Political Debate Should Be Encouraged, Without Conditions


The “value” of political debate on the issues should be listed in the Preamble of the Constitution (as opposed to the Bill of Rights) as being encouraged, as opposed to the debaters avoiding the issues and instead resorting to personal attacks that take away from the issues themselves.  But even more dangerous to the concept of debating the issues is when one debater (Person A) triggers what I call the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” against the other debater (Person B) which essentially terminates the discussion of the issue.  This “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” is when Person A gives to Person B a label that would/could ruin their career if it were true. 


By way of history, I will give some examples.  In the 1950’s in the US, there was a US Senator named Joseph McCarthy who had a mission to subvert any suspected “Communist” in the US.  The US Senate had hearings against people/politicians/actors who may have had “leftist” political ideas, and their lives/careers could have been ruined if they were determined to be “Communist”.  The Senate panel did not discuss or debate the logic or the worthiness of the person’s ideas, nor did they discuss if those ideas may have been good policy;  rather, they just determined if the person was a “Communist”, and that was it for the person.       


Now let’s go to modern day UK.  The political winds have shifted since 1950, but the concept of the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” still exists.  Today, the label of being “Communist” may not be a career killer (ex.  Ralph Milliband and his relation to the LSE), but today there are other words that are the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression”;  for instance, that is the “r” word (“racist”), or the “x” word (“xenophobe”).   For example, if the topic of immigration is discussed (whether in the UK, US, France, Germany, etc…), Person B is essentially “walking on egg shells” being cautious of honestly expressing their views out of fear of Person A using the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” (the “r” word or the “x” word).  This fear stifles honest debate of the issues, for which Person B may or may not have valid points to make, but fears of raising those points out of fear of the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” harms the debate.  This scenario also happens with other issues too in addition to immigration.  For example, 5 years ago there was a discussion of social housing reform, and Boris Johnson referred to it as “Kosovo style social housing” (see, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-11640219).  Here, Person B was compared to the slaughter of thousands of people in Kosovo;  as ridiculous a statement as this was, it did result in being a “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” on this issue.  (I am not making any general statements on Boris Johnson, as the future “Boris autobiography” may be grand, but this one paragraph in the future “Boris autobiography” is meritless).


Of course I don’t expect anything better from politicians or the PR people working for them.  But, I do notice that this “nuclear option” or “debate suppression” also occurs in academia, which is a forum to have honest discussions on the issues.  Academia is not just about being right on the issues, but listening to others and hearing what they are saying as that Person B may add to the conversation.   I raise this latter point because I did notice that personal attacks occurred in this LSE project;  I of course don’t expect academia to be a completely “sterile” environment free of personal attacks as that is not realistic, but Person A’s should be reminded to focus on the issues, and minimize/end personal attacks as the one harmed of this may be the “people”, as Person B may actually have some good ideas which may go unnoticed due to the fear of what I call the “nuclear option” or “debate suppression”.  As such, Person A's should be discouraged. 


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