That’s the essential thought in Bill Clinton’s concluding remarks on the sixth day of the 2008 Aspen Ideas Festival. It also happens to be one of the pillars of the FORA vision.
We at FORA love debate, but dialog is something different and arguably more elevated. Debate is often (though certainly not always) an exercise in proving and disproving, in overwhelming an opponent with evidence and rhetoric. It frequently begins with adversarial assumptions and plays out more like a verbal boxing match than a conversation. It does have the virtue though that it always plays out the opposing viewpoints – two sides are represented and in good debate it becomes impossible to make either side into a caricature.
Real dialog aims for an exchange of ideas and viewpoints and begins with assumptions of good faith all around. The sad reality about America’s public discussion at the moment is that it tends to be neither real debate nor true dialog. The American public conversation has been broadly reduced to two giant echo chambers – Rep Barney Frank points to the left blogosphere and the right talk radio as two groups that yell to their own constituents, caricature their opponents as morons while rarely bothering to actually engage them.
These are some wise words from President Clinton. And since it’s my job and my passion to shamelessly flog FORA.tv, I’ll add – enabling dialog through a substantive exchange of ideas is a core part of the FORA mission.
And on a related note – congratulations to the Aspen Institute for putting together such an incredible event. I’m writing right now from a breakfast conversation bt Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic and the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit and my head is still buzzing with a week’s worth of vibrant dialog. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with their people and being present here.
Luckily, anyone that wants access to these events can get it via FORA.tv. Go here to see more http://fora.tv/partner/aspen_institute