But before answering how one should deal with these two specific issues, let me explain how ludicrous is this line of argument — we must lie rather than admit the “right-wing nuts” are right — which currently governs our discourse. Consider this:

We are on a ship. Some of the crew says that the ship has sprung a big leak. Some passengers and crew are yelling that the ship will sink and everyone is going to die.

That is a horrible situation that I don’t want to believe. Personally I don’t like the individuals who are crying out warnings. And I don’t believe everyone will inevitably die.

So therefore I will respond: The ship is just fine. Those who say the ship is sinking are right-wing extremists and should be ignored.

Or a historical example:

(This is completely hypothetical and does not correspond with historical reality) 1941: any analyst who suggests that Japan might attack the United States is a warmongering right-wing racist who is more likely to get the United States into a war with Japan. We must insist that no such war is possible because we don’t want war.

(There was, however, a real-life parallel to that one: Stalin punished any Soviet analysts or intelligence agents who warned that Germany might attack the USSR. Yes, that’s how debate is conducted in a dictatorship, but shouldn’t be the method adopted by a democracy).

Here’s an example closer to home:

There are those who say that the U.S. government has a huge deficit that’s only growing. Entitlements are unsustainable. Tax increases won’t even begin to cover it. But I don’t want to admit that is true (especially because conservatives are saying it and I hate those people!). So I will instead insist that everything is fine, we don’t really have to make any major changes, and all we have to do is raise taxes on the rich.

And that’s what’s killed historic moderate liberalism — which would have tried to come up with some solution to a real problem — and empowered radicalism, which ignores reality and just calls the other side nasty names. If you deny the problem exists at all because you don’t like your rivals’ proposed solution, then you are doomed, baby.

My central point: We should agree on what is real using proper and honest methods of analysis.

Then we can discuss what to do about it in a rational fashion. But disagreeing with someone else’s analysis because you don’t like their proposed policy amounts merely to lying deliberately, or to making a fool of yourself by denying what is obviously true and being totally unprepared to deal with the resulting crisis.

What about alternative solutions? I am against attacking Iran militarily at this time. Iran’s firing of nuclear weapons is not inevitable. Covert methods, sanctions, building alliances, supporting the opposition, containment, and other methods offer a way to counter the Iranian threat. Moreover, the ultimate strategy is that if there is a clear and present danger of Iran firing nuclear weapons, it can be attacked at that time. And the interim period can be used to prepare for such a possible operation.

Regarding Egypt, the armed forces pose one force constraining the Islamists. The election of a non-Islamist president (Amr Moussa) in June is another one. There are many things that can — in some cases are — being done to deal with this threat. Unfortunately, the U.S. government isn’t doing them and in fact is helping the “bad guys.”

In conclusion, let me lay down some proposed rules:

  1. Forget about your political view or the view of the writer/speaker. Is their description of reality accurate? Does it take the facts into account and provide evidence? Does it ignore or conceal evidence that undermines their thesis? Is the argument persuasive? Does it successfully answer criticisms of the claims being made? If so, then that person is right. You may then proceed to draw some conclusion about the proper response.
  2. Is the policy response proposed merely a knee-jerk one based on a preexisting ideology, or does it make sense? Is it creative? Does it deal with the nuances of the problem? What aspects of the problem wouldn’t it solve? Would it make things worse in some ways, including unintended consequences?

In other words, don’t ignore reality because you don’t like others’ proposed solutions. Even worse, don’t ignore reality because it conflicts with your preexisting ideological assumptions. If necessary, change your assumptions.

(If you are interested: after laying things out this way to my colleague, we had a useful discussion and found that we could agree on a lot of things that didn’t fit narrow stereotypes of how people think nowadays.)

Also read my article, “Arabism is Dead! Long Live … ?”