February 21, 2010
The Quest for Innocence and the Loss of Reality in Political Journalism
"The quest for innocence means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus 'prove' in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade. But this can get in the way of describing things! What's lost is that sense of reality Isaiah Berlin talked about..."
This is a post about a single line in a recent article in the New York Times: Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.
Before I get to the line that interested me, I need to acknowledge that the investigation the Times undertook for this article is wholly admirable and exactly what we need professional journalists to be doing. Reporter David Barstow spent five months—five months!—reporting and researching the Tea Party phenomenon.
He went to their events. He talked to hundreds of people drawn into the movement. He watched what happens at their rallies and the smaller meetings where movement politics is transacted. He made himself fully literate, learning the differences between the Tea Party and the Patriot movements, reading the authors who have infuenced Tea Party activists, getting to know local leaders and regional differences, building up a complex and layered portrait of a political cohort that doesn’t fit into party politics as normally understood.
This is original reporting at a very high level of commitment to public service; it is expensive, difficult, and increasingly rare in a news business suffering under economic collapse.
So I want to make it absolutely clear that I treasure this kind of journalism and indeed devoured Barstow’s report when it came online. (Although I wish it had been twice as long.) And I have no problem with his decision to confine himself to description of the Tea Party movement, rather than evaluating its goodness or badness. The first task is to understand, and that is why we need reporters willing to go out there and witness the phenomenon, interview the participants, pore over the texts and struggle with their account until they feel they have it right.
“A narrative of impending tyranny.”
As Barstow said in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, “If you spend enough time talking to people in the movement, eventually you hear enough of the same kinds of ideas, the same kinds of concerns, and you begin to recognize what the ideology is, what the paradigm is that they’re operating in.” The key words are spend enough time and begin to recognize.
Now to the part that puzzles me:
It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny. This narrative permeates Tea Party Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. It is a prominent theme of their favored media outlets and commentators, and it connects the disparate issues that preoccupy many Tea Party supporters — from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership.
Running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny…That sounds like the Tea Party movement I have observed, so the truth of the sentence is not in doubt. But what about the truth of the narrative? David Barstow is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times. He ought to know whether the United States is on the verge of losing its democracy and succumbing to an authoritarian or despotic form of government. If tyranny was pending in the U.S. that would seem to be a story. The New York Times has done a lot of reporting about the Obama Administration, but it has been silent on the collapse of basic freedoms lurking just around the corner. Barstow commented on the sentence that disturbed me in his interview with CJR:
The other thing that came through was this idea of impending tyranny. You could not go to Tea Party rallies or spend time talking to people within the movement without hearing that fear expressed in myriad ways. I was struck by the number of people who had come to the point where they were literally in fear of whether or not the United States of America would continue to be a free country. I just started seeing that theme come up everywhere I went.
It kept coming up, but David… did it make any sense? Was it grounded in observable fact, the very thing that investigative reporters specialize in? Did it square (at all) with what else Barstow knows, and what the New York Times has reported about the state of politics in 2009-10? Seriously: Why is this phrase, impending tyranny, just sitting there, as if Barstow had no way of knowing whether it was crazed and manipulated or verifiable and reasonable? If we credit the observation that a great many Americans drawn to the Tea Party live in fear that the United States is about to turn into a tyranny, with rigged elections, loss of civil liberties, no more free press, a police state… can we also credit the professional attitude that refuses to say whether this fear is reality-based? I don’t see how we can.
As a matter of reported fact
Now we can predict, with a reasonable degree of confidence, what the reply would be from the reporter, his editors (who are equally involved here, as the Times is a very editor-driven newspaper) and his peers in the press. The reply is the reply that is given by the common sense of pro journalism as it is practiced in the United States. “This was a news story, an attempt to report what’s happening out there, as accurately and fairly as possible. Which is not the place for the author’s opinion.” Or: “I was trying to describe the Tea Party movement, and to understand it, which is hard enough; I’ll let others judge what to make of it.”
Sounds good, right? But this distinction, between fact and opinion, description and assessment, is not what my question is about. It may appear to be responsive, but it really isn’t. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, but… as a matter of reported fact, is the United States actually on the verge of tyranny? That is my question. Would an honest depiction of the American political scene by the Washington bureau and investigative staff of the New York Times lend support to the “impending tyranny” narrative that Barstow observed as a unifying theme in the Tea Party movement?
It’s a key point, so let me state it again: Based not on a subjective assessment of the Tea Party’s viability or his opinion of its desirability but only on facts he knows about the state of politics and government since Obama’s election, is there any substantial likelihood of a tyranny replacing the American republic in the near future?
