I have a friend who is a wonderfully nice fellow, good-hearted, funny, decent. But when he talks about politics, his Far-Right gene kicks in and another persona takes over entirely. His warmth and humor disappear, and so, alas, does his thought process.
I mean this literally. He sends me lots of mailing list emails, almost none of them with his own thoughts. A blank email with just an article attached, written by someone else.
(Talking to other people, I find that this is common experience for them, as well. They too have Far-Right friends who, instead of engaging in a discussion of their own personal opinions and thinking, merely attach Far-Right articles. Articles which the senders seem perfectly happy to let stand in as their own thinking. This process is only one-way: recently at a wedding, I was seated next to a fellow who kept insisting on sending me a packet of Far-Right articles proving why the Obama Administration was against the environment. I cheerfully said "sure," as long as I could send articles that explained the opposite. He didn't take me up on the offer.)
I enjoy when people send me articles. But I want that person to engage me themselves, let me know what they themselves think, why they like the article, what they think the larger meaning of it is. To let articles exist as your own thought is, to me, the definition of empty. It's why the Far-Right is so often referred to as "ditto heads." The thought process is too often left out, and others' opinion are substituted for your own.
My friend hasn't written me for a while. That's because I tend to write him back and actually discuss the article he sent and tell him why I think it's factually wrong. I don't sense he likes that. He wants me to accept the articles he sent as proof, ipso facto, The Final Word. And further, when I don't accept them, he doesn't seem to want - or be able - to respond to what I disagree with. (I don't know which it is, because he tends not to answer, other than occasionally a single reply that says, "I think the article presents the facts wonderfully, and it's so typical of the Far Left that you disparage it.") I reply, but - well, I never hear back. So, he generally has given up including me on his mailing list that receives articles.
Until the other day. He sent me another "mailing list" email with an article attached by someone named Caroline Glick that was a criticism of President Obama over Israel. No words from my friend, needless-to-say, just the attached article.
I believe that our exchange is a microcosm for the lack of political discourse today. And it will not come as a shock that I believe the blame lays heavily on the Far-Right. This will show why that's so, starting with the fact that in his initial note he didn't offer an opinion or thought.
I wrote him back -
First of all, in an effort to be fair and objective and informed, I went and checked to see who Caroline Glick was. On her own website, the very first line of her bio reads - "I grew up in Chicago's ultra-liberal, anti-American and anti-Israel stronghold of Hyde Park."
My parents lived in Hyde Park. I was born in Hyde Park. And any person who describes the community as an "anti-American and anti-Israel stronghold" is not only intentionally trying to simply be hurtful and acting out of frenzy, but showing their shameless, pure bias - and from their first sentence have discredited any subsequent words out of their mouth.
You're welcome, of course, to agree with what Caroline Glick says and use her as a source. And if so, I'm happy to give you my 91-year-old dad's phone number to discuss with him being "anti-American" and also "anti-Israel." But I suspect you're more open and understanding than she is. But the Caroline Glick's of the world only serve to advance hatred, not objective, fair, informed discussion among reasonable people.
Secondly, I quote you someone who might know better than the Caroline Glick's of the world - Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel and current defense minister, who said in an interview on CNN this past July: "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past."
Here's the full interview so anyone can see it honestly for themselves.
I hope you're well. I love hearing from you.
But seriously, please don't send me tripe like this in the future from mean-spirited, nasty people. I'm a nice guy and deserve better. I suspect that so too do the other people on your mailing list. Thanks.
* * *
Now, I'll admit to being a little more bothered than my note read. I wasn't offended, mind you, by the Hyde Park smear, I just saw it as empty-headed, particularly since calling Hyde Park "anti-Israel" is a little like calling Boston "anti-Irish" - though admittedly no one likes seeing their old neighborhood maligned as "anti-American" or "anti-Israel." But he's a friend, and I do like to be polite, to at least leave the opening for discourse, if it's possible. For what it's worth, though I moved from Hyde Park at a very young age, it's nonetheless where my parents went to college and then lived while starting up a young family. So, I felt my friend would have an "Ooops!" mea culpa moment when read my reply.
This is what I got instead -
I wouldn't discredit the whole piece because of one assertion at the outset. The body of the article is factual and quite disturbing to me. The Ehud Barak quote does not surprise me at all. The fact that he's supportive of Obama indicates that the Israeli Left is quite in opposition to the Israeli Right, as is the case in America.
