February 8, 2005

Depressing email.

I received an email today that began:
Usually don't read you, since I'm rather liberal (by today's attenuated standards anyway) and have lost my tolerance for the right half of the blogsphere. But happened by your blog...you are absolutely correct about "Crumb" ....

I'm writing from the middle, trying to talk to everyone. I'm trying to be honest, and I think I have some interesting things to say. But I know there are lots of people who see themselves on my left -- though I bet I'm to their left on some things! -- who view my blog as poison, not to be touched. I find it hard to understand what these people imagine themselves to be doing. It's not that I think everyone ought to read my blog, but I can't understand how people interested in politics feel averse to reading bloggers who are in the middle, who are not blogging in order to stir up the troops on one wing or the other, but who are genuinely trying to speak honestly, as an individual and who are open to argument. It's awfully sad. And the fact that I find it sad, by the way, is evidence that I really am in the middle, because people on the right think it's great that the left is isolating itself this way. I know you people on the left aren't reading this, but if you were, I would tell you: the right is laughing triumphantly.

UPDATE: One reader writes:
I read mostly rightwing blahgz .... and I also read Kaus, Atrios, MyDD, DailyKos and lurk DU and you are more middle of the road than Joe Gandelman in my book. You have a slightly conservative slant on some things (I mean you aren't "out there") but on social issues I'd put you are slightly liberal. That's just my guess.

Pretty accurate.

Another reader writes:

I'm a liberal and I enjoy your blog a lot! ... There are a lot of liberals and lefties who aren't in the mood to listen to anyone to their right (as opposed to ON the right) these days. Their behavior may very well be self-defeating. But it shouldn't be surprising. Consider what most liberals have endured politically over the past 15 years: They elect the politically-moderate Clinton and hold their noses while he triangulates, only to watch as the GOP destroys his presidency over personal indiscretions. Gore loses a contested election and liberals are asked to unite behind Bush for the nation's good, only to watch as Bush behaves as if he has a mandate to ignore them. Liberals are again asked to stand behind the president after 9/11, only to watch as he uses the tragedy to some degree for political gain - and victory in the 2004 elections. Liberals are ridiculed for their opposition to Iraq, and ridiculed FURTHER when their doubts about WMD prove correct. To this history, add the incompetence of Democratic candidates and elected officials, who have largely failed to present a viable ideological or policy alternative to conservatism or Bush's war on terror.

In other words, large swaths of the nation are unrepresented in national politics, and feel betrayed by past efforts to find common ground. This is not merely bitterness from Bush's reelection. Wouldn't you feel disenfranchised if you were on the losing side this often, and under sometimes-dubious circumstances?

At some level, liberals have nobody to blame but themselves. Their party was coasting for decades since the 1970s, and they let it happen. But you cannot discount the role of conservatives, whose divisiveness has contributed mightily to the current situation. Most liberals I know have simply decided that they've been marginalized, by their opponents and their supposed representatives, to the point that they have no stake in engaging public debate. That includes a lot of reasonable people who read the papers and vote, not lefty activists who wouldn't listen to conservatives under any circumstances.

Both sides have done plenty to polarize current political discussion, but as the party in power, it is the GOP that reshaped the playing field to create these conditions. Only a fool would believe that the rise of conservatism is purely ideological and hasn't also resulted from a change in political tactics driven by conservative activists.... If we are living in the conservative era that so many right-wing political pundits crow about, then aren't they most responsible for the climate that is driving reasonable people away from reasonable, moderate debate?

Despite this gloomy analysis, remember that your blog is popular for a reason: You strive for thoughtfulness and fairness, and people recognize that more often than not.
Another reader disagrees that "the right is laughing triumphantly":
I think people on the right are also horrified at just how left the left has become when people like you and Jeff Jarvis and Instapundit are labeled as conservative or hard right, and are unable even to read what you have to say.

When people who are professors at NYU start believing that David Corn of all people [is a] Karl Rove plant at worst and betraying their own side at best - and thus seek to ostracize him - they've gone all unhinged.

I mean, if they can't read you guys, the centrists, and think even the left is betraying them, and this wave of thought is becoming more and more status quo, how can anyone actually on the right have a conversation with them? They've made themselves unreachable and untouchable.
I concede that plenty of people on the right agree with me that it's terribly sad.

Still another emailer:
I've been reading your blog regularly and you're doing just fine. Keep on keepin' on, please.

What I like most about Althouse is:
a) its eclecticism. (Your blinds are up! Woo hoo!)
b) that its not primarily a political blog, even though you sometimes write about politics
c) that it's written by a someone pretty close in age to me
d) and that you usually write with such a common sense tone.

Your correspondent's putting you into the "right half of the blogosphere" doesn't make any sense to me. The only justification I can think of for that would be your choosing Bush over Kerry. By itself, that hardly makes you a right-winger, so I think it says more about his/her politics than it does about yours.

Voting for Bush counts for a lot, which I kind of understand but kind of also think is a strategy for failure. If the majority of people voted for Bush, you need to try to understand the most liberal segment of those voters if you want to become the majority.

ANOTHER UPDATE: As I've said before, I think there are some people on the left who want to be that fervent, self-regarding minority.

ONE MORE: Here's another email:
[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.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Another email:
Thank you, thank you for your moderation! Thank you for sharing the letters from your readers. It's so nice to know we are not alone! I am a moderate, and have moved to the left of most of my childhood friends, but am (apparently) considerably to the right of most of the people in my new neighborhood (a "faculty ghetto"). I have been able to have a few polite but intense conversations with self-described progressives, but only when they didn't know beforehand that I was "on the other side." It is, indeed, a sad state of affairs when I can have a more thoughtful and open-minded conversation with the fundamentalist Christian abortion-clinic-protesting father of a friend from high school than I can with a card-carrying faculty member of a large, prestigious midwestern university. (By the way, the clinic protester was ashamed of his fellow-protesters' conduct and has since begun to express his beliefs by volunteering at a local charity for pregnant teens instead. I wonder if some of the lefty intellectuals I know are ever ashamed by anything their more extreme fellow travellers do? Would they be willing to admit it if they were?)

And another:
Let me add my voice to those who are reassuring you that yours is not a 'rightwing' or 'wingnut' blog. In fact, I can't imagine how anyone could read it that way. I don't read your blog every day, but I do enjoy its literary qualities when I drop in once or twice a week. You've developed quite an engaging blog voice. Having tried to blog myself, I appreciate and even envy that. On political matters, I sometimes agree with you and sometimes disagree. I suppose I'm a bit to the 'left' of you (for example, I couldn't possibly have voted for Bush) -- but really, I couldn't care less about that. Why, anyway, would I only want to read people I agree with? I read blogs not only to stay informed but to enjoy this new form of writing. And yours is quite enjoyable. I do hope you keep at it.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for reading to the end of what might be my longest post ever, caused by the fact that I don't have comments and wanted to include a lot of the great email this post brought in. And thanks to Glenn for linking to me in a post that mentioned the Nash Rambler, a car I have fond memories of!

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