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Toning down the politics

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on February 15, 2002
(Issue 2007, A Clear View of Windows)

Someone far wiser than I (admittedly a long list) once wrote that Americans fight nastier political battles over smaller differences than any other democracy in history.

Certainly, both on the radio and on the 'Net, political discourse in these United States can have all the subtlety of a hockey brawl. And compared to European or even Latin American countries, the differences between the American Left and Right are rather narrow in scope.

So it is with a certain air of thankfulness we note that in the months since the hideous evil of Sept. 11, there has been a greater willingness found on political websites to tolerate dissent than has been seen in some time.

On both the right and the left, there seems now a new spirit of, if not cooperation, then at least grudging recognition of the other side's right to their opinions.

On political sites that once presented a united front (so as not to present the opposition any sense of weakness), there are now appearing columns and letters that once would never have seen the light of day.

Look at Mother Jones and The Nation, two hard-core liberal/leftists magazines that for years have adhered to a narrow definition of leftism – one that sniffs suspiciously at anything American or European, endorsing the most extreme types of politically correct censorship, and printing little from other leftists who disagreed with this viewpoint.

But in the months since Sept. 11, both have published either regular columns or guest pieces questioning some of the Establishment Left's most basic premises – even defending the United States. (And it simply must be pointed out that individuals on the Left have never let the conformist mentality of their self-proclaimed leaders deter them from enthusiastic, even vociferous, dissent.)

Now, neither Mother Jones nor The Nationare backing away from their criticism of the current president, a Republican after all and therefore scarcely discernible from Old Nick himself. But there is a heightened sense of community, a realization that even registered members of the NRA are, well, human beings.

Oddly enough, given conservatives' general reputation for surliness and intolerance, the right has always allowed, if not encouraged, a lively debate on just what it means to be conservative. Whether it's William F. Buckley's National Review or the libertarian-leaning The American Spectator, there was never a lock-step formula as to what defined a conservative. Raging disagreements over drug legalization, abortion and the death penalty have taken place in the pages of the various journals of the conservative intellegentsia (if one can say such a thing), with few suggestions that those who disagree with the writer were somehow traitors to their conservative beliefs.

Yet, the vitriol aimed at the Left from those pages was always just as nasty, acidic and biting as that it received in kind from the liberals. The Right always gave as good as it got, and if less sanctimonious than its mirror-image on the other side of the aisle, the conservatives were even less forgiving, less willing to let bygones be bygones.

In the wake of 9-11, though, there have been fewer examples found accusing all liberals of being cowards or wimps. I can't vouch for what Rush Limbaugh has been spouting off, as I don't listen to his show, but at least online, the Right's increase in civility has been equal to the Left's.

Both sides seem to recognize that while our internal political differences may seem important to us, in the eyes of our enemies, we're all quite simply Americans.

It's only fitting that we start to feel the same.