I am mystified as to why you think Caroline Glick is "advancing hatred" but I am used to such examples of unsubstantiated slander from the Left. I have also never experienced any mean spirited nastiness from my friend Caroline Glick, who I've always known to be thoughtful, wise and caring woman. It's too bad that a brilliant person like she is must endure these kinds of epithets because she's happens to be a woman.
Anyway, all the best.
* * *
Sometimes, you stare at words and ponder the thought process that went on to create them. You question whether a person can be so truly unaware of the contradictions they make. And you wonder about the close-minded effort someone makes to dismiss out-of-hand any information that doesn't conform with their pre-conceived notions. All the while needing to invent a paper monster that doesn't exist, but makes it comfortable to justify yourself. Once again, I bent way over backwards to be more than kind. It was more difficult following that response, but I tried -
You may be willing to accept Caroline Glick's personal opinion of Barack Obama's relationship with Israel over the first-hand experience of the former prime minister and current defense minister. I'm not as willing. People can disagree on the best tactics to achieve like goals, but I think a good starting place is at least not dismissing the validity of experience, whether or not it's something one agrees with it.
That aside, you talk about "unsubstantiated slander from the Left," when I quoted to you from her own words, yet Caroline Glick's very first sentence is itself, literally, unsubstantiated slander. "I grew up in Chicago's ultra-liberal, anti-American and anti-Israel stronghold of Hyde Park." There is nothing "unsubstantiated" by me quoting her own words - and everything unsubstantiated by her defaming an entire community without evidence. (An "ultra-liberal" community, by the way, that she fails to mention includes the right-wing Chicago School of Economics. Were you aware of that?)
I'm sure Ms. Glick is a lovely friend of yours. Please, though, if you are willing to accept calling others "anti-American" and "anti-Israel" as not mean-spirited or showing deep bias and are therefore willing to turn a blind eye to not seeing how that discredits everything she writes, at least spare me from having to accept that standard. When such bias is the starting point, it can only color every opinion that follows. In a court of law, juries are told, "If you perceive the witness to be lying in one thing, then you may presume they are lying in everything." It holds when one's first words are so angrily biased. That's why her following words are all discredited for any objectivity or fairness.
Ultimately, if you are unwilling to seeing how defaming an entire community as "anti-American" and "anti-Israel" is not "advancing hatred," then you are intentionally closing your eyes to it. And that's a shame because I think better of you.
Clearly though, you don't think better of me. Because for you to suggest that my criticism has anything to do with her being "a woman" is unsubstantiated and, I'm sorry to say, beneath your better spirit. I deserve better. I've always been honest, fair and open with you. And I criticized Caroline Glick because she said something wrong, mean-spirited and hateful ("anti-American" and "anti-Israel") about my parents, me, and my family. And about that entire community. Not because she is a woman. Because she was wrong, and hateful. Whoever she was.
Best wishes always.
* * *
He never wrote back.
To be clear, both sides of the aisle have their issues with public discourse. Everything thinks they're right and can be pretentious in making their point. Myself included. But that doesn't mean all problems are equal. And this exchange most importantly shows that imbalance and therefore the problem at its most basic...because it exists on my friend's Far-Right side to eliminate debate of opposing views. After all -
When someone is unwilling to acknowledge that painting an entire community as "anti-American" and "anti-Israel" is not divisive - and considers that quoting someone's own words is "unsubstantiated slander" - then you have a total disconnect with even wanting to have a discussion.
When someone dismisses a country's Defense Minister and former Prime Minister solely, purely because the minster is liberal, rather than on what is said, you have created a wall that entrenches that disconnect.
At its core, this attitude supports the Far-Right view of compromise, a concept normally defined as "an accommodation in which both sides make concessions." Yet we have on the record, the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, saying, "We will not compromise." We have Richard Mourdock, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee from Indiana, saying, "I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view." We have the voice of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, insisting, "Compromise is not the solution." Together, this is all a barrier to open, fair-minded discussion, where solutions are found.
I don't believe my Far-Right friend wants to have a discussion. His emails show he doesn't even want to voice his own opinion. And good and nice a person as he is, any opinion (other than the small fearful box he has chosen to let other people define for him to live in) is to be demeaned.
I enjoy hearing someone else's opinion and discussing it. I enjoy hearing facts to back up that opinion. I enjoy honesty in supporting those views. I actually enjoy being shown that I'm wrong, when I am. Who wants to live in error?! And if I disagree with someone, and they with me, so be it. I'm fine with disagreement. We've put forth our views fairly.
If you hate my opinion, fine. If I hate your opinion, fine.
But for goodness sake, have your own opinion. And back it up.
Otherwise, it's just flapping lips and air. And it hurts everything it touches, including America.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg