Friday, April 10, 2009

Loaded Questions

So I was invited to answer a question on a writing site I occasionally visit. The question was:

"Do lobbyists in Washington represent the interests of the average American or those of corporations, labor unions, associations and other special interests?"
My response is below:

When answering a question, there are a great many things to consider - target audience, factual research, the vernacular of those involved with the subject matter, and many more. What is often overlooked when answering a question - such as the question above - is the inherent bias implanted in one's answer by the phrasing of the question. This process is known as making a "loaded" question.

This question provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the loading process at work.

Consider for a moment the possibility of running for office. To win, you must gain the trust and the votes of as many people as possible. Is the easiest way to do this A) appealing to the average American, or B) appealing to small groups of Americans who are only truly concerned about one or two things? There is a fair argument to be made for either answer, so let's ask the real question - when attempting to win the greatest number of votes possible, is it preferable to appear to be working for the average (and consequently most numerous) American, or to appear to be working for small, limited groups with small, limited interests?

The question, you might say, begs the answer.

The truth, as always, is more nuanced, and requires a bit of history. Luckily, this being a representative democracy - the sort which absolutely cannot survive without an educated and activist citizenry - a short history lesson is never truly remiss.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is probably the most well known amendment, with the possible and unfortunate exception of the Second Amendment. Most any grade school student would know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of (and from) religion; the better students would probably know it says something about free assembly, too. And the honours students? They could likely tell you that the First Amendment also guarantees you the right "to petition government for a redress of grievances."

This less well known but nonetheless fundamental right ensures that every American citizen is guaranteed access to their elected officials to state their case for how they feel the government should be operating, particularly when the government is not operating in a manner they approve of. Certainly important for any democracy that hopes to be truly representative, and surely effective in the days of gentleman farmers and low population. But how, in today's high-tech, high-powered, high-finance Washington, is the common, average American to get their voice heard and their grievances redressed?

If only there was some method of joining with like-minded citizens and send a representative of your interests to argue your case before Congress...


So do lobbyists in Washington represent the interests of the average American or those of corporations, labor unions, associations and other special interests?The real answer is, of course, that no lobbyist represents every American, but instead represents the special interests of groups of like-minded, hard-working, entirely average Americans like you and me. Don't like abortion? There's a lobbyist to represent you. Against the war in Iraq? Lobbyists are petitioning the government on your behalf. Are there abuses to the system? Sure - any time there's an intersection between capitalism and politics you'll find corruption, something the modern Republican Party has demonstrated with such enthusiasm that I need not even include an example. But when it comes to the issues, you name it - somebody's petitioning about it. And that is as average, and as American, as can be.

Properly understood, even the most loaded question can be disarmed.

1 comment:

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