Had the distinct displeasure of seeing your drivel printed in my local paper recently. Although I recognize that all liberals are drooling buffoons, I must say you are one of the more bone-stupid liberals I've ever run across. How is it, I often wonder, that all liberals are so incredibly stupid? Is it in your DNA? Or do you just absorb all this stupidity naturally, while attending government run indoctrination centers (public schools).
In any case, I hope that with newspapers going broke all over, in record time, that you soon find yourself living in a cardboard box under the nearest overpass.
That is one of the scores of typical hate letters I receive after one of my newspaper columns is published. In a normal week, I get about 40 such letters (plus a good deal of positive ones), and on top of that, the comments section of my columns - where posted online - are filled with stuff that's very similar. And, of course, there are the hateful - and very personal - comments left by people on some of my blog posts (although, not much here).*
All of it is, inevitably, anonymous - people will say stuff in letters and as anonymous commenters that they never would say in person, much less on a telephone. Some of it is from ideological opponents who hate progressives in general, other batches are from the self-loathers - those who say they are progressives, but angrily lash out at any progressives who are higher profile or more active than them because that somehow makes them feel small. And believe me - I have all kinds, many of them stalker-style in their volume/intensity of email/comments. It's kinda crazy, actually.
I'm a sensitive guy, so all the vitriol does not easily roll off my back - it has a kind of cumulative effect, which gets to be kind of depressing (which I'm sure makes the haters happy). You end up finding yourself hating right back - and then, I fear, after years of absorbing it all, you wake up one day and look at yourself in the mirror and see some awful person like Joe Klein staring back at you.
I go back and forth on how to avoid this future - and how to preserve some semblance of humanity in myself. Some days, I try to respond to the anger, but that only makes things worse, as the hate gets more intense. Other days, I think hard about how to extricate myself from blogging, writing and the media world in general and find a new career. Most days, though, it's just in the middle - I absorb it as an occupational hazard, remembering that you tend to hear more from (and, sadly, listen more to) your opponents than your friends/allies.
I write this not to complain, nor to Broder-ish case for "comity" and "bipartisanship," but to simply point out that I think there is some truth to the idea that the political discourse in this country has gotten toxically coarse to the point where we're not having any kind of discussion about substance at all.
Most often, the haters have succeeded in turning political discourse into a war of attrition against their personal demons -a war won by those who can go nuclear the fastest.
That's clearly been the story of the summer on health care - and it continues to be the story on most major issues. I mean, conservatives are quite literally calling the president's plan to promote the value of education to the nation's schoolchildren a secret socialist plot. All of it has convinced me we are living through one of the darkest periods in the last 50 years - one in which intense hatred has now become an accepted - even celebrated - part of our democracy.
For me personally, if I had to predict, I'd guess that this escalation will ultimately get me out of the writing/blogging/activism game at some point in the future. Ultimately, enough gray hair, chest pain, and hurt feelings just gets tiresome - and dangerous to one's health. But my personal decisions are not really important to anyone other than me and my family. What's significant in the broader sense, I think, is the overall trend and what it means for our country.
I'll put it bluntly: We are becoming a nation of haters - a nation, really, of assholes, or at least dominated by assholes. And sure, maybe we've always been that way - but what's different is that it's become almost impossible to pretend otherwise. There's no more delusions, no more fantasies. Despising one another and ignoring the substance of issues has become the defining mark of Americanness in the 21st century - and that's a tragedy.
* Just to be clear, when I refer to "hate," I'm not referring to disagreements on principle/substance. We have a lot of those here at OpenLeft - and those are healthy and constructive and important. When I refer to "hate," I'm referring to the kind of impulses epitomized in that one rather typical piece of hate mail. Hate is easy to spot - it's like obscenity: you know it when you see it.