Saturday, February 12, 2005

When Moderate Looks Like Hard Right

Ann Althouse considers herself to be, and is, a moderate (she was on my daily reading list for many months). She voted for Bush, though, so that makes her some sort of extremist in the eyes of lefties, most of whom refuse to read her. She posted about this and recieved many e-mail responses. I liked this one:
[Y]ou have mentioned feeling sad at the way your moderate political views are seen by some on the left. I think I know just the feeling you're describing. … The sadness I feel that I think might correspond in some ways to yours is that, a result of my political evolution, almost all of my old friendships are in trouble.

Nearly everybody I count as a friend from the first few decades of my life is still true-blue, and now that I am multi-colored, I find that I cannot talk about politics with most of them at all. They genuinely cannot bear to hear one word about the ways in which my thinking has changed. To them, it seems, admitting that I don't share every one of their views on the war in Iraq, or the privatization of Social Security, or the artistic genius of Michael Moore, or whatever the topic of the day might be, would be tantamount to admitting that I am no longer a good person or a potential friend. These are well-educated, intelligent people who wish urgently to be good and to do good things in the world, people who think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant. And yet their minds seem to me to be anything but open. Deep down, I don't think most of them believe that it is possible for anyone to be a worthwhile person who holds political views different from their own. Many of my old friends seem to have constructed their self-images around the belief that it is their political liberalism that defines them as good. The result appears to be that no liberal tenet can safely be challenged or even closely examined without threatening all of their beliefs about everything, and especially about themselves.

I have come to suspect that to many of my liberal friends, there really isn't a political spectrum of various views out there. Instead, there are just two categories: good views, which correspond with their own, and terrible views, which don't. Some of these folks are so quick to categorize, so eager to label. The word "Republican" is an all-purpose shorthand category for selfishness, greed, stupidity, ignorance. The word "corporate" serves the same purposes. Anybody who did not thoroughly oppose the war in Iraq is a war-monger. Anybody who wonders if affirmative action is still a good idea is a racist. Anybody who thinks some gender differences might be inborn is sexist. Anybody who doesn't hate George Bush is stupid. Anybody . . . well, you get my drift. To me, this haste to label and demonize difference appears to be a way to avoid the risks inherent in thinking, a way to keep the mind securely shut.

I don't really understand this. … I am married to a Republican, so political disagreement is a daily feature of my life. My husband and I talk about politics all the time. We debate, compare, disagree, agree, tease one another, pound the table, shout, laugh, grumble, ask the kids what they think, learn things from one another. Once in a while I change his mind about something, once in a while he changes mine. Most of the time, neither of us manages to change the other's point of view one bit -- but we have a good time trying. We did have to teach ourselves how to do this. It didn't come naturally to disagree without fighting, and once in a while we lose perspective and get angry for a while. But this happens less and less often, and most of the time, our discussions are fun. I would love to have conversations like this with my old friends. I think our twenty- and thirty-year-old friendships are strong enough to stand a few areas of disagreement, just as my marriage is. But I can't find a single liberal friend who thinks this way. To them, any disagreement seems to be synonymous with the complete downfall of all understanding and shared history. They veer away from discussion, change the subject, or even ask openly if we can stop talking about whatever-it-is because it makes them too uncomfortable.

There are, of course, narrow-minded labelers on the right as well as on the left. But like you, I've noticed a certain willingness to entertain and explore civil disagreement among many on the right that seems to harder to find on the left. Why? I wish I knew, but I don't. I'm just glad that people like you keep blogs, so that I can remind myself I'm not the only person on earth who approaches politics the way I do, nor the only one who sometimes, as a result, feels a little sad.

Serendipitously we have a recent perfect case in point. Just perfect.

Update: This excellent Michael Barone piece details how both the left-wing and the right-wing blogs help the Republicans, and discusses the Daily Kos site (the most-read political blog on the internet!), specifically. I see quoting a Kos ranter as fair game. Kos is the mainstream of the leftist part of the blogosphere.

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