Political discourse shouldn’t be a bumper sticker

    I started to leave a comment on Rick Esenberg’s blog post on the subject, but then my comment started getting so long, that I thought it was best to make it into a post on its own. Here’s the beginning of his post:

    "My Backstory friend Jim Rowen is concerned about political and social dialogue in our community. So am I. It’s one of the reasons that I continue this blog which, to date, has resulted in neither fame nor fortune. Jim was concerned that Charlie Sykes characterized one of his posts about the blogosphere’s coexistential crisis as ‘hating’ conservatives. He (Rowen) wrote: ‘And let me point out that I get along fine with any number of conservatives, including my Backstory (WMCS-AM 1130) roundtable colleague Rick Esenberg, the conservative blogger and Marquette Law School teacher. Have we disagreed about many things? Of course. That’s part of the reason Eric Von had us as regulars (I have fallen away: Rick is more reliable). But do I hate Rick? Of course not. And I’d be shocked if he said he thought I do."

    I see a lot to be concerned with among many of the political commentators, even Sykes, (Jeff) Wagner, and (James) Harris which Rick seems to think aren’t that bad. I especially see it among commentators like Bill O’Reilly in the national media. I also see it among many of the commentators on the left, and even among many of the columnists and bloggers who gain great attention for themselves.

    What so many tend to do is lump together groups of people in large groups, and then condemn them together with simple labels and little explanation. You see it when they talk about "the left," and how "they" hate America, as if hundreds of thousands or even millions of people can be easily lumped together in that way, and somehow "hating America" is some simple notion.

    You see it in how "neocons" are talked about by some, and how the definition of that word has become so broad as to be nearly meaningless.

    All sorts of new words and phrases are being thrown about so that some commentators don’t have to go to the trouble of making arguments any more. They can simply throw out a label like "secular progressive," and suddenly everyone nods. Of course, the problem with "the culture" (as if it’s singular") are those damned "SP’s."  They’re the ones responsible for my lot in life! Any time you can take a label and make an acronym out of it is really a bonus, and Bill O’Reilly should be commended for his creativity.

    I worry about all of this because in the zeal to simplify all these arguments, we’re narrowing down the spectrum of views into things that can only fit into big boxes.

    You’re either on the left, or you’re on the right. Left means you believe in a, b, and c, while right must mean want x, y and z. Never mind that most people have a much wider alphabet of beliefs, and that some on the "left" might actually believe in x, and vice versa.

    That complicates things too much. Acknowledging such a spectrum in opinion would require that people actually make arguments against ideas instead of people, and Lord knows we can’t have that.
    In general, I try (not always successfully) to debate ideas.  And for my part, I generally stop listening to people when they start saying "the left" or "the right" too much. If the basis of your argument comes down to those sides, then I don’t want to be on yours.


    Nick Schweitzer of Wauwatosa is a software consultant, amateur photographer and political commentator. He writes a blog at www.nickschweitzer.net.

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