The beauty of Facebook is that it expands the notion of—and I hate this word in this context, but I can't deny its fitness—community. I can easily get friends from distinct periods of my life, who would never otherwise have the opportunity to meet, talking. Such was the case on Monday, when a former journalism colleague from my time in Chico, Calif., and a musician friend in San Diego engaged in a conversation about the potential perils of online public education.
The vehicle for the encounter was my first-ever Facebook call for ideas for this week's editorial. I'd been unable to settle on a concrete idea, so I tossed the matter to my friends. Amid suggestions such as decrying the “madness” of “mayonnaise in squeeze bottles,” advocating the distribution of free ponies for every man, woman and child and discussing “how the celebutard phenomenon is a direct refutation of the very idea of Heaven, since it proves that an existence free of want is intolerable” (?) was a serious recommendation from one of my more conservative friends.He wanted an exploration of the death of genuine dialogue in American discourse. He cited right-wing freak-outs over “death panels” and “socialists” and left-wing responses that dismiss the Right as “racists.” He pointed to a study by The Project for Excellence in Journalism that showed that 55 percent of press coverage of the healthcare debate has been about politics while 8 percent has been about policy. “We are actively promoting, like Christians and lions, the fight, but actively and purposely avoiding responsible dedication to honorably stating our position,” he concluded.
I expressed my general agreement, but then, as expected, one of my liberal friends jumped in and said the Right has been a far worse offender than the Left. “I think there is a tremendous difference between lambasting Bush for his administration's violations of the Constitution, and the knee-jerk labeling any of Obama's policies as socialist.”
I had to agree with that, so I asked my conservative friend for examples of the Left's ad hominem attacks other than charges of racism. He said the Left is more “passive aggressive” in its rhetoric, failing to acknowledge the values on which this country was founded (personal responsibility and free-market economics) and labeling those who adhere to those values as “haters” who want to see the weakest among us suffer.
I can truly empathize with any conservative who feels unjustly labeled as an uncaring beast—that must be frustrating—but try as I might, I simply can't conclude that both sides are equally at fault in the irrational-rhetoric arena.
Even amid the Left's angriest critiques of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, I can't fathom anything as nutty and scary as what's been coming from the Right over healthcare and Barack Obama's address to students. Bush & Co. entered us into an unnecessary, brutal, astronomically expensive war and trampled all over international law, the U.S. Constitution and the very foundation of the American judicial system (is that crazy rhetoric?); Obama is only slightly left of center (if that) and has only tepidly pushed the concept of launching a government insurance option to compete with private insurance. When Republicans controlled the federal government it took a hard-right turn; when the Democrats took over, there was no discernable shift whatsoever (whether Obama's responses to the economic crisis were left-leaning is debatable and too complex to explore in this small space). Hell, we on the left can't even get a fair hearing on single-payer healthcare because Obama took it off the table before the get-go.
Last weekend, Obama quietly accepted the resignation of green-jobs policy advisor Van Jones, who was outed as a left-wing extremist. I don't recall anyone holding extreme right-wing views being kicked to the curb by Bush. The most right-wing radical of them all was allowed to remain vice president for eight years!
The Left doesn't have anything equal to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. The closest we can come is Keith Olbermann, but I would argue that he has annoyingly ratcheted up his rhetoric as a response to Beck and Limbaugh and the high-office holders who parrot their loony, dishonest ravings (I much prefer the moderated leftist tones of Rachel Maddow).
I value honest debate with folks like my conservative friend—nay, I revel in it—and I welcome the counterargument that I am so entrenched on my side that I'm blind to the sins of my cohorts. Please let me know what you think—and let's all take the high ground.Write to email@example.com.