Part III:  Jon Stewart, Charles Krauthammer,

and America’s Game of Political Telephone

 

Author’s Note:  This blog post is the third in a series of three posts on the topic.

 

Recap of the First Two Parts of This Blog Post 

            The first part of this post discussed how informed individuals (such as Jon Stewart and Charles Krauthammer) can have different definitions of the same term, but, at the same time, find that their beliefs are similar after resolving the different definitions of the term in question.  The second part addressed the reasons for these varying definitions and ways to accurately convey one’s beliefs and prevent the miscommunication.

 

Introduction

            This third and final part of the post analyzes how miscommunication between Conservatives and Liberals can impact a policy discussion.  First, in Part A, the post shares a comment from a Conservative.  As is often the case in politics and policy discussions, the Conservative does not state the reasoning behind the Comment or plan to address the issue presented in it.  Rather, the Conservative assumes that everyone knows them.  Part B lists the Conservative’s likely (and unstated) reasoning behind the comment and plan.  Part C details what the Liberal probably assumes the Conservative’s reasoning and plan to be.  Part D hypothesizes how the Liberal would respond to the Conservative’s actual plan if it were presented.  Part E presents a path to negotiate the differences between the Conservative and Liberal.  Last, Part F presents an alternative way to present the Conservative’s original comment.  This alternative states the Conservative’s previously unstated reasoning and plan, and it also addresses any assumptions which the Liberal may have.  Presenting the Comment in this way could have likely prevented the miscommunication between the two sides.

 

A. Comment from a Conservative

            The rise in the number of Americans on food stamps is unacceptable.  America must reduce the number of Americans on food stamps.

 

B. The Conservative’s Likely (and Unstated) Reasoning behind the Comment and Plan to Address the Issue

NOTE:  The Conservative does not state the reasoning and plan in the original Comment.

 

The Conservative’s Reasoning

1. The food stamp program is an important safety net for those who are unable to buy their own food.  The U.S. should keep the program but try to keep the number of enrollees low.

 

2. America should be a strong enough nation for people to afford to buy their own food.

 

3. The declining American economy and rising U.S. unemployment rate has led to an increasing number of individuals who are unable to buy their own food. 

 

4. Conservatives want to decrease the number of Americans using food stamps for three reasons: 

      (a) While the safety net of food stamps is necessary, Americans should not be forced to provide for those who can provide for themselves.

      (b) Individuals will have a higher quality of life if they are self-sufficient and not dependent on the government. 

      (c) If Americans get used to food stamps and not working, Americans may lose the impetus to work and instead become dependent on the government.

 

The Conservative’s Plan

1. Maintain the food stamp program because it is an important safety net.

 

2. Improve the economy so that individuals have jobs and can afford to buy food.  As a result, food stamp usage will decline.  It is preferable to have fewer people on food stamps.

 

3. Institute limits on food stamp usage (such as limiting the amount of time one can be on food stamps, requiring enrollees to apply for jobs, mandating that enrollees pass drug tests, etc.) so that individuals do not become dependent on food stamps.

 

4. Be lenient on limiting food stamp usage until (a) the economy improves and (b) the plan to ameliorate food stamp usage is implemented and communicated.

 

C. The Liberal’s Assumptions of the Conservative’s Reasoning and Plan

NOTE:  The Liberal is left to assume the Conservative’s reasoning and plan because the Conservative does not share them in the original Comment. 

 

The Liberal’s Assumption of the Conservative’s Reasoning

1. The federal government should not provide food assistance to those who cannot afford food. 

 

2.The government should cancel the food stamp program.

 

3. The federal government should let people starve.  This lack of food will serve as an impetus to work.

 

4. The Conservative’s comment may be a veiled racist statement.

 

The Liberal’s Assumption of the Conservative’s Plan

1. Eliminate the food stamp program or tighten the restrictions on food stamps so that the number of enrollees drops.

 

2. Let people starve. 

 

3. If people starve, others will become motivated to find jobs so that they can afford food.

 

D. The Liberal’s Likely Response to the Conservative’s Actual Plan

The Conservative’s plan to fix the rise in food stamps:

 

1. Maintain the food stamp program because it is an important safety net.

 

2. Improve the economy so that individuals have jobs and can afford to buy food.  As a result, food stamp usage will decline.  It is preferable to have fewer people on food stamps.

