Asking the Tough Questions

There are numerous political talk shows that advertise that they “ask the tough questions” during interviews with public officials and politicians. Generally they follow a pretty standard format: “Did you do ‘x’? What is your position on ‘y’? What will you do if ‘z’ occurs?” It seems silly to me that these are what pass for hard-hitting questions; surely politicians have been well-prepped by their advisers to answer these well. It may be a tough question because it broaches an uncomfortable subject, but the way in which the question is asked is prosaic and unchallenging.

So what kind of questions should we be asking our politicians? I think that we would learn a lot more about them if we were to ask them what they think is the best counter-argument against a position that they hold. Not only would this likely catch them off guard, it would also show whether or not they have thought seriously enough about the issue to consider alternative viewpoints. Anyone can parrot back arguments and stick to the party line, but it takes real intelligence and a willingness to engage with ideas to be able to outline why you might be wrong.

This technique certainly shouldn’t be left to politics. Next time you are in a debate with a friend, ask them how they think an intelligent opponent would respond to their arguments. Better yet, ask yourself what you think the weak points are in your theories, or what conditions would need to hold for you to be wrong. My guess is that we would be much more nuanced in our thoughts if we did this, and that our positions would be stronger as a result of it. There is a reason why military training isn’t comprised of merely attacking a straw man, and we should expect debates to move beyond this as well.

-dp

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~ by danplechaty on January 25, 2010.

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