I often get into political debates in which one of the participants is ignorant of the basic facts. Worse yet, that ignorant person is usually me. Oh, and it’s usually the other person too. We think we’re entitled to our opinions, but we probably aren’t.
Imagine an objective standard for deciding who is entitled to have an opinion on a topic. All we need is some sort of wiki (user created website) where the basic facts on any debate can be assembled in the form of an ever-evolving multiple choice test. When you find yourself in a debate with someone who hasn’t yet passed the test on that topic with a score of 100%, you declare yourself the winner by virtue of being better informed, assuming you scored 100%.
If both of you have taken the test and scored less than 100%, you declare yourselves “not entitled to your opinions” and walk away. If each of you scored 100% then you are, by my definition, entitled to your opinion.
I suppose the website would need to send out emails to anyone who took the test whenever a new question was added or altered, just to keep everyone current. That means you would need to register when you took the test.
For example, let’s say the topic is How to Reduce the National Debt. One question might look like this:
1. Which of the following ways to reduce the U.S. national debt is impossible
(as opposed to politically difficult, painful, or highly unlikely):
a. Increase taxes
b. Cut spending
c. Grow the economy
The answer is here, at least according to one expert.
Another question might be something along these lines:
2. Supply Side economics holds that cutting taxes will stimulate enough extra growth in the economy to increase tax revenues by more than the amount you cut, thus reducing the deficit. According to 90% of economists polled (per some hypothetical survey), in the case of the current U.S. national debt, this approach has the following potential:
a. Likely to succeed
b. 50-50 chance
c. Unlikely to succeed
d. Zero chance of succeeding
You can imagine a few dozen more questions on this topic that a person would need to understand before being entitled to his opinion. And if this dream ever comes true, I’d like to see opinion polls limited to only the people who scored 100% on the basic facts.
The second thing I’d like to see is the television media labeling pundits in real time. That sort of interview might go like this:
Media: How would you balance the budget?
Politician: I would cut spending.
Media: What part of the budget would you cut to balance the budget?
Politician: I would cut the pork.
Media: If you think that’s enough, you’re either a liar or an idiot. Can you clarify which one you are?
Politician: I am insulted by that question!
Media: If you understood the question that rules out “idiot.”
That fantasy can’t happen, obviously, because no one would agree to go on a show where the questions are tough and the outcome is humiliation. But I can dream.