When two talking heads get together, one can expect a lot of….well, talk. That’s precisely what happened when David Iverson, host of the Cowboy State Politics podcast, invited me to debate him on his program. We talked a lot.
And that’s a good thing because, to paraphrase Clausewitz, when the talking stops the shooting starts.
Most of you probably know Iverson as the acerbic voice of ultra-conservative opinion, broadcasting from behind his nickel plated microphone on the piedmont of the Big Horns. A redneck’s William F. Buckley, if you will.
If he has made you grit your teeth and reach for the whiskey with his regular commentary, join the club. If you have discounted what he has to say as superficial and ill-informed, then you owe yourself another think.
I won’t recap our discussion here. You should listen for yourself. After our debate concluded, and I had hung up the phone, I was reminded of one of John McPhee’s (and we’ll remove our sweat-stained Stetsons when that name is mentioned in my presence) books, “Encounters with the Arch-Druid”.
McPhee describes a float trip down the Colorado River with David Brower and Floyd Dominy. Brower was a poster boy of environmental activism, and Wyoming-raised Dominy the head guy at the Bureau of Reclamation. Brower never met a river that he didn’t love, and Dominy never met a dam that he didn’t want to build.
The topic of discussion on that mosquito-plagued raft was the proposed Glen Canyon Dam, and whether it should be built or whether the river should flow unimpeded to the Gulf.
They were trapped between canyon walls for days, with nothing to do but talk with each other as the river bore them steadily downstream. Their “debate” was the jousting of two minds who saw the same world around them but came to diametrically opposite conclusions.
In the end, the dam was built and both Brower an Dominy are dead, so not much changed in the real world. But McPhee described two divergent points of view espoused by men who challenged each other’s assumptions as well as the underlying logic between those assumptions.
That in itself is an important lesson that transcends rivers, dams and dead guys.
Politics in Wyoming these days seems to be confined to each side spouting off deeply held points of view without an examination of the underpinnings of those opinions. Absent from our discourse is Marcus Aurelius’ instruction to find the “first principles”, the fundamental nature of things.
What convinces us to think like we do?
Iverson and I took our own float trip the other day, and I think we both learned quite a bit about what motivates our respective political convictions. Until a discussion like that can occur, where first principles can be examined, the temptation is to criticize one another’s political stances as “knee jerk”, “drunk the kool-aid”, “sheeple speak” or some other snarky term.
Until we, as citizens, can have discussions at that level – at the root of things – we are doomed to practice superficial politics.
I am grateful to David for an opportunity to do just that. I don’t think that either of us convinced the other about the rectitude of our positions, but I do believe that we came away from the conversation with a respect that those positions issue from something way deeper than sound bites.
Iverson and I can, and we do, agree to disagree. But we can now do so after a civil and gentlemanly examination of the foundations of each other’s logic.
We can acknowledge that we each see the same world, but we draw different conclusions from what we see. That is a necessary ingredient in a pluralistic society like ours.
So David, take your victory lap and I’ll do the same. I had fun on your podcast, and I’m sure we each think we “won”.
But, at the root of things, when first principles are considered, the real winner is the state that we both so obviously love.