A challenge from a Democratic friend came the other day in the form of a semi-lengthy blog post on Vox.com by someone I've never heard of named David Roberts. While it was clearly written from a staunchly liberal point of view, it actually contains a number of smaller points that I didn't find altogether disagreeable, such as that most "independents" actually share ideology with one party, or that conservatives are unhappy that the growth of government seems to be unstoppable.
The broader point, however, is highly problematic, extremely partisan, and very damaging to our political process.
As I see it, Roberts' central thesis seems to be that the parties aren't two diametrically opposed equals with contrasting policy proposals but that they are fundamentally dissimilar to one another. "The parties are not mirror images at all," he writes. "They are different beasts entirely."
He goes on to explain that Republicans are more rigid politically and less willing to meet Democrats in the middle, quoting political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein in defining Republicans as "ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
Putting aside the wonderful attempt to be "dismissive of the legitimacy of [your] political opposition" by claiming your political opposition is dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition, this is an ad hominem attack at its worst. At least when a frustrated liberal in his basement uses an Internet comment board for an insult-filled screed against those right-of-center, he doesn't assume some pseudo-objective tone of a brilliant pathologist making observations with a tape recorder during an autopsy.
This cringe-worthy approach purports to be an explanation of why the Republican party is across the board an unworthy opponent, even lacking the standing -- in the legal sense -- to match the Democratic party in the court of public opinion. The angry basement troll, on the other hand, is actually slightly better as he doesn't engage in false advertising with his excess of f-bombs and name-calling.
I do not seek to argue that one bad turn deserves another. No doubt in conflict with many in my own party, I will cede that at times the Democratic party has some good points, or at a minimum some praiseworthy goals. What gets my blood boiling is the consistent effort of some in the liberal precincts to altogether avoid the tougher policy and/or philosophical debates with our party by crying foul. After all, if your opponent isn't playing by the rules in the first place, you won't look as bad if you end up losing the contest. I am reminded of the boxer Max Schmeling insisting that Joe Louis was fighting dirty after he quickly lost their famous 1938 rematch.
It's common for liberals to talk about the need for communication, for us to have "honest dialogue" between different races, classes, countries, and more. (One Democrat at the Yolo county fair told me he supported the thaw in relations with Cuba because "open communication is good," not because of any concrete benefit to the Cuban people.)
But when you try to undercut the opposition from the beginning, it tends to create much less productive discussion. As the great political philosopher Kanye West once said, "Well that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation."
If you were to poll liberals -- and maybe even the Vox author Roberts too -- about whether politics in America is too negative, I am guessing there would be a very strong majority agreeing that it is. Hopefully they would have the logical consistency to admit, then, that this line of thinking to de-legitimize your opposition is a big part of what's wrong with America right now.
This country has some massively consequential debates before us: on the growth in entitlement spending, on America as a benevolent or destructive superpower, the extent to which government should be involved in various social issues, and so much more. But we will make very little progress in finding the best thing to do if we continually try to bully the other party into silence.
Now can we analyze the finer points of making our taxation system better for the common good?
R. Olson is the director of communications for the Yolo GOP. Start an honest dialogue with him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions contained herein are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the Yolo County Republican Party.