I think it’s obvious—not only to me but to Barstow and the journalist who interviewed him for CJR—that the answers are “no.” For if the answers were “yes” it would have been a huge story! No fair description of the current situation, nothing in what the Washington bureau and investigative staff of the New York Times has picked up from its reporting, would support a characterization like “impending tyranny.”
In a word, the Times editors and Barstow know this narrative is nuts, but something stops them from saying so— despite the fact that they must have spent over $100,000 on this one story. And whatever that thing is, it’s not the reluctance to voice an opinion in the news columns, but a reluctance to report a fact in the news columns, the fact that the “narrative of impending tyranny” is ungrounded in any observable reality, even though the sense of grievance within the Tea Party movement is truly felt and politically consequential.
A faltering sense of reality
My claim: We have come upon something interfering with political journalism’s “sense of reality” as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved. That’s what created the pattern I’ve called “regression to a phony mean.” That’s what motivated the rise of he said, she said reporting.
I explained the quest for innocence in a 2008 essay on campaign coverage for tomdispatch.com. (It also ran in Salon.)
But the biggest advantage of horse-race journalism is that it permits reporters and pundits to play up their detachment. Focusing on the race advertises the political innocence of the press because “who’s gonna win?” is not an ideological question. By asking it you reaffirm that yours is not an ideological profession. This is experienced as pleasure by a lot of mainstream journalists. Ever noticed how spirits lift when the pundit roundtable turns from the Middle East or the looming recession to the horse race, and there’s an opportunity for sizing up the candidates? To be manifestly agenda-less is journalistic bliss. Of course, since trying to get ahead of the voters can affect how voters view the candidates, the innocence, too, is an illusion.
The quest for innocence in political journalism means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade. But this can get in the way of describing things! As it did in Barstow’s account. Now let’s speed up the picture and imagine how this interference in truth-telling happens routinely, many times a day over years and years of reporting on politics. What’s lost is that sense of reality Isaiah Berlin talked about. In its place is savviness, the dialect of insiders trying to persuade us that they know how things really work. Nothing is more characteristic of the savvy style than familiar statements like “in politics, perception is reality.”
“For some reason, American political coverage is exempt.”
And in fact frustrated observers of political journalism have complained about this loss of the real. The latest to groan about it is George Packer in the New Yorker. He was commenting on how David Broder of the Washington Post, the dean emeritus of political reporters, had written a surreal column about Sarah Palin that nonetheless seemed entirely normal if you know the genre:
Broder wasn’t analyzing Palin’s positions or accusations, or the truth or falsehood of her claims, or even the nature of the emotions that she appeals to. He was reviewing a performance and giving it the thumbs up, using the familiar terminology of political journalism. This has been so characteristic of the coverage of politics for so long that it doesn’t seem in the least bit odd, and it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way.
Italics mine. Packer’s point becomes clearer when he transplants this kind of reportng to Afghanistan with the sense of reality dropped out. “Imagine Karzai’s recent inaugural address as covered by a Washington journalist,” he writes:
“Speaking at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Karzai showed himself to be at the top of his game. He skillfully co-opted his Pashtun base while making a powerful appeal to the technocrats who have lately been disappointed in him, and at the same time he reassured the Afghan public that his patience with civilian casualties is wearing thin. A palace insider, who asked for anonymity in order to be able to speak candidly, said, “If Karzai can continue to signal the West that he is concerned about corruption without alienating his warlord allies, he will likely be able to defuse the perception of a weak leader and regain his image as a unifying figure who can play the role of both modernizer and nationalist.” Still, the palace insider acknowledged, tensions remain within Mr. Karzai’s own inner circle.
This sounds like politics the way our journalists narrate it, but as Packer notes, “A war or an economic collapse has a reality apart from perceptions, which imposes a pressure on reporters to find it. But for some reason, American political coverage is exempt.” Exactly. That’s the exemption Barstow was calling on when he wrote. “… running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny.” Somehow the reality that this narrative exists as a binding force within the Tea Party movement is more reportable than the fact that the movement’s binding force is a fake crisis, a delusion shared.
I leave you with a question: how the hell could this happen?
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 21, 2010 5:19 PM
My initial reaction is that the narrative of impending tyranny is so far into the sphere of deviance that there's no need to comment on its truth. In fact, I'd say Barstow is, in a way, lucky that the central tenet of the Tea Party movement is so crazy. Because by simply describing their belief, he is telling the typical reader of the Times that they are nuts. But he also maintains his innocence in the way you describe. If the organizing principle of the movement was something more reasonable-sounding, Barstow would have to at least go so far as to rebut it with an expert or something.
This reminds me of the following bit from Terry Gross's interview with John Oliver of the Daily Show:
GROSS: So, what happens in situations like that, where they think you're just a fool or dangerous?
Mr. OLIVER: That's usually the...
