TCS Daily


Red & Blue Feud Resumes

By Matt Welch - July 25, 2002 12:00 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Like a lot of people, I spent the days after the 2000 presidential election blinking incomprehensibly at that remarkable Red-Blue electoral map of the Polarized States of America.

It's still up on my office wall, complete with little plot marks and lines showing how my Nov. 9, 2000 post-election flight home from Louisville didn't cross over a single pro-Al Gore county until we started our descent over the Las Vegas area.

As a life-long resident of what the Wall Street Journal's Pete Du Pont and James Taranto sneeringly refer to as the "Porn Belt," my reaction to seeing those vast seas of Red was an instinctive desire to interact as much as possible with my estranged compatriots. Surely, I hoped, Americans weren't as reducible and predictable as all that... even if we had just experienced one of the most party-line elections in history, in which (as political scientist Kenneth Goldstein put it) "the swing voters did not swing" for either of the lukewarm candidates.

I thought the best way to begin breaching the partisan divide would be personally, using an automobile and an atlas. But it turns out the deed was done collectively, via a combination of tragedy and technology, after the Sept. 11 massacre. That cruel act was the gruesome catalyst to a great many things we probably don't even realize yet, but one of the most recognizable aftershocks was the mass creation of individual Web sites using the so-easy-even-Matt-Welch-can-figure-it-out blogging technology offered by Pyra Labs, Moveable Type and others.

After 9/11, it was no longer enough to receive media wisdom in the usual detached, Column Left/Column Right packages. People were agitated and ravenous for news, and wanted to hear about (and respond to) any information that might not have previously penetrated their ideological enclaves. Meanwhile, the technology of blogs crept out of the Blue counties and into Flyover Country and beyond.

Suddenly, hardened conservatives were quoting seasoned socialists like Christopher Hitchens, while fossilized lefties were discovering hawkish commentators like Victor Davis Hanson and Daniel Pipes. In e-mails and on web-logs, one frequently encountered the startled preamble of "I can't believe I'm quoting this person, but..."

People were looking around and noticing that few of their new online pals and freshly bookmarked columnists resembled the mutual Red-Blue caricatures summarized nicely by Reason's Cathy Young in March 2001: "Liberals are inclined to see conservatives as bigoted, hate-filled rubes; conservatives are inclined to see liberals as immoral, degenerate, and not really American." It was a heady, instructive and shockingly civil time for non-partisans like me.

Alas, those days are gone.

When George Bush started stumbling this summer over dirty bombers, dodgy bookkeeping and diddling with defense bureaucracies, it was as if someone blew a national whistle only the party faithful on both sides could hear. After nine vigorous months of forward-thinking debate about U.S. conduct at home and abroad, many of my favorite new voices lapsed back into shrieking at each other over Bush v. Gore, Coulter v. Moore, and how media coverage of the Harken business compares to Whitewater.

I'm sure some of this is important and indicative, and I know from experience that fantasies of "non-political politics" are just that -- fantasies. We need political parties to organize interest groups and get things done, and I'm relieved that Capitol Hill is a much more contentious place now than it was during passage of the Patriot Act. I certainly wouldn't wish my bizarre politics on anyone, let alone a sizeable voting bloc.

Still, the sound of partisans crying "Media Bias!" just lulls me straight to sleep, and brings me back to those distracted days of 1998 and 1999, when the preferred background noise for myself an my friends was the ongoing NPR saga we called "The Impeachments" -- with sound just low enough to tune out the predictable hypocrisies of Henry Hyde and Paul Begala. It was a good mumbling hum to get things done to, so long as you never allowed yourself to actually pay attention to the charade at hand.

But these times are a bit more important than those, and the prospect of two more years of hysterical politics leaves me frigid. From what I've gathered these past 10 months, I'm not alone. Fortunately, the personal links and new avenues of thinking forged in the wake of Sept. 11 seem to be resilient, and they are only increasing.

So rather than waste time fretting about the preoccupations of the newly partisan pundits, I'd rather quote this wise observation by one of my hundreds of new Red-state friends, Mr. Geitner Simmons:

"To constantly trash the imperative to seek common bonds among Americans, beyond political ideology and region, is to reject the lesson that Lincoln sought so resolutely to impart to us.

"Divisions of opinion and outlook will always separate Americans. Sharp words are inevitable in political debate. Consensus can prove elusive. But over the long haul, I would much rather strive to bring people together in a spirit of community than to constantly push them toward alienation from, and hostility toward, their fellow citizens. In some ways, that is my life's work."

Matt Welch is a co-editor of LAexaminer.com, and maintains a daily news-blog.
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