 

3. Institute limits on food stamp usage (such as limiting the amount of time one can be on food stamps, requiring enrollees to apply for jobs, mandating that enrollees pass drug tests, etc.) so that individuals do not become dependent on food stamps.

 

4. Be lenient on limiting food stamp usage until (a) the economy improves and (b) the plan to ameliorate food stamp usage is implemented and communicated.

What the Liberal’s response to the Conservative’s actual plan would likely be:

 

1. Agree

 

 

2. Agree

 

 

 

 

3. Agree in principle but likely disagree on the limits concerning the amount of time on food stamps, the required number of applications for jobs, and passing drug tests.

 

 

 

4. Agree in principle but likely disagree with the definition of both an improved economy and an implemented and communicated plan to decrease food stamp usage.

E. A Path to Negotiate the Differences between the Conservative and Liberal

1. Recognize the areas in which the Conservative and Liberal agree:

      (a) Maintain the food stamp program.

      (b) Improve the economy.     

      (c) It is preferable to have fewer people on food stamps.

      (d) Implement limits on food stamp usage so that individuals do not become dependent on food stamps.

      (e) Provide individuals with food stamps until (1) the economy improves and (2) the plan to ameliorate food stamp usage is implemented and communicated.

 

2. Negotiate the specific parameters of 1(c) and 1(d) above.

      Areas to negotiate in 1(c):

      (a) the amount of time one can be on food stamps

      (b) the number of job applications one must file to stay on the food stamp program

      (c) whether drug testing can be a part of the food stamp program and if one can be on drugs and in the food stamp program

 

      Areas to negotiate in 1(d):

      (a) the level of economic improvement needed before establishing restrictions on the ability to get food stamps

      (b) the degree of implementation and communication of the new food stamp plan before placing new requirements on food stamp recipients

 

F. An Alternative Way to Present the Conservative’s Original Comment

Original Comment

The rise in the number of Americans on food stamps is unacceptable.  America must reduce the number of Americans on food stamps.

 

Alternative Way to State the Original Comment

The United States should be a strong enough nation so that its citizens can afford to buy their own food and not be dependent on the government.   The rise in the number of Americans on food stamps is unacceptable and a symptom of the slow economy and increases in unemployment.  America must improve its economy so that it can reduce the number of Americans on food stamps and have an economic environment in which Americans can work and improve their quality of life.

 

The United States needs to maintain the food stamp program, especially in these tough economic times, because it is an important safety net for those who are hungry and are going through tough times.  The nation must have limits on the program, though, so that its recipients do not become dependent on the government but rather become independent and thrive.

 

Conclusion

            After considering the original Comment, the Conservative’s reasoning and plan, the Liberal’s assumption of them, and the Liberal’s likely response to the Conservative’s actual plan, one notices that the Conservative and Liberal’s views of the problem and solution to it are similar.  The main differences are the specific parameters of the plan, and these areas can be resolved through negotiation.

 

            The stumbling blocks to addressing the increase in food stamp usage were the Conservative’s original Comment and the Liberal's reaction.  The Conservative stated a comment, did not fully explain his reasoning and plan to address the situation, and assumed that everyone (including the Liberal) understood the Conservative’s reasoning for the problem and plan to address it.  On the other hand, the Liberal made assumptions about the Conservative’s reasoning and plan and did not ask the Conservative what they were.  The Liberal also should not have thought the worst about the Conservative’s motives and jumped to the conclusion that the Conservative wanted people to starve.

 

            Dialogue and asking questions could have prevented this miscommunication.  Hopefully, politicians will improve their communication, and, as a result, gridlock will decrease.

 

            Policy debates and differences are a good thing.  Working through the issues and reaching a comprise often leads to better outcomes.  The keys are to refine the language of policy debates and ask questions of the other side so that individuals can recognize and discuss the commonalities and differences between the alternatives rather than focus on unfounded assumptions.  

© 2020 by Michael B. Abramson