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Respecting liberty means hearing all sides of the story

Posted: October 15, 2013 - 11:02pm

According to most polls, the Republicans are the party responsible for the latest adventure of dysfunctional government. But to Andrew Jensen, the mainstream media is at fault for the prolonged partial shutdown of the federal government. As Managing Editor of the Alaska Journal of Commerce he wrote that because the media is blaming Republicans “the Democrats are gleefully refusing to negotiate and reveling in this shutdown in the belief they will be the political winners.” It’s a perspective that, in my opinion, echoes an allegiance to one side of the story that only serves to weaken the nation’s intellectual health.

An attempt to objectively understand the government shutdown has to include the fact that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives attached language to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, to their proposed continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, had already passed a so-called clean resolution. They rejected the House version. And they had President Obama covering their back with the threat of a veto of the House bill.

This simple storyline says the problem started with the House Republicans. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over deficit spending ever since President Obama took office.

But CRs without strings attached have been used for years to sidestep last minute partisan bickering over the federal budget. In fact, there were 21 of them between Sept. 29 and Dec. 21, 2000, which was the third consecutive year that the federal government ran a surplus under President Clinton. The rider to the CR to defund Obamacare broke with tradition. From that perspective, the media recognizes it was a Republican political stunt that gummed up the normal legislative process.

Now I’m not arguing that Jensen isn’t entitled to his opinion just because he disagrees with the mainstream media. In fact, I agree with him that Obama was absolutely wrong to furlough air traffic controllers while implementing sequestration last March. And he’s right that the administration shouldn’t have closed the World War II Memorial in Washington DC or threatened to cancel military academy football games as ways of making sure everyone felt the effects of the shutdown.

However, using those as his only examples of how Obama is “intentionally inflicting harm on his fellow citizens” is part of what undermines his analysis of the situation. The rest comes from the hateful tone he uses to persuade his readers just how low the President and Senate majority leader Harry Reid are willing to stoop to score political points. By referring to Obama as petulant and Reid as despicable, Jensen has exposed a deep-rooted conviction that he’s expressing the one and only truthful version of events.

Every story has at least two sides, especially when it comes to political opinions. But by casting insults, Jensen suggests he’s not interested in what others think. And that’s a shame for someone who purports to understand what our Founding Fathers viewed as the basic tenets of a people’s democracy.

The only benefit of rants like Jensen’s is it can mobilize like-minded individuals to act. It’s what right wing pundit Rush Limbaugh began to practice in the late 1980s when he first complained that the mainstream media had a liberal bias. He’s since been joined by commentators on Fox News and authors like Ann Coulter.

It’s been a fairly effective way to gain a loyal audience while building a solid base of conservative voters. But as commentators who profess to believe that American democracy is exceptional, their style of rhetoric has the effect of subverting people’s political curiosity. In other words, it’s easier to trust informed sources who agree with us than educate ourselves by researching the facts and genuinely considering opposing points of view.

If our ideal of democracy is worth preserving, then we shouldn’t expect to it be that simple. For the paradoxical reality is true liberty requires tolerance for the diversity in human nature. The experiences from which we develop our opinions also form a wide variety of valid ideas about how the world works. So whenever someone acts as if they’ve got a corner of the truth, we need to remember it’s just their opinion and sincerely begin the hard work of thinking for ourselves.

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