his opponent he or she can agree with. Indeed a rebuttal that concedes a point to one’s opponent establishes the credibility of the debater conceding the point. No logical judge can come to any conclusion other than to concede the absolute integrity of a debater conceding a point to his opponent. Frankly, the tactic takes a bit of courage but reeks with undeniable credibility. Once that credibility is established especially on a minor point the next five points the skilled debater challenges his opponent on are believed by the judges. To challenge your opponent on every point is to ask the judges to believe that your opponent is totally lacking in skill and intelligence or both. We live in a nation that is governed only by the will of the governed. When politicians and media make their case regarding issues the judges are the people. If one listens to FOX News (and I do)Americawould believe that every Democrat in the nation is totally without the first ounce of gray matter between their ears (and I don’t). By the same token MSNBC would have us believe that there is no credibility at all with any politician in the Republican camp. Common since of course tells us that the hundreds of noted lawyers, doctors and other respected degrees on both sides of the political fence challenge either concept. Like the debate judge the citizen is prone to discredit the merit of anyone suggesting that their opponent is totally without credibility. It is assume and I believe justly so that the argument that the other side is totally wrong is motivated by political allegiance and not logic.
What we are fond of calling a debate today in the world of politics strikes all who have had formal debate training as humorous. An actual debate has rules that must be followed. Under no circumstances will a participant of an actual debate be allowed to exceed his allotted time to make his argument or rebuttal. It is unthinkable for a debater to interrupt his opponent. Regardless of the merit of his case such inappropriate behavior will disqualify the debater. Even if what we call a Presidential Debate that does have set rules no moderator has ever strictly enforced the constant violation of these rules. It is embarrassing that grown men who aspire to be the President of theUnited Statesclearly demonstrate to every youngster in the country their lack of respect for fair play and the rules of debate. If a debater loses focus and does not directly address the opponent’s argument in his rebuttal he will lose points and probably the contest. If the debater states an opinion that is not backed by factual supporting evidence he will be eaten alive by any capable opponent. Today what the news media label as debates are little more than childish yelling contests void of any degree of acceptable behavior. If one cares to witness maturity, skill and decorum by debaters I suggest they attend a local high school debate in their hometown. You will not find this degree of quality thinking on Capital Hill. Lord knows there is no such ability that can be found at1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
While most arguable political issues are inappropriately labeled debatable by the media and our politicians today as Grandpa used to say, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then”. Such is the case with the Patriot Act that is being argued by our Congress today. After a great deal of research I have concluded that this is as close to a actual debatable issue as I have seen for many years.
The Patriot Act was of course implemented after 9/11 by the Bush administration. The act was meant to enhance our newly formed Department of Homeland Security. It should be noted here that history will show that one of the most extraordinary acts of any President in the history of our nation was the almost immediate creation of one of the largest and most effective departments of our federal government by President Bush. As is his nature the President has never really taken the appropriate credit for this monumental success. While it is of course obvious that no task of this magnitude will be perfect in every detail the positive result of the virtually instant building and implementation of this huge government have effectively protected our nation on several occasions from a repeat of the worst act of terrorism in the history of the world. Again while no agency of this organization’s scope can boast perfection there is no question that few if any government agencies have the exceptional track record of the house that George built.
With a clear and present danger to his nation President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security supported by the Patriot Act. The fine tuning of the job that was done in absolutely necessary haste is indeed the responsibility of our Congress and current administration. There is no such thing as a program of this size that does not lend itself to scrutiny and revision after it has been on line for a period of time regardless of the obvious extraordinary success of that program.
It is generally accepted that the state ofIsraelis considered to be a free society of free people. That said the obvious necessity for extraordinary security measures by a nation under siege and targeted for terrorism is a given. There is always a question of the line in the sand regarding the loss of personal freedom and the security of a nation. The citizens ofIsraelhave unfortunately grown accustom to a lack of individual privacy based on the degree of threat from their terrorist neighbors. The down side is of course the loss of personal freedom. The upside is the preservation of life itself. Prior to 9/11 Americans were blessed with a feeling of security within our own borders that was unparalleled in the international community. Not since the War of 1812 had anyone dared to attack the biggest dog in the pen on our home turf. On that black day in September when thousands of our countrymen were murdered in our streets our world changed. No longer could we assume that we were not vulnerable to terrorism. UnfortunatelyAmericawas suddenly thrusts into the need to act decisively and immediately with a mandate to protect our nation on the home front.
Did our focus on security after 9/11 degree of sacrifice regarding our personal freedom? Absolutely. Was the degree of sacrifice of individual freedom and personal privacy a fair trade off? Now folks comes the honest debate.
I must admit that my personal view of the Patriot Act is somewhat slanted by the basic nature of a professional military man. Indeed it can be fairly argued that those of us who have held the responsibility of security for the lives of others are somewhat over zealous regarding the security of our nation. That said those of us with military backgrounds should be ever mindful of the oath we took to defend the Constitution of the United Sates of America and the freedoms of guaranteed in that hallowed document. It may be fairly argued that we can not throw out the baby with the bath water by sacrificing freedom in the name of security. It can also be argued that not providing the absolute best security for our nation is worth the loss of some personal freedom.
There is no question that the relaxed requirements placed on law enforcement agencies regarding electronic and personal surveillance represents a loss of the personal privacy Americans have enjoyed for centuries. I personally believe that this trade off is an acceptable compromise between the loss of personal freedom and the necessity for national security. However, we must be very vigilant regarding the oversight of this new concept. We must make a clear and absolute distinction between the gathering of intelligence for the sake of security and the gathering of evidence to convict an individual of a crime. In the field of security there is a necessity to obtain classified data regarding a threat to our nation her citizens. Often out of absolute necessity the procedures for the gathering of this intelligence does not protect the individual’s personal freedoms. When that is the case our security folks should be free to use the collected data in their pursuit of security but under no circumstance should that information be presented as evidence in a court of law. Nor should intelligence data obtained in the arena of national security be published or disclosed outside of the need to know security agencies.
The enhancement of our ability to gather intelligence data based on the Patriot Act is of great concern to the opponents the relaxed standards of protecting our personal rights and those who feel the necessity for guarding our nation’s safety. Both sides of the argument have legitimate concerns that are motivated by a guanine love for our country. Both points of view warrant our respect. While I support slight tweaking of the act’s provisions, I am in general support of the measures taken by the legislation. However, I respectfully submit to my allies who support what I consider to be a regrettable necessity that we must pay the price of accepting such drastic action by constant oversight to insure the maximum amount of personal freedom possible in our nation. There is no question that the argument that failing to use evidence found based on the relaxed restrictions on our law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies under the Patriot Act will allow some guilty people to not be prosecuted. However, I submit that the concept of allowing some guilty to go unprosecuted is preferable to prosecuting anyone without the protection of the freedoms we hold dear.