Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tested Every Day

by Libby Sternberg

A recent Tom Friedman column found its way into my Facebook newsfeed, like a piece of newspaper  floating down a rapidly moving river, appearing several times as various "friends" posted it. The upshot of the column is that we need another political party in the U.S., something to replace that intransigent Republican group that is so riven by special interest strife, it can't compromise on the important issues of the day.

First, let me say how refreshing it was to read Mr. Friedman arguing to keep at least two parties in our system. Lately, he seems to be besotted with love for the one-party rule of China.

That aside, what struck me about his argument was how easy it was to turn it on its head. Every sin he accused Republicans of could be found equally and obviously in the Democratic soul, as well. In fact, I did a little Bizarro World editing of Mr. Friedman's main point and came up with a paragraph listing the Democratic special interests--everything from abortion rights zealots to union leader stalwarts to Progressives who want to chuck capitalism altogether--that keep Democrats from compromising.

And then I asked myself: why can't my liberal FB friends see this obvious flaw in Friedman's piece?  They're not stupid people. The ones who posted his column are smart, some with positions in universities, certainly all people who care deeply about the country.

All they had to do was flip the argument around to one where their "team" was on the receiving end of the criticism and ask themselves if it's true in this instance, too. If so, then is the critic's original point still valid or is there a deeper story here?

In the case of this Friedman column, you'd have to come up with a mountain of "yeah, but" qualifiers to make the switch invalid, to prove that Democrats weren't equally or more guilty of lack of compromise. Maybe a steaming mountain of caveats, if you get my drift.

But Friedman's column isn't the only one that's easily debunked. There are a whole swarm of Facebook pictures, slogans, petitions...whatever--usually traced back to some arm of Moveon.org and George Soros's money--that these friends regularly grab on to and repost without much thought, it seems to me, given to the underlying issue. They become rapidly moved by what I call the Outrage Industry, rushing to nail to the Facebook church door their angry complaints. (The Outrage Industry, by the way, doesn't necessarily have to have an impact on a particular issue to be successful. I'm sure their own coffers swell whenever they get followers het up about something.)

So, again, my question is: why do these bright liberal friends thunder, herdlike, off to "like" whatever this Outrage Industry spews forth?

Well, my theory is: they're not used to having their ideas challenged. Oh, I know, I know. How can I make such a sweeping generalization? Surely some of them are used to challenges to their beliefs? Maybe. But, if they live in the same world I do, probably rarely.

You see, conservatives, even center-right gals or guys, have their views challenged from sunup to sundown. From the moment you flip on the morning TV, you're seeing some newscaster repeat a Democratic talking point or simply not covering stories that are critical of Democrats or liberals.

How about these recent examples:

  • The mainstream media's coverage of the Occupy movement versus Tea Party demonstrations: the former was treated as a grassroots protest of value, the latter as surly, gun-loving racists with sinister motives.

  • The lack of expansive mainstream media coverage of two big administration scandals: the failure of several green energy companies funded by stimulus money despite warnings from experts; and the Fast and Furious gun scandal where Attorney General Eric Holder has given conflicting accounts to Congress.

  • The absence of setting the record straight when the president blamed Republicans during difficult policy battles--when his party, not Republicans, controlled Congress.

  • The double standard on sex scandals: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards's affair was only dragged into the mainstream media when the National Enquirer outed the story, while presidential candidate Herman Cain's alleged sexual harassment of women was given Watergate-like coverage in the mainstream media with conflicting and thin backup for evidence.

  • And, just this morning, Mika Brzezinski's slavish adoration of the president's just-released budget. (She proudly displayed a lipstick bedecked copy of the budget on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Way to go, Mika. You set women journalists back a few decades with that stunt, even if you do work for a network that leans forward left).


The one exception to this kind of coverage is Fox News, of course. But it's the ONE exception. And if some liberals had their way, it would be put out of business. Fox isn't perfect. I know that. But at least they will cover stories that challenge the liberal outlook.

Even if you're not a news junkie, your conservative ideas are still put to the test when you flip on television during prime time. There you're treated to a parade of stories, dramatic and comedic, that often portray the villain/buffoon as a conservative-minded homophobic, gun-loving, woman-hating, Muslim-despising, evangelical preacher/Wall Street financier/white father/deranged Iraq war veteran (Law & Order has about a million variations on that plot).

So at the end of the day, if you're a conservative, you're pretty used to having your worldview gobsmacked a couple dozen times or more. And if you're thoughtful, you...well, think about it. You ask yourself: is that true? Are those thoughts and ideas real and valid? You're tested, in other words, and you learn to look more deeply into what the news industry, Hollywood, or the Outrage Industry floats in front of you.

By the way, you don't turn off that analysis when you encounter ideas that jibe with what's already in your ideological wheelhouse. You still ask yourself if the ideas are true, if there's a counter argument that's valid. (For a good example of lively conservative discussion and debate, not always in agreement, read the National Review's blog The Corner.)

I'm sorry, liberal buddies. I don't think you face that same test every day. And sometimes, on Facebook, at least, it shows.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her website is here.


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