Common Ground: Honesty about the Other Side’s Position

March 7, 2009

It’s hard to find common ground when your opponent doesn’t care to be honest about your position. When this happens, discussions become derailed as you try to correct their incorrect perceptions.

Ronald Reagan agreed with me. This is from a 1964 stump speech for Barry Goldwater:

Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, “What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.” But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.

Yet any time you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we’re denounced as being opposed to their humanitarian goals. It seems impossible to legitimately debate their solutions with the assumption that all of us share the desire to help the less fortunate. They tell us we’re always “against,” never “for” anything.

Click here for more of his speech.

Many on both sides of a debate find it expedient to misrepresent the other’s position. It’s expedient because we accept it. Rather than allowing both sides to state their positions and evaluate the merits of those positions, we believe the misrepresentation and close ourselves to further consideration. Why should we consider the opinion of someone “against” something good?

The question I would have loved Reagan to answer in this speech is why the private sector is better than government outside its legitimate function. Rather than make this case, Reagan spends the rest of his speech trying to fix the incorrect perception that free market supporters are against good things.


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