Comments: Ed Felten, law and policy debates, and being accused of lying

I've been thinking quite a bit about the lack of civility in political discussions, and it seems to me we lack a model of what is acceptable and what crosses over the line. Which leads me to my Eddie Haskell Rule on Public Policy Discourse. In a nutshell, it states that you should never treat a political opponent any worse than Wally Cleaver treated Eddie Haskell. Wally was well aware that Eddie could be a two-faced, manipulative, overblown jerk, and didn't hestitate to tell him so at times. But Wally always treated Eddie as if he were worthy of respect. Seems like a good way to go.

Posted by Tom McMahon at August 18, 2003 08:31 AM

I would say rather that different people have different models about what is acceptable and what crosses the line. After all, one such difference is what my, and Felten's, posts are about.

It's very easy, in the abstract, to say to always treat one's opponents with respect. But a big problem is that tends to lead to an outcome of kicking people when they are down. That is, when someone who is under wrongful attack in some way reacts strongly, they then get to deal with people telling them they shouldn't have reacted that way. So the net result is they suffer the wrongful attack and then "second-order" attack for reacting not-with-respect to the first one. This doesn't seem like a good thing to me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at August 18, 2003 08:57 AM

Interesting commentary and discussion. I was struggling with a (somewhat?) similar issue in preparing an essay on a "politics and power" involving Seth and others.

At one point, I thought I had the key to what was inappropriate about what happened on a certain bigshot law professor's blog, and that it had to do with an interpersonal-relations stance that's in almost every philosophy. (The one about treating others as you'd hope to be treated.)

Then, thinking about it again, I realized that "others" has different meanings for Big Time People: that is, the only "others" who deserve to be treated as people are other Big Time People. As for Little People, it's not kicking them when they're's just shoving them out of the way at any necessary point. They aren't, after all, people who mean anything.

This is all deeply discouraging. And I found I couldn't put the essay together in a way that served any purpose. But then, I'll always be a Little People. (In the larger political spheres, at least.)

Posted by Walt Crawford at August 18, 2003 12:21 PM