November 2007 Issue
by Jon Graef
As a follower of current events (both in terms of the actual circumstances as well as how they are covered in the media), I find it incredibly frustrating that the political discourse in this country is defined, almost exclusively, by false dichotomies. A false dichotomy, in essence, is a logical fallacy that portrays a situation in which two alternative positions are held as the only conclusions that one could come to when, in fact, there are more options available that simply haven’t been considered.
One of the most obvious examples, in recent times, of a false dichotomy is the debate leading up the Iraq war. To use mild hyperbole, you either were a bloodthirsty, peace-hating war-mongerer who thought Saddam Hussein was going to get biblical on your ass in a New York nanosecond, or you were a peace-loving beatnik who spent their spare time taking hits out of a bong made in the shape of Osama Bin Laden’s skull and was opposed to the war no matter what.
We can clearly see how constructive that debate was. With the 2008 presidential election quickly approaching, it looks like a new false dichotomy is emerging. Actually, it’s pretty much the same false dichotomy that has been occurring in every modern U.S. election: It’s the false dichotomy of the two-party system.
However, there are a few candidates in this current election-cycle who are grabbing my attention, ones who I think, with further media attention, could possibly break this false dichotomy. One of them is Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, and the other is former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska).
What intrigues me about both these candidates is that, although they share policies and philosophies that are very similar in some areas and completely antithetical in others — Paul is a radical libertarian and Gravel is a Democrat — they both have the ability and the fortitude to challenge conventional campaign wisdom. The chief way in which these candidates put forth these challenges is through vociferous criticism of the war in Iraq.
As a result, both are dismissed as crazy and foolish by a lazy electorate and an incurious media.
Paul has become a pariah in his own party because he has suggested that the reason the terrorists attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, is that those who attacked us were deeply unsatisfied with our disastrous interventionist policies in the Middle East. Back in May, at a presidential debate in South Carolina sponsored by Fox News, Paul asked a moderator, “Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because we’re over there…Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that’s bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We need to look at what we do from the perspective of ‘What would happen if somebody else did this to us?’”
When asked by the moderator if he thought that the United States brought the 9/11 attacks on ourselves, Paul stated that, “I’m suggesting that we listen to the people that attacked us and the reason they did it.” Right after Paul’s time for answering questions expired, former Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani jumped right in and accused Paul of saying that the 9/11 attacks were deserved, even though Paul said anything but. Giuliani then demanded that Paul retract his remarks and from there a mini-debate ensued, with the end result being another overblown controversy in the news media which helped devolve the issue from examining the reasons behind 9/11 to a Republican pissing contest over who is “tougher on terror”. Fox News’ Sean Hannity insinuated that Paul would be weak regarding the war on terror and CNN’s Glenn Beck said that Paul “looked like the mayor of Crazytown”.
Similarly, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel has said some provocative and truthful statements regarding the state of our union, but he gets something worse than Paul’s negative attention: he is flat-out ignored. At least Paul has raised more money than some mainstream candidates like John McCain, thus putting him close to the middle tier in terms of campaign cash. Gravel barely has any support behind him. At Democratic debates, Gravel is frequently shown having support at zero percent. Even Dennis Kucinich gets at least one to three percentage points.
This, despite of his thoughtful appearances on shows like “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Hardball With Chris Matthews”. On the former, Gravel said this about why the electorate is so intellectually lazy and not reticent to clear media manipulation: “Our government is broken. Representative government is broken. There’s only two venues for change: One is where it’s broken, or you go to the people in power to do exactly what central government does…when the people are going to do that, you’re going to see [corrupt governments] dissipate.” Furthermore, consider this zinger from Gravel about illegal immigration: “[The ‘Secure Our Borders’ crowd’s] position on immigration is, ‘I’ve been against it ever since I got here.’”
For statements such these, Gravel is depicted in an unflattering manner, if he is depicted at all. He’s frequently characterized in satirical fashion, as living a hobo-like existence on “The Colbert Report”. While that portrayal is obviously meant for laughs, the mainstream media’s portrayal isn’t that far off either. Do a Google search for “Gravel” and “crazy”, and you’ll find many editorials depicting him as being mentally unhinged.
As long as neither one of these candidates (or others of their ilk) is given a platform on which to fairly and eloquently share their views, then gullible voters will not hear candidates who are willing to tell the truth regarding our corrupt policies and our inept government. But because the electorate doesn’t recognize false dichotomies, they’ll only vote for candidates who tell them only what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. Only when the public-at-large recognizes, and ultimately breaks, this false dichotomy will they get the candidates they deserve — and the policies that are so desperately needed.
CI Political File #001