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When debate becomes debacle

SEPTEMBER 26, 2012
by Maggie Johnson ’14, Contributing Writer

Growing strife and division in political debate is more than fodder for talk radio and primetime cable news shows. It’s actually hindering cooperation and progress in our society.

So says Jeffrey Brown, co-anchor and senior correspondent of PBS NewsHour, who was on campus last night to discuss “The Public Voice in a Divided America”. His lecture, delivered before a full house at the Younts Conference Center, was sponsored by the Riley Institute.

Brown illustrated what he sees as a “lack of forthright discussions and shared goals” within American politics and gave his thoughts on how this has affected the nation’s political discourse and public cohesion.

“Our partisanship has gone beyond the usual give and take,” he says. “Compromise seems to be a dirty word in American politics.”

According to Brown, the division of the American public comes in the wake of new information technology.

“Before cable and internet, we were a mass audience sharing a common experience,” he says. “Now, there are few mass events in our lives anymore. We live in a world of niches.”

These “niches”, according to Brown, have led to a weakened social unity among today’s Americans. “While there’s so much more information, there’s also less cohesion.”

For Brown, this loss of cohesion affects more than just American politics. According to him, “divisions of education, wealth, and class are worsening” as well.

These divisions, he said, are making American more irascible and stubborn. He notes that while “it’s incumbent on us all to know about our beliefs and to defend them,” it’s important to do so in a way that promotes unity and social cooperation.

Brown’s words come at a time when politics stand at the forefront of the public’s concerns. With the campaign and upcoming election, debate between politicians and their supporters is a fixture in our public discourse; however, according to Brown, it’s when debate becomes debacle that our social unity suffers.

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