Mr. OLIVER: That's usually the best moments. When we go to things like the tea parties, their beliefs are so deeply held that it will really outweigh them feeling like they're going to be made fun of. And, also, I guess you have to understand that when you see people say crazy things on our show, they mean this stuff, and that's easy to forget. They're not joking. So, for instance, we'd done an interview a while ago with a guy before the election who was talking about how community organizing was a good gateway drug, really, as a career for becoming a crack dealer, which is a ridiculous thing to say.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. OLIVER: And you laughing at that is the appropriate human response. So we did put him in the piece, obviously, and people laughed again, obviously. And yet, he called afterwards - and this is more often the case than you would believe - to say, oh, can I please have some copies of the piece for my friends and family. Because you forget, he means that. What's a joke to us is a deeply held belief for him.
Jay, thanks for a thought-provoking essay. Though the Tea Party isn't an exclusively Southern movement, this piece reminded me of the Times' occasional valiant efforts to explain the South to the rest of the nation. As a native and (mostly) lifelong resident of the South, I wasn't particularly blown away by Barstow's article - I simply found it a thorough description of the environment I see every day.
With that in mind, I'd like to take exception to your criticism of it. You assume "impending tyranny" is an up-or-down, yes-or-no set of circumstances that Barstow had a duty to say does not factually exist. Many of my readers (in South Carolina: yeah, you've heard of us - "you lie," "Waterloo," state sovereignty acts, etc) would tell you the tyranny is already here. I have daily conversations with intelligent, well-read, congenial and witty people who deeply believe they have an absolute moral right to smoke tobacco indoors with a property owner's consent, and that the government has no right to intrude on that contract. A simpler, perhaps more timely example: they truly believe in a God-given right not to have health insurance, if a person chooses. For the government to take those rights away, to them, is tyrannical. Land of freedom, land of liberty - many of my readers truly feel a visceral slide away from these ideals, especially compared to their youth (obviously, in the South, we'd say there's a lot of good reasons for that). But even if we don't agree with their beliefs, I think we should acknowledge them as a fairly prevalent way of seeing the world in this particular region.
In my opinion, Barstown was actually exhibiting a "sense of reality" in not refuting the narrative, or even addressing its "truth." To do so would have been a slap in the face to the people he was reporting on, telling them that our sense of reality is superior to theirs (rather than simply "ours"), and I kind of admire him for resisting that impulse. He could have perhaps compared "tyranny" in the US to tyranny in Iran, but that would have been a different article (and the Tea Partiers would have simply replied that it's all a matter of scale, anyway). And then it turns into he-said, she-said journalism, perhaps less interesting than the article he wrote instead.
So let me back up a little. I really enjoyed your essay, and loved your concept of a "regression to a phony mean" and the indictment of horse-race reporting as just lazy journalism. I think of that stuff as process journalism - what we write to fill space, when nothing is actually happening (and political junkies gobble it up, while their eyes glaze over most journalism about issues). During a campaign, the only thing you have to know about to write one of those is the campaign itself - you don't have to have any knowledge of the actual issues. You're right to call for more substance here; and I hope in my own journalism I sometimes provide it.
I just don't think Barstow or his editors are guilty of any of that. NY readers can see that sentence and scoff at the Tea Partiers' naivete or paranoia, while I believe Tea Partiers will read it without too much quarrel (some will be affronted that he qualified the impending tyranny as their "narrative," instead of acknowledging the reality that the tyranny already exists ). In other words, it's a pretty apt description of his subject - now leave it to the opinion writers to convince the Tea Partiers why prohibiting smoking in restaurants is the proper role of the state. To me, it's the difference between Dexter Filkins and Nicholas Kristof - Filkins describes the worldview in the dangerous places on the globe, and Kristof describes to us why those worldviews are wrong - two excellent front-line journalists on separate missions, but both equally valuable to our readers.
At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I can see this two ways.
If political behavior has anything in common with religious behavior (and I think it does), then we're dealing in part with a belief system when we confront assertions such as "we're heading for socialist tyranny" or "despotism is looming." Isaiah Berlin was wary of excessive rationalism (he was even wary, as I recall, of some aspects of the Enlightenment thought from which America's founders drew ideas and inspiration), but his insistence that political judgment should derive from an empirical sense, not a metaphysical sense, hasn't prevented ordinary people such as the Tea Party followers from indulging in what seems more like metaphysical flights. (There have been federal budget deficits for most of the last 40 years; suddenly to decide today that it's frightening isn't obviously a judgment of the facts.) To put it another way, they haven't read Berlin, any more than most of the Islamist radicals have. Their political judgment could stand an infusion of empirical sense, even for their own purposes, because hysteria isn't very convincing as a political stance. And yet it seems to have convinced some people. This is why I don't mind seeing the question of impending tyranny regarded, in the context of that article, as one of opinion.
