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Open-Minded to a Fault

By       Message William Pastille       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Dan Rodericks made a great point about liberals in his commentary in The Baltimore Sun Saturday. Here's some of what he said.

The first lady of Maryland, Katie O'Malley, said something recently that was on the minds of a lot of people when a bill to legalize same-sex marriage ran out of steam in the House of Delegates last year: She called the handful of delegates who switched their votes, effectively killing the bill, "cowards."

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By the next day, she was backing off and apologizing and saying she had let her "feelings get the better of me."

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Forty-eight hours later, Mrs. O'Malley's husband offered a Sunday sermon to shepherd us through this unfortunate episode, saying his wife had displayed "the humility and the strength to apologize" and cautioning the rest of us against using "words of hurt rather than words of healing."

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Is this what's wrong with what's left of the left in this country? Is this why Democrats have been in prolonged identity crisis?

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They won't play hardball. They won't use provocative speech to make a point. They'll plod along, trying to be nice, holding up charts and issuing reports, pretending to be above the fray, too dignified to stoop to the kind of in-your-face rhetoric we hear from the right all the time, and believing that righteousness will win the day. They won't use sarcasm, they won't speak with scorn -- all of that is for the other guys.

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Liberals and progressives are supposed to remain dignified in their arguments and not resort to AM radio name-calling. They don't fight fire with fire; they use cotton candy.

"A liberal," Robert Frost said, "is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." Which might be why they frequently lose them.

Rodericks makes a point that has been noticed by others, like Frost, before him. Liberals are too open-minded for their own good. They let their open-mindedness continually confuse them about what they already know. They keep letting their biases for rational discourse deceive them about the motives of their opponents. This puts them in the weakest possible position -- always apologizing for offending the sensibilities of their antagonists.

There is no such compunction on the right. If they can get away with it, they will use imprecation, invective, innuendo, falsehoods, insults, fantastical imaginary facts, and just outtalking anyone and everyone to prevent their dogmas from being challenged.

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And what is the response from liberals? Almost invariably, something that begins, "Well, there's some truth in what my opponent says." Why begin that way, instead of leading with a forceful denunciation, a barrage of facts and logic, repeated ridicule and condemnation of anyone who would behave as if a conversation were a rugby hooligan fist-fight -- only later to be followed by a mild admission of one point on which the opponent may have stumbled upon a grain of truth?

Along the way, liberals ought to chastise the hosts of the radio and television programs that run such head-to-head confrontations. They ought to coach them in how to shut down bullying and arrogant, insistent behavior on the part of guests. They all ought to take lessons from WAMU's Diane Rehm, a long-time radio host in the DC area, who will not tolerate uncivil behavior and unwillingness to engage in honest discussion.

FDR became the liberal lion he was by refusing to cower to the blowhards, the blusterers, and the bullies among his conservative opponents, some of whom hated him almost as much as today's Republicans hate President Barack Obama. The difference between him and today's crop of liberal politicians was that he was willing to stand up and tell the whole world that he welcomed their hatred. He left it to his audience to conclude that no decent person would want to be on the side of that bunch. And a whole generation loved him for standing up to conservatism -- which was, is, and always will be, a boondoggle by those who benefit from the status quo designed to prevent the rest of society from enjoying their privileges.

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William Pastille is a writer, a student of politics, and a long-time college educator.

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