Thursday, April 1, 2010

Truth and Politics in the Shenandoah Valley by Andy Schmookler

For eighteen years, I’ve conducted conversations –on the biggest AM radio station in the Shenandoah Valley—about issues that divide Americans. With regret, in recent years I’ve had to change my posture in these conversations.

For the first decade, I saw these public discussions as a means to help heal the increasing polarization of our nation. Both sides had a piece of the truth so I felt we Americans should seek together a higher wisdom that integrates the partial truths of both conservative and liberal viewpoints.

“We should talk with each other in a spirit of mutual respect,” I’d say in my shows. “As if we might actually learn from each other.”

But since then, something’s happened on the “conservative” side of the divide to prevent that kind of conversation.

I still see my interlocutors as fine people, operating in good faith on the basis of their understanding. But that understanding has been twisted by propagandists who are not operating in good faith.

Political forces that have taken over the right have created a system of misinformation in which anything can be said to gain political advantage –no matter how false, or how much fear or hatred it provokes.

Politics is always less than fully honest, but never before in American history has the effort to deceive been so pervasive at our political center stage. These lies poison the “marketplace of ideas” on which our democracy depends.

At the local level, this Culture of the Lie has made me reconsider how to do constructive work in my modest role conversing across the widening split in our body politic.

I can’t talk “as if we might learn from each other” when the other side of the conversation starts with “facts” like that our president was born in Africa and so cannot legitimately hold that office. Or the Democratic Party’s proposal for health care reform contains “death panels.” Or Obama’s coming after our guns, or the Stimulus did nothing for jobs.

The list of such falsehoods grows virtually daily, each one a barrier to meaningful discussion of the real issues that confront us.

I still believe in the need in America for a better integration of the genuine insights of right and left. But so long as good people on the right have their minds poisoned by fear-mongering lies from the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and today’s unprincipled Republican Party, those collaborative explorations must wait.

So in my radio conversations, because I believe in the basic goodness of the Valley’s conservatives, my goal is less that they understand that no one wants to “pull the plug on Granny” than that they realize that those who tell them these kinds of lies should not be trusted. PERIOD.

That realization might break open the right’s closed system to those more honest sources of information their followers have been taught to suspect and reject—sources such as genuine journalism, scholarship, science, and what our Founders called “the decent opinion of mankind.”

Once the reign of the lie is broken —once we achieve the normal degree of shared reality on which good public discourse depends—I will be so glad to resume that sweeter and more congenial kind of conversation I used to seek with the Valley’s conservatives.

                                        --Andrew Bard Schmookler blogs at

1 comment:

  1. I find your concept Interesting that "good people on the right" all have their minds poisoned and have no "facts" at their disposal. Perhaps you weren't successful in "healing the increasing polarization of our nation" due to your own closed mind and your belief that propaganda is only perpetrated on the the right side of the aisle.
    Such unbridled arrogance pervades this writing that one wonders how you could possibly be surprised that you aren't able to have an open and truthful dialogue with those with whom you disagree.



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I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .