Archive for January, 2012

Show Business for the Unpretty

“Deal with people according to their intelligence” – imparted circa 1979 and repeated often since then

So we were on our way for a little “between-the-holidays” trip. As the minivan plied the interstate across the Connecticut countryside north of Hartford, the nagging started.

The kids had brought a handheld video game system with them for the ride. My son apparently was on a tear playing some action game, and did not want to let his sister have her turn.

As the arguing reached a crescendo, I looked in the rearview mirror and tried to mediate.

“Why don’t you just share the video game with your sister?” I asked my son.

“Well how much should I share it?” he asked.

“Half the time,” my wife and I responded together.

“Oh so I have to give her half of everything I have? Fine when I get home I’ll give her half my clothes, half my toys and… ok great ..she’ll even take half my room! …..

Really, Dad? Don’t you think that’s unfair? You’re always talking about people taking half your money!”

My wife looked like she was about to make a move into the backseat.

“Nice strawman,” I calmly replied.

“What?” the boy replied quizzically.

So I explained to the him the debate tactic of the strawman, where a debater attacks an argument that is easy to refute but which is also an argument that was not made by the other side.

Unfortunately, these tactics are not limited to children arguing. In the recent Presidential debates they have been on full display for all to see. Amongst the deceptive debate tactics used by almost all the candidates are:

  1. Name calling – Since I can’t make a cogent argument, then you Sir are an idiot!
  2. Changing the subject: On the subject of energy independence I just want to say that I faithfully served my country for 25 years…..
  3. False premise: Now everyone knows this policy is just and fair so if you oppose it you are against justice and fairness!
  4. Sloganeering: Everything changed after 9/11
  5. Cult of personality: Ok so my opponents policy would actually solve something but I’m better looking than him! Don’t you see my expensive hairstyle with the perfectly placed touch of gray….
  6. Vagueness: We will be free and energy independent by 2013!
  7. Scapegoating: If it wasn’t for people like Mr. X, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

So what does this mean? Do we expect politicians to be honest and straightforward and make logical, cogent arguments about weighty policy issues?

Actually… yes.

In another vein, the media members asking the questions encourage the degrading of the atmosphere into some smarmy gossip show. A sampling…..”Mr. X, I have an important question to ask…Blackberry or iPhone?”

Seriously?

The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Who are the idiots in this debate…. them….or us?”

A long time ago, a wise old man advised me to deal with people according to their level of intelligence. The presidential candidates must hold an exceedingly low opinion of their audience. How else does one explain the simplistic diversions, made up arguments and lame personal attacks that permeate the so called debates?

They are tailoring their message for the perceived level of intelligence of the audience. Which begs the biggest question of all….are they right?

We hope not…but back to our little holiday trip…..

As I talked the kids into sharing the video game amongst themselves. My wife and I began chatting about what just happened.

“I don’t like the way he comes up with these excuses,” she commented. “I’m going to speak to him about being more straightforward.”

Not being able to resist, I smiled, put my hand on top if hers and smoothly said, “Relax, he could be President someday.”

It was a real quiet ride after that.

Have a great week,

Michael Bechara, CPA
Managing Director
Granite Consulting Group Inc.
mbechara@consultgranite.com
www.consultgranite.com

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