Over the past year, I’ve become involved in several, er, discussions on Facebook with liberal friends. I have some on social media who like to engage on political topics, and we often have substantive, civil, even fun chats about various topics if I post something with which they disagree. They seem to read widely, and they don’t reduce every argument to “I’m right, you’re evil.” (And, by the way, “evil” can mean anything from lacking compassion to not caring enough to having ulterior motives — it doesn’t mean “Satanic.”)
But here’s something I’ve noticed if I weigh in on their walls to a discussion they’ve started. A lot of their liberal friends will start piling on, some with sophomoric attacks (um, like one who posted a picture of Einstein sticking his tongue out in response to something critical I’d posted about Hillary Clinton) and some with links to articles from places like Talking Points Memo and Think Progress. And when they link to these items or mention them, they never add a caveat such as “I know this is a liberal source, but there’s valuable information here.”
It always leaves me wondering: Do they know these are purely liberal sources? Do they get that these points of view are likely affirming their own, but there might be other information they’re missing?
But how would they know, I then speculate, how biased their sources are if, say, their main conduit for news is something like the New York Times or even CBS or NBC or ABC? How would they know, if they’re avid devourers of popular culture, movies and TV shows that skew left and also affirm their point of view?
Conservatives live in a world where countering views bombard them every day. When I read a good article in National Review or the Wall Street Journal, chances are I already have heard the other side’s arguments and rebuttals, or I will read or hear them shortly. The media is dominated by liberal voices. Even before I see on Facebook a liberal moan about the Republicans blocking SCOTUS nomination hearings and how awful it is, I’ve heard it on a couple news networks already. But many liberals are unlikely to have heard in-depth coverage of the conservative view unless they watch Fox News’s evening newscast, and if Facebook posts are any guide, Fox is the devil on steroids.
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that, yes, there are mirror images of this approach on the conservative side, folks who only read conservative websites and publications and only watch Fox. Their understanding of their liberal brethren can become stunted, as well, but even so, they’re more likely to be hearing more liberal messages and points of view than liberals hear conservative ones.
Where this problem of un-self-awareness becomes particularly acute with some liberal friends is when discussing critiques of their “team.” Numerous times I’ve seen posts that indicate they think Democrats/liberals hold the moral high ground, that, whatever Democrats’ history of obstructionism on judicial nominees, it’s just not as vile as what Republicans are doing, for example. Or they think that criticism of President Obama is unprecedented, that never before has a president been so vilely denigrated, etc. etc. (It’s at this point that I usually urge them to Google “Bush Hitler” or I remind them of back in the day when hate for Reagan was so high that even Nancy Reagan’s choice of a mastectomy over a lumpectomy for breast cancer was criticized. You don’t get much viler than that.)
When I was involved in the school choice movement years ago, I learned pretty quickly that you can’t just read the studies and reports coming out of places like Heritage, Cato and the like if you expect to effectively debate the head of the NEA. You have to read the studies and reports that they tout, too. You have to know what their arguments are. And it’s not just because you want to rebut them. It’s because you need to really understand them, especially their fears and hopes. You shouldn’t just dismiss them.
We’ve just had seven years of a president who, too often, seems to be dismissive of the hopes and fears of the half of the country who didn’t vote for him. I often wonder if he and his advisers only read and watch and listen to points of views that affirm their own. It leads to division and polarization.
You don’t need to agree with those who don’t share your point of view. But you should at least be able to understand them. My advice for my liberal friends: read more outside your comfort zone. Watch Fox News’ Special Report in the evening occasionally (I watch MSNBC a lot). Peruse the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Pick up an article by Jonah Goldberg at the National Review from time to time. There’s a world out there that isn’t evil. It just doesn’t always agree with you.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.