I'd like to comment on a recent exchange I had with a conservative blogger with whom I've had occasional dialogue over the past few months. I should begin by saying this person is someone with whom I agree on some political issues (environmental sustainability) and not on others (Iraq, terrorism), but whom I basically respect as open-minded and fair. This person and her husband have repeatedly offered to share a pot of green chile stew if I'm ever in New Mexico, which I consider an unusually kind thing to do for a stranger. Perhaps one day I'll take her up on this generous offer. I've extended the offer in the other direction if she's ever in Nevada.
In a recent post, she described this article as "insightful" and "excellent." Now, I realize that the original article is intended to be satire and therefore not to be taken literally. I also realize that it self-consciously uses exaggeration. I do, however, think it's revealing in several ways.
The post reveals, I think, what some conservatives honestly believe Democrats are like. It argues that liberals hate Christians, don't care about terrorism, believe in 9-11 conspiracy theories, mindlessly follow public opinion like sheep, expect the federal government to take care of them, want to make guns illegal, detest rich people, are unwilling to work for a living, blame George W. Bush for "everything," and talk incessantly about sex. (The latter, actually, might be true.) When I pressed my conservative friend, she acknowledged that not all Democrats are like this, but insisted that it does accurately portray "the far left" (a favorite phrase of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and all the rest). She cited Daily Kos and Move On as examples of this extreme viewpoint. This is, of course, the way Daily Kos and Move On are represented in the popular media, as well.
Let's see what this nefarious "far left" looks like, starting with Daily Kos. Here are the posts on today's Daily Kos: (1) a critique of misinformation campaigns designed to attack science; (2) a post about eight soldiers killed in Iraq today; (3) a criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's blind loyalty to George W. Bush; (4) a post about Washington City Paper's hit piece on reporter Murray Waas; (5) a report on the Department of Health and Human Services's campaign for pandemic preparedness; (6) a short post on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA); (7) a brief critique of The Politico's biased political coverage; (8) a link to Greg Sargent's post encouraging Congressional Democrats to stand firm in support of a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq; (9) some commentary on a letter to Bush written by Congressional Democrats; and (10) a call for the impeachment of Gonzales.
OK. What about Move On? Move On isn't a blog like Daily Kos, but on their front page they have the following items: (1) a criticism of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) for voting against a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq; (2) a call for CBS to re-hire former General John Batiste, who was fired for political reasons; (3) a positive piece about the passage of a bill banning paperless voting machines; (4) an ad from Video Vets, encouraging the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home; (5) an action alert for net neutrality; (6) a campaign to motivate voters to go to the polls in 2008 and vote Democratic; and (7) some "success stories" and links to books you can buy.
Bringing the troops home? Supporting the independence and integrity of the Justice Department, the scientific community, and the media? Opposing government corruption and cronyism? Fair elections? If that's what the extreme "far left" looks like, then sign me up. The thing is, I don't think these values are extreme at all. I think they're mainstream. Or at least, they ought to be.
I think we are ill-served when we caricature other people's positions. This prevents us from working together on issues we agree on, and it prevents us from developing understanding and empathy when we disagree. I think that accurately representing opposing viewpoints is a key aspect of honest debate.