Adversaries vs. Enemies
On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh recounted having run into Bill Clinton at a steak restaurant, shaking his hand, saying “Mr. President, it’s a pleasure to meet you” and engaging in some brief small talk. Apparently, this provoked some angry responses from listeners:
I’m already getting e-mails, “You’re falling in with the enemy. I knew it! It happens to every one of our conservatives. They get famous, and fall in with the enemy, even you.” What am I supposed to do, folks, when he comes to my table? Am I supposed to stand up and leave? Am I supposed to turn my back? What am I supposed to do? I’m not that kind of person.
One would hope not. Clinton isn’t my favorite fellow on the planet but he’s not exactly Charlie Manson, either. I’m unlikely to run into either of the Clintons while dining and even less likely to have them interrupt my meal to exchange pleasantries. Were it to happen, though, I’d certainly be cordial.
Indeed, I can’t think of any significant figure in American politics where that wouldn’t be the case. Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and plenty of others have irritated me in their public personae but I’m not going to spit in their face if I see them. They’re out there in the arena and I respect that even if they come up short again and again.
Ann Althouse observes that, “from what I’ve seen, people who are hostile to each other in the public arena act pretty cordial in a social setting. I haven’t blogged about it, but I’ve had social interactions with some of my biggest enemies in the blogosphere — including sitting down for a meal together — and it was completely friendly.” So far as I know, I don’t have an “enemies” in the blogosphere. I have met several prominent bloggers on the other side of the aisle and found all of them to be decent people worth having a conversation with.
Indeed, I though that was the whole point of this exercise. What is a political blog if not a conversation with readers and, through cross-discussion, other bloggers?
With some exceptions on the lunatic fringe, I think people who disagree with me are wrong, not evil. I’ve met plenty of bloggers, think tankers, professors, congressional staffers, party operatives, and the like from all across the political spectrum and haven’t found any strong patterns in terms of sense of humor, intellect, and basic human decency.
Indeed, like most people who are passionate about anything, I find myself having a harder time fitting in with groups consisting entirely with people on my “side” than those with a wide variety of viewpoints. As with religion, small differences seem to divide more in politics than big ones. Liberal bloggers seem to hate Joe Lieberman more than they do George W. Bush and conservatives target more vitriol at John McCain and Rudy Giuliani than Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy. Plus, people let their guard down more among their “own kind” and presume everyone shares their extreme view of positions X,Y, and Z and their contempt for anyone who holds positions X’,Y’, and Z’ where ‘ represents even the slightest deviation from the Absolute Truth.
We’d certainly be better off with more cross-ideological discussion and civility than less. The realization that people who see things differently are people is a helpful starting point.