Wednesday, March 24, 2004

# Posted 12:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

I KNOW ALL OF THE DISPUTANTS, so I'll merely take note of an interesting debate which has just been joined, and one in which I think there happen to be quite good points to be made on both sides. Jim Fishkin and Bruce Ackerman are about to release their book Deliberation Day, in which they argue for establishing a public holiday to set aside time each year for civic discussion of issues affecting the American republic. (There's an article version of their proposal in February's Legal Affairs, if you're interested.) The Public Interest's Brendan Conway responds this morning in the Wall Street Journal, ably arguing the classic libertarian response that among the liberties held by the American citizen, among the more significant should be counted "the liberty--most of the time--to pay more attention to, say, a child's soccer game or the NCAA tourney than to John Kerry's latest nuanced position on Sarbanes-Oxley."

I've been following idea behind "deliberation day" for some time - at Yale, I worked as a research assistant for Professor Ackerman on an early version of the book, and I've had the opportunity to attend a few of Jim Fishkin's town hall discussion events, which I found quite interesting. (Incidentally, at one recent "deliberative poll" on foreign affairs held in Philadelphia, my road trip companion and friend Adam Gordon wrote about his observations on the weekend over at the American Prospect.) My impression is that in the deliberative polls that have been held to date, there's generally substantial motion of participants' opinion toward the center ground; it's also always seemed to me that Dr Fishkin and the other organizers take great pains to prepare materials and invite guest experts covering the breadth of at least mainstream opinion on the issues at hand (Richard Haas and Madeline Albright, for instance, were both guests in Philadelphia, as were Anne-Marie Slaughter and a fellow from Heritage). And finally, unlike, say, jury duty or the draft, there's nothing coercive about this service, just a day off from work and a payment (of course, on the other hand we are in debt as a nation) for people wishing to participate.

Still, the Deliberation Day proposal is interesting enough to rise or fall on its merits, and I think Brendan has done a quite able job in presenting us with the counterargument.
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