If you never actually get to know people, then you’ll never have to question your stereotypes

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts about my Six Weeks of Rush challenge, then you’ve already been introduced to Nola Gurl, the kindest and most vocal of the few conservatives who haven’t unfollowed or blocked @SixWeeksofRush on Twitter. And if you’ve been keeping up with our conversations, then you’ve probably noticed that things have gotten tense lately.

The last time I mentioned the project on this blog, I wasn’t very kind to Rush Limbaugh or his audience. First, I pointed out the weaknesses of a study which suggested that Limbaugh listeners are better informed than mainstream media consumers. Then, I cited a couple of studies suggesting the opposite: an Annenberg School for Communications study in which Limbaugh’s audience claimed to be the most informed on health care despite being the least informed, and a more recent study which showed that people who watch only Fox News are less informed than people who don’t watch the news at all.

Oh, and I also quoted future Democratic Senator Al Franken, who argued that the reason the average Limbaugh listener in the Annenberg study thought they were better informed than everyone else is because he or she was a “fucking moron.” That’s admittedly not the sort of thing that encourages liberals and conservatives to set aside their differences.

But over on Twitter, starting with Nola Gurl, that’s exactly what I was trying to do.

Now, to be fair, I got us off on the wrong foot. After watching her tweet and retweet various opinions on what liberals are like, I asked her to explain why she felt qualified to speak for us. After all, she’d said she didn’t know anyone who thought Joe Biden had done well in the debate – and if all liberals are the same, then that means she doesn’t actually know a single liberal.

“Don’t try 2 use logic on this,” she said, inadvertently fulfilling one of the worst stereotypes liberals have of conservatives. The truth, she claimed, is that she doesn’t have a clue what liberals are thinking, despite years of trying to understand them.

Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem like she’s been trying very hard. The reason she doesn’t know anyone who thought Biden did well in the debate is because she doesn’t talk to her liberal friends about politics, because that’s the only way she can stay friends with them. “Be realistic,” she said.

And you know what? That really rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve got plenty of conservative friends, by the less intense Canadian standard, and I hope my love of talking politics with them and learning a thing or two from them is mutual. I thought it was kind of sad that Nola Gurl felt like she and her friends couldn’t open up to each other about the issues they care about, and I said as much.

I mean, if we’re being “realistic,” then let’s acknowledge that Nola Gurl surely knows someone who thought Biden did well in the debate. She probably just doesn’t know she does, or want to admit she does, because she doesn’t want to hear about it for fear of compromising her friendships. It’s sort of like those homophobes who think they don’t know any gay people, just because they’re the last people on Earth that anyone would ever want to come out to.

Now, that’s a really unfair analogy, because Nola Gurl supports gay rights. But doesn’t that go to show you that you can’t judge people by their most basic political labels? Imagine how angry she’d rightfully get if some mouthy liberal tried to tell her that all conservatives hate gay people! So would Dick Cheney, in fact, although he’s usually pretty angry to begin with.

Either way, my reply seemed to upset her. She explained that she was simply too busy to talk politics with liberals, and that I shouldn’t judge her because I don’t know her, which is true. She may have sidestepped her original claim that the reason she doesn’t talk politics with her liberal friends is so they can stay friends, and she’s definitely proven that she’s not too busy to talk to liberals by spending so much time tweeting to me and commenting on this blog. But that doesn’t change the fact that no, I don’t really know her.

But you know what? At least I’m trying to get to know her. That’s what this whole project was supposed to be about. The way I see it, you can avoid in-depth conversations with people who might disagree with you or challenge your views, or you can drop the idea that politics is a team sport, treat people with respect, and run the risk of learning a thing or two.

“Why do you waste your time with these people?” my wife asked me when I told her this story. “You’re never going to change their minds.” Well, maybe she’s right as usual, but that doesn’t mean I can’t at least try to understand why I’ll never change their minds. And if I ever make false assumptions about someone like Nola Gurl – whose real name I really wish I knew – then can’t I hope that they’ll call me on it, and can’t I try and listen when they do? Even if they may be determined not to pay me the same courtesy?

The whole idea of politics as being one group against another – what Nola Gurl calls the “realistic” notion of politics – doesn’t just keep people divided. It prohibits the sort of mature conversations about the issues that a country like the US desperately needs. It enables dishonest and incompetent politicians with ulterior motives to pander their way into office. It practically hands the government a free pass to keep getting away with “business as usual.”

When ordinary people stop putting up walls between each other, they get to hear both sides of the story. When you hear both sides of the story, you become more informed. And when you’re more informed, it’s a lot tougher for a political party to lie to you. Not just the party none of the real Americans voted for, but your party, too!

And you know what? I think I can prove it. But we’ll get to that in a minute…

Posted in Uncategorized