So, here are six ways to keep the discussion rational and (hopefully) civil:
1) Try to stay objective
Before you ask for someone’s opinion, resist the urge to ask his or her political affiliation. This is bound to immediately taint their answer. Remember, one man’s patriot demonstrating free speech is another man’s ignorant thug trying to shout down any opposing view. I find it easiest to say that I am a tourist from Grenada here on holiday and I have no opinion on the matter.
2) Turn down the radio (or television)
I am, of course, over-generalizing here. But understand that most of these people are trying to boost their ratings to increase their advertising revenue. Do you honestly think they are trying to deliver credible, unbiased information? Think ‘Death Panels’ and ‘Grannie Euthanasia.’ The real facts are usually quite boring (see #5).
3) Do not forward anything you receive via email, unless you have verified its veracity
Realize that, like the children’s game ‘Telephone’, the message gets more distorted the farther it travels. Some tell-tale signs of sneaky skullduggery (see #4) are emails that get longer and longer, and ‘verbatim’ speeches from politicians that contain a hodge-podge of quotation marks, inconsistent tenses, and editorial commentary from the sender all mixed in together.
4) Check your facts
Don’t become part of the misinformation machine. Before you state or repeat something as fact, make sure it is a fact. Pundits on both sides have been either misstating, distorting, or downright making up ‘facts’. There is too much at stake and too many serious issues to debate to get sucked into childish arguments akin to whether the manned moon landing was a hoax. (Still falling for that one, are we? Then check out the MythBusters take on it)
Some good resources for fact checking include:
Snopes.com – this is a debunking site that researches questionable emails and internet-based scams
FactCheck.org - this is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and tries to cut through the spin slung from both sides of the aisle
PolitiFact.com – famous for its Truth-O-Meter, Politifact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times, one of the most respected newspapers in the country
Don’t take the chance of being called a stooge – avoid using any major network as a source, since these are allegedly tools of either fascists or socialists (see #5).
5) Consider the source
Americans for Free Rights, Consumers for Insurance Choices, Patriots for a Better America…
Sound like your neighbors organizing to voice their opinions, right? Problem is your neighbors can’t even agree on what shade of beige meets the architectural committee’s by-laws or whose dog left the poop in old man Cratchett’s begonia patch. And how did they come by a multi-million dollar television advertising budget?
There are many factions that potentially stand to make (or lose) a lot of money depending on how this turns out, so you can bet that there are some big bucks being spent to get their message across to the masses.
Hey, here’s a thought: why not actually read the proposed legislation instead of conjuring up a Stephen King novel?
H.R. 3200 Text and other links from the Library of Congress
Actual text of H.R. 3200 – from OpenCongress, a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group
6) Keep your emotions in check
Don’t write emails with ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!
This goes for both ends of the political spectrum. Contrary to popular opinion, these belletristic tricks do not make one man more patriotic than another (nor sound more intelligent).
Now HAVE A NICE DAY!!!