Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A friendly question

My Backstory friend Jim Rowen is concerned about political and social dialogue in our community. So am I. It's one of the reasons that I continue this blog which, to date, has resulted in neither fame nor fortune. Jim was concerned that Charlie Sykes characterized one of his posts about the blogosphere's Coexistential crisis as "hating" conservatives. He wrote:

And let me point out that I get along fine with any number of conservatives, including my "Backstory" (WMCS-AM 1130) roundtable colleague Rick Esenberg, the conservative blogger and Marquette Law School teacher.

Have we disagreed about many things? Of course. That's part of the reason Eric Von had us as regulars (I have fallen away: Rick is more reliable). But do I hate Rick?

Of course not. And I'd be shocked if he said he thought I do.

No need for JIm to be shocked. I am relatively sure that he doesn't hate or even dislike me, although I do recall a crack about my shirt and tie combination that wounded deeply.

And I disagree with Charlie's characterization of his post but still there is something about Jim's comments on the question of dialogue that lead to some questions. In a more recent post, he has this to say about Bumper Battle:

This nasty little Internet and media outburst in Milwaukee could lead to something genuinely useful, even uplifting: a productive moment in the community's history - - if powerful media owners and personalities that have decided, for now, to side with intolerance can make the break and shift towards dialogue, and then genuine community-building in Milwaukee.

This is a theme in Jim's writing on the topic. Talk radio, he says, "stirs the pot" and results in divisiveness.

Here's my problem. First, I draw a distinction between Belling and the rest of the conservative talkers. Whether by virtue of his chosen schtick or his personality, I think that he sometimes does cross the bound of reasoned and civil discourse. Only yesterday, for example, in discussing the effort to censor Walid Shoebat, I think he made some remarks about American Muslims that were irresponsible. But I could say the same about a number of commentators on the left.

But I don't hear that from Sykes, Harris and Wagner. I didn't hear it from McBride. They are, of course, entertainers and the need to draw an audience is going to cause them, from time to time, to oversimplify and even to take cheap shots. Given that they are out there every day, I am sure that you can find examples of times in which they were less than reasonable as I am sure that you could if you scoured this blog. I am probably a bit more careful about what I say but I am doing a different thing and my readers are measured in the hundreds and not the thousands.

Mostly what I hear on TMJ (I can't speak to Weber and McKenna because I don't hear them enough) is fairly mainstream conservatism. This is also what I read from Patrick McIlheran. I think that's what you get here. The uncomfortable feeling that I get from Jim is that he thinks that constitutes "stirring the pot" in some way that is harmful and ought to be abjured by responsible people.

So why I am fairly certain that Jim doesn't hate me (and I like Jim), I have a hard time seeing why, by his lights, I am not "stirring the pot" as well.

Does it stir the pot to say that taxes are hight and, if at all possible, should not be raised and even lowered?

Does it stir the part to notice the obvious facts that crime in certain parts of Milwaukee have gotten out of hand and that this seems to be related to a cultural breakdown that is unlikely to be remedied by summer jobs and midnight basketball?

Does it stir the pot to believe that changing the way that virtually everyone in virtually every place and virtually every time have understood marriage until about last Wednesday may result in unintended consequences?

Does it stir the pot to recognize the rather obvious fact that there is a virulent form of radical Islam that has taken over enough national governments and is followed by enough folks around the world to become a rather large problem?

Does it stir the pot to demand that light rail and other forms of transit be, you know, economically justified?

I doubt that Jim wants to say this, although I suspect that some would. But that seems a passing strange way to achieve dialogue and strive for inclusion.


Dad29 said...


"Compromise" is a one-way street.

By the way, I always thought your ties/shirts were tasteful.

Do I need a consult with a genuine fashion expert?

Anonymous said...

I don't care why you write as long as you continue to.

Anonymous said...

The level of political discourse in Milwaukee seems to be trending downward. I attribute this downward trend to bloggers trying to outdo one another to gain an audience. People keep posting outragous things because they get a reaction and there are no consequences. On these same comment boards McMahon boasted of the satisfaction he felt by stirring the pot. He should have felt embarrassed by the commotion his feeble attempt at art caused.

