law, truth isn't the key matter; it's what you can prove.
In political debate, the logic of your argument isn't the key
matter; it's how the debate is framed to begin with.
The debate over abortion is a prime
example. Those in favor of
free abortion rights call themselves "Pro-Choice."
The debate is thus framed as one of a woman's right to choose what
she does with her own body.
If that premise is accepted, then the
debate is essentially over before it begins.
Of course a woman has the right to choose what she does with her
own body, as does a man (within certain limits--neither can legally put
cocaine in their body, for example).
If the Pro-Life premise is accepted, then the ensuing debate is
also moot—who can possibly argue that innocent human beings should be
In order to have a reasonable debate
on abortion, the question can't be whether a woman has a right to
choose what she does with her own body (she does), or whether innocent
life should be protected by law (it should).
The question is: When
does life begin—at conception, at birth, or somewhere in between?
The same principle applies to the
controversy over war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
For example, Martin Sheen, Madonna,
and their fellow travelers call themselves "peace
activists." And how can
you possibly disagree with a "peace activist" without thereby appearing "pro-war?"
Since they are taking the position of
opposing action against Saddam Hussein, how about if we change the frame
of the debate to see what happens?
Let's start with Saddam's actions in
his own country. "Peace
Activists" could then rightly be called "Activists for Gassing
Innocent Women and Children." Those
"marching for peace" around the world would become those
"marching for dictators' torture rights."
That changes the premise a bit, don't
Saddam has admitted to past U.N.
inspectors of having chemical and biological weapons, but has not
accounted for them to the current U.N. inspectors. So how about if
we rename Janeane Garofalo's text label when she appears on cable news programs
from "Peace Activist" to "Activist for Dictators’ Rights
to Defy the United Nations?" Would
you think differently of her argument? Susan
Sarandon could become "Activist for Terrorists' Rights, As Long As We
Can Only Prove that the Terrorists Merely Intend to Murder Within Their
A bit cumbersome, but you get the
Now, I applaud Janeane Garofalo and Susan
Sarandon for expressing their views.
While their actions can be framed in different ways and their logic can be
strongly rebutted, I believe that they are loyal Americans who truly
desire peace. It is critical to the health of our Republic that there be lively
and thorough debate on vital issues surrounding war and peace.
(I join the debate not as "Pro-War," but as
"Pro-Defense of the Innocent.")
The reason this is so important is not
the difference in the ways Susan Sarandon and Trevor Matich frame our
positions; we are merely private citizens speaking out as best we can.
More troublesome is that some are abusing the power of national television
news broadcasts by employing creative "debate framing" as a rhetorical tool to
influence public opinion toward a particular political point of view. This, within a medium supposedly aimed at
reporting, not editorializing.
One prominent network anchor led
a recent newscast by saying, "And now to the Bush Administration's
campaign against Iraq."
The U.N. Security Council
unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 (which mandates that Saddam
proactively account for, reveal, and dismantle his weapons of mass
destruction--not that the inspectors hunt and peck around the vastness of
Iraq on a scavenger hunt for them.) The Bush Administration hasn't
done anything that conflicts with that resolution, and yet note
that our supposedly objective anchor didn't say, "And now to the world's
campaign against Saddam Hussein."
By framing the issue not as "the
world's," or even as "America's," but specifically as the
"Bush Administration's" campaign, he generates the conception
that this is merely a personal vendetta by the U.S. President.
And by saying that the campaign is against "Iraq" instead of
"Saddam," he generates the conception that that "personal
vendetta" is against an entire national population, rather than
specifically against a murderous dictator and his close
circle of enablers.
Never mind that it is the U.N., not the U.S.A., which passed 17
resolutions against Saddam over the last 12 years, all of which he has
(Question to those who say that the
U.S.A. is rushing to war and should give the inspectors more time to
work: How many more resolutions need to be adopted, and how many
more decades need to pass, before you figure it's enough? Seriously,
give me the numbers. Five more resolutions? Ten? This is
important to establish, because Saddam and other mass murderers are
probably curious whether it will be their children or their grandchildren who
need to worry about actual action by the League of Nations--um, I
mean, the U.N.)
In this concept of framing the debate
to influence opinion, life definitely imitates
art. In the movie "The
Lord of the Rings: The Two
Towers," King Theoden informs Aragorn that he “would not risk open
war.” In and of itself,
that is a wise stance—most reasonable people agree that open war is a
But the real world seldom presents
options as clear as whether war is good or bad.
Returning to art, Aragorn reminds King Theoden
that his enemies are already marauding and murdering in his
kingdom. Then he says to the
King, "Open war is upon
you, whether you would risk it or not."
We are at war, a war like no other we
have ever experienced. We
have already suffered thousands of casualties.
Our enemies have publicly vowed to attack our citizens abroad, and
to carry the fight to the heartland of America.
The debate is not whether war is
good or bad. The debate is this:
Now that we have had war thrust upon us, what is the best way to
defend the American homeland and our citizens
and allies abroad? Those who wish to discuss that issue are adding value to the
public body of knowledge. Those
who chant that war is a bad thing are wasting their
breath--drowning puppies is a bad thing too; we already agree on that.
And those in a position of media
influence who frame the debate so as to muddy the true issues for partisan
political effect should be ashamed of themselves.