Sunday, June 29, 2014

A remarkable outburst of civility

Louis Michael Seidman
Via the usual roundabout way (one click leading to another), I came across this 2013 item on the Library of Economics & Liberty website in which libertarian economist Russell Roberts interviews Constitutional scholar Louis Michael Seidman. Seidman had recently published a book, On Constitutional Disobedience, arguing, as Roberts puts it, "that we should ignore the Constitution in designing public policy, relying instead on the merits of policy regardless of their constitutionality." Roberts has little sympathy with this thesis, to put it mildly.

The two delve deeply into what it is that the Supreme Court is really doing when it declares a law constitutional or unconstitutional, and what would happen if the justices and the rest of us admitted how little the Constitution constrains interpretations, whether liberal or conservative; that is, how badly the "calling balls and strikes" model fits the facts. It's an intense back-and-forth between two well-informed debaters on a topic about which they deeply, fundamentally disagree. But there's this delightful aside (my bolding):
Roberts: I'm going to push back on that in a second, but before I do that, I want you to talk about Constitutional Disobedience generally, which you've written about; and you invoke it in your article, arguing that it has a long history. You mention Jefferson. Talk about some other examples that you might want to refer to.
Seidman: Before I do that, I hope you won't mind if I just say it is a real pleasure to have an intelligent conversation with somebody who is skeptical about my argument. Over the last several weeks, I've gotten something over 1000 abusive emails, many of them anti-semitic, some of them threatening violence. So this is a pleasure.
Roberts: Ditto. I get to do it every week, so I'm lucky.
(Note: Roberts and Seidman are referred to as "Russ" and "Guest" in the original.) 
Indeed, the discussion is thoughtful and respectful throughout, and (to me, at least) extremely interesting and productive as a result. At the end, both men say they learned something; I did, too.

If only more of our political discourse looked like this.

Addendum: It's a more of a traditional Q&A than the above, but Tyler Cowen's interview with Ralph Nader strikes me as another good example of two well-informed people actually talking substantively with each other, not just scoring points. The full, unedited version is here. (PDF)

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