Lincoln v. Douglas 2.0 –why not?

Freedom-loving persons would not have wanted to do this one year ago, with George W. debating, but now, with eloquent president Obama, a golden opportunity for brand USA has been handed us by the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From July 4th’s presstv:

Addressing Iranian heads of medical universities on Saturday, President Ahmadinejad offered to debate President Obama at the United Nations headquarters in New York before the eyes of all nations of the world.

Think of it: a live showdown of ideas in the best forum we have left for a peaceful world, the United Nations! In front of representatives from almost every nation, and also–through the wonder of our instantaneous global communication web–for a global audience of billions, these two men can put their alternate visions of a peaceful 21st century to the test of reason. The contrasts, as well as the common humanity of these two would make exciting viewing, don’t you think? I predict the best ratings ever.

For my non-American friends, the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred in the 1858 Illinois Senate race between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Their speeches–one long argument by one candidate, and a then a long response, and so forth–allowed voters an effective new way to advance their ideas in the public sphere. The two became like “rock stars” of their day, and instituted a new type of modern democratic discourse–the long form debate. It’s a fascinating story, related well here.

It totally reminds me of the US Declaration of Independence, which sought to submit the argument of Britain’s north American colonies to “a candid world.” Let Barack and his potential enemy reason before the world, before hostilities break out between them, imperiling the world.

I won’t deny that I’m hopeful that our the best ideas would win. Barack’s positive and reasoned appeals would show up starkly against Ahmadinejad’s extremism. In the light of billions of screens, the relative worth of their ideas could be seen, judged, discussed.

Even as the people of Illinois were able to weigh arguments and vote in the 1858 election, perhaps the interactive web would allow for some sort of feedback and follow-up to this great debate.

Using the new communication tools at our disposal, we could transcend simplistic “axis of evil,” “death to America the great Satan,” and “Wipe out Isreal” talk. We could move on more rationally.

Or so one hopes.

One response to “Lincoln v. Douglas 2.0 –why not?”

  1. What does Ahmadinejad hope to accomplish by making such a challenge?Perhaps he thinks that that alone makes him appear intelligent.He's offering to debate the President of the United States! He's so smart!


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