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Skip The Rhetoric & Debate The Merits

Article-Skip The Rhetoric & Debate The Merits

Skip The Rhetoric & Debate The Merits

I’ve always been a fan of Benjamin Franklin; he lived a remarkable life and helped shaped America in many ways. He certainly wasn't without major faults, as perhaps all men are, but he evolved in the right direction on most issues.

I've always been fascinated by the vast array of pseudonyms he wrote under in his effort to gain public support or destroy the support of his enemies. It was a common practice at that time to write under various names, with the most extreme positions almost always staked out under assumed names, which I think is a little cowardly.

However, one historian justifies the tactic, arguing dissenting political and religious writings at that time were rebutted on their merits rather than by personal attacks, when they weren't tied to an individual or specific organization/cause.

At this point in time, the various positions regarding our beef industry are so well staked out that there's probably no way one could hide the identity of those who hold various positions. Still, I was just thinking how refreshing it would be to actually see the positions debated on their merits, without the rhetoric. I almost automatically discount those who frame the arguments with statements like large, multinational corporate packers, and the like because I know they are trying to evoke emotional reactions rather than advance a position based on facts.

However, the fact that they have often distorted or ignored facts doesn’t mean that all their positions are devoid of substance. While I harbor no illusions about the ultimate intentions of groups like HSUS and PETA, that doesn’t mean I should summarily dismiss everything they say.

That's something that's always amazed me about Washington D.C. – everyone has their ideology and everyone knows what various groups' objectives are, but they're readily allowed to contribute to the debate to provide facts and context. Their biases don't preclude their involvement, but they have a strict code that they follow – as distorted as it might be.

For instance, everyone understands that a group will present only those facts that strengthen its argument and advance its agenda. The other side is expected to do the same. What isn't tolerated is presenting out-and-out falsehoods.

A lobbyist can go in and talk about fewer cattle producers or record production levels, both of which might be accurate and designed to reach opposite conclusions, but misstate the amount of decline, the increase in production, etc., and have crossed the line. In part, that's because the politicians have the potential to be embarrassed. Selective, but largely accurate, facts is the mantra for lobbyists. Politicians, on the other hand, aren't held by those rules; once they've decided on a course of action, the goal becomes achieving it however possible.

While power among lobbying groups always involves the number of votes, and the amount of dollars, one can bring to bear, it also relies heavily on integrity. The great irony for those who see the political process as sometimes unseemly is that integrity and trust are the foundation of politics that seems to embody a mentality of the ends justifying the means. It explains why, from an industry perspective, the power of the various groups representing the cattle industry is so much more divergent than even the large differences in members represented and dollars would suggest.

As our political races suggest, personal attacks and personal affinities are far more effective than actual policy positions. And, they usually carry the day over the merits of various positions or arguments. But it also explains the precarious positions we find ourselves in as a result of a myriad of policies that were obviously unworkable from the beginning, but were advanced nonetheless on emotional or philosophical grounds.

I'd love to see everyone's position clearly stated, without the rhetoric and simply debated upon their merits. I have to believe not only would we be more likely to find compromise, but that we would be far more likely to enact policy that would move us forward.

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