In college, I cast about for a major for a couple of years. In the spring semester of my second year, I took the basic government class that fulfilled a general education requirement. By the end of the semester, I had my major. In the hallowed halls of Sac State, I chose Government. Yes, while most colleges and universities call it Political Science, Sac State, like Harvard, refers to the subject as Government. I’m pretty sure, however, that a degree from that other place was probably worth a little more.
It was then that I began a lifelong fascination with politics. I loved the conversations we had back then. In class and out, a range of views expressed by my classmates. We challenged each other and forced each other to defend our positions and beliefs. And we didn’t back down from it. We weren’t offended that somebody would question our views or our “facts.” That was part of the fun of the thing. Verbal warfare, fought within the rules of respect and a desire to learn from each other. And every once in a while winning by convincing the other to think a little harder than they did before. Maybe even nudging them a little closer to our point of view.
At one point, one of my classmates became my girlfriend for a brief, shining moment. She was drop dead gorgeous and incredibly smart. And a true member of the conservative block back then. She challenged me regularly and I loved those conversations. That we thought differently on politics and current events did not create a division in our relationship. It, at least from my perspective, stoked it because of the dynamic conversations we could have on those topics.
A few years later, she turned into a radical socialist or something like that and eventually became an Economics professor at a state university in the Midwest. I guess I won that argument. 😉
A few years later, back when the internet was in its embryonic stages and was hosted primarily by local bulletin boards, a friend told me about the political forum at the 24th Street Exchange. I checked it out using the ol’ dial-up modem with its chirps and beeps and jumped into the political debate there. There were a few of us who engaged in regular discussions about the political environment back then — probably 1992-93. David Silva and I were the liberals. Dave Roberts and Kevin Menager were the libertarians. Jeff Culbreath and a few others were the conservatives, Jeff coming at it from his evangelical Christian perspective.
Once again, I found a place where I could discuss these issues and matters with a range of people who challenged each other. Sometimes things got a little bit heated, but we all keep coming back to it. Exchanging opinions and ideas and challenging each other in spirited verbal battle. And on the internet where the anonymity of the thing is supposed to kill that possibility.
Since then, I’ve struggled to find anything close to those college discussions or the debates of the 24th Street Exchange. Every once in awhile, a good political dialogue pops up here or there, but they are few and far between. In part, that’s due to the circles I have traveled in over the last 20-25 years — many, many friends who are liberal. My family is pretty much entirely liberal. And I have spent the last fifteen years working for elected officials who are all Democrats and who, therefore, generally surround themselves with other Democrats. And, of course, I live in just about the bluest state in the nation.
In addition, the growth of the internet rather than creating a new town hall, a new forum for engaging in civil discourse, instead has led to each side inhabiting their own private islands, where challenge and dissent is not tolerated. And this has spread into personal interactions as well. The number of times I have participated in in-person political “discussions” that have ended because of the other side’s complete and utter inability to accept a challenge to their views, their opinions, their facts is countless. They all too frequently end with name-calling and frustration on both sides.
I’ll admit that part of this is on me. I think. Back in my college days and on the 24th Street Exchange, those discussions were built upon a foundation we all shared. There was a generally accepted view of things, of the history, and of the principles that mattered. Even if we disagreed on solutions, we at least were able to agree on the basic facts that existed in our world at the time. Now, people can’t even agree on the facts and I grow increasingly frustrated by this.
I’ll give you an example. There is a website called Infowars. It is run by a guy by the name of Alex Jones. He believes that Sandy Hook was a false flag event that involved the use of actors. People who believe Mr. Jones have said some of the most vile things you can imagine to the families who lost their children in that massacre. And they don’t stop. It just keeps going on. But Donald Trump has cited Alex Jones and others I have discussed politics with recently have referred to Infowars as their source of information. Once they do that, I simply cannot go on. How is it remotely possible to engage in civil discourse, an adult conversation, with people who believe that crap?
What I wish I could do is start a blog with a handful of other people who come from different parts of the political spectrum who would be interested in engaging in an on-going conversation about the issues that exist in our country. I view it as being a mixed view blog modeled after PowerLine Blog, which has four authors who contribute to the blog — they’re all conservative though, so there’s no real mix of views on it.
I want to show that a conversation between the right and left, and the fuzzy middle, that is respectful and productive actually can take place. Call me a dreamer.
I have ideas about a few people I’d like to invite to this blog, but what is missing is a conservative voice. Got any ideas?