Recently a blogger posted a far more offensive image equating Islam to Nazism than the bumpergate sticker. That sort of drivel should be shouted down from all parties interested in raising the level of discourse to something that resembles civility. The same blogger has threatened people with physical violence repeatedly in comments, as recently as last week. Instead of scolding the blogger and punishing him by removing his link the blog on which he posted simply deleted the comment without any acknowledgement. Why is anyone tolerant of such abhorrant behavior?

The real problem we have is the right leaning employees of Journal communications willingness to join the bloggers in posting things that are justifiably offensive. Most of the content these guys put out meets standards their employer should be able to stand behind, but they do have a tendency to occasionaly stray into the gutter to gain a reaction. McIlheran does it regularly and Sykes did it with the bumper sticker. The left does not have a voice in the community supported by a massive media conglomerate. The right does, but there is no one on their team willing to call them out when they post things with value rooted primarily in shocking their audience.

Anonymous said...

Does it stir the pot to recognize the rather obvious fact that there is a virulent form of radical Islam

Yes, it does. Granted the statement is not as, um, virulent as calling Muslims Nazis. But it's an intellectually dishonest eliding of distinctions and accomplishes pretty much the same ends: demonize furriners at home and abroad and shut down discussion about whether staying the course is a good idea.

The unstated premise here is that "a virulent form of Islam" is al Qaeda, thus defining the "rather large problem" as "millions of Muslims bent on our destruction."

Thus when a hapless lefty attempts to explain that there are vast differences in ideology, political/historical context, and objectives among al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraq Sunni insurgency, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian theocracy, the Turkish Islamists, etc., etc., that therefore merit different approaches, he or she is accused of failing to recognize, apologizing for, and/or appeasing "Islamofascism."

(It also leads a major presidential candidate to say idiotic things like "They're radical. There's no talking to them. There's no negotiating with them." as as excuse for not recruiting American Muslims into his hypothetical government.)

We've been down this road before.

Anonymous said...


You are not stirring the pot, even if the substance of your posts may be similar to those who do. The reason, I believe, and what you have alluded to previously, is that meaningful discussion of these issues requires a "presumption of good faith". While all, I am sure, would maintain that they have such a presumption, it is clear that it is not always true.

Rick Esenberg said...

gnarly horn

Well, of course it's not just Al Qaeda. That's why is was correct for the Clinton and Bush administrations to recognize that Iraq was a terror-sponsoring state even though it's links to al Qaeda were weak. There were differences among communists and fascists as well. Sometimes that does require difference responses (and you certainly can't say that the Bush administration responds to al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezebollah and Turkey in the same way). But all of that doesn't mean that there wasn't commonalities among some of the groups that you mention rooted in a dangerous ideology.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course it's not just Al Qaeda.

Then why do you continue to refer to a virulent form of Islam and a dangerous ideology?

The only ideological commonality between Salafis and Safavids is that they're both Muslim. They're mortal enemies, and the latter expressly condemned the 9/11 attacks. Would you say Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics share a "dangerous ideology?"

Not only that, you insist on defining the problem as religious. Do you really think that's the only factor at play?

you certainly can't say that the Bush administration responds to al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezebollah and Turkey in the same way

Actually, it pretty much does. They're either fer us, or agin' us. And if they're agin' us, they should prepare for a hot lead enema.

Anonymous said...

This is silly.
If Skinheads or for the love of God, Right wing Christians were bombing, shooting, maiming, jihading, flying planes into buildings, sawing of heads on and off camera in front of children.
We'd all decry it.
But when we decry it, from where it DOES EXIST, we are called haters,intolerant and anti-Muslim etc etc etc.
When libs use COEXIST and use symbols including the STAR of DAVID for their purposes, it's really really groovy man!
When McMahon points out the vaccuous banality by using different symbols, libs try to "swift boat" him. Or maybe I should say "Harry Reid him". Remember? Harry got his candy ass handed to him by Rush Limbaugh for being a dishonest demogogue?
Same thing here.
Liberals are intolerant. They cannot abide anyone who doesn't follow their immoral trail of self indulgence and immorality.

James Rowen said...

The pot-stirrers I am referring to are the ones who veer easily to anger. I know it when I hear it.