In case that sounds like an evasion, maybe it'd be helpful to recall that even the Enlightenment philosophers had some trouble grounding all their propositions in observable reality. Despite (and also in light of) their efforts, America's founders fell back on declarations such as "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded seeing what the Times labels a "news analysis" accompanying that article. I wouldn't even have minded seeing more facts in the article. The woman who discovered what the Federal Reserve "really is": what exactly is that, as she sees it? The fear of socialism: what are they thinking of when they use the word? What difference do they think it would make (apart from the Constitutional issue) if Barack Obama had been born in a foreign country? But going very far into those questions would become tedious. To some extent, the journalist has to write the article he's writing, which recites what he's seen and heard and observes patterns (such as the "narrative of impending tyranny"), rather than the slightly different article that addresses the background of such things.
To be honest, like some of your other commenters, I had no trouble evaluating matters for myself. As I wrote in my journal after reading Barstow, I'm tempted to think that the Tea Partiers don't know what socialism, despotism, or tyranny really mean.
Jay, you've given me much to think about, particularly since I've begun to write about the Teas. Although I have a few quarrels with Barstow's narrative choices (he dwells upon the fringe elements rather than the movement's unifying belief that we must get control of government spending and therefore the sometimes surprising solutions to which Teas are amenable), the NYT piece and Ben McGrath's in The New Yorker are important work. At last, the large-audience media is taking the movement seriously.
I agree with Robert Morris about "the narrative of impending tyranny." At the Tea Party Convention, I was about to tell two men that I thought their fear of the federal government monitoring their home electricity meters was unfounded--I was about to take them to task--when I remembered that here in the SF Bay Area we now have "spare the air" legislation, and neighbors are turning each other in for fireplace fires on "poor air" days. (First offense: a warning. After that, steep fines.)
In the largest sense, tyranny is, of course, unjustified paranoia. Barstow's choices of tea partiers and concerns reveal his opinion of the movement. To my mind, he does not have to say more. On the other hand, he could have done a more informal and companion piece on the NYT blog recounting a conversation or two (better: a vidblog) in which he pushed back against this fear of tyranny. Surely he had such a conversation or two with tea partiers.
At the Nashville convention, I watched some in the media make what are to my mind questionable choices: staging eventers to appear and say what the reporter wanted; to get a story, flirting in the bar with attendees. And I got a great piece from the spectacle. "The Press Ate the Tea Party," on my blog.
But none of these choices approached your philosophical concern, Jay. I wrote Notes from a Clueless Journalist: Media, Bias and the Great Election of 2008 and discovered in the end that I had produced an extended meditation of the subject of reportorial point of view. Having had my name and reputation dragged from one end of the media to the other made me think long and hard about what the heck I thought I was doing. In that round-about way, if a bit of a trial by fire, I discovered that there is no such thing as opinion-free, or as you would say, "innocence-free" journalism. And so now, as in Nashville, I tell the people I am interviewing right up from where I am coming from so they can digest what I'm bringing to the table and make up their minds whether or not to speak with me. I do the same with my readers--a great thing about blogs, yes?
And isn't the better question than how the hell it happened "how do we go from here?"
Upon rereading Barstow’s piece, the narrative of impending tyranny failed to stand out for me with the same jolt that Rosen experienced.
It seemed clear to me that “tyranny” was used by Barstow as a term of art, referring to the range of conservative-populist-nativist bêtes noires that the Tea Party has inherited from its patriot-survivalist-secessionist predecessors: the federal income tax, gun control laws, the Central Bank, the United Nations, the National Debt and so on.
The impending part of this longstanding fear of tyranny, in Barstow’s reporting, refers to the looming consequences of the expanded role of the federal government after its recent efforts to provide a social safety net in the face of a ruthless recession -- borrowing more, taking over automobile and insurance business, bailing out Wall Street banks, seeking to mandate universal healthcare, trying to avert down climate change.
Rosen’s requirement that Barstow should stipulate whether the Tea Party’s use of the term tyranny conforms to one’s everyday use of the term seems severe. If one happens to believe that the Federal Reserve system represents the government’s incipient ability to expropriate our personal wealth, as Ron Paul does, then tyranny is not too harsh a word.
Rosen’s second set of demands on Barstow were more challenging:
Can readers figure out where this narrative of tyranny about to be imposed comes from?
Barstow clearly answers this, offering ideological, institutional, sociological and demographic explanations.
Can readers figure out why so many Tea Party faithful believe the community organization Acorn is stealing elections when there is almost no evidence of an election stolen in that way?
Barstow made only a passing reference to ACORN and his failure to answer this question does not mar his reportage.
Can readers figure out why so many in the Tea Party movement think Obama is trying to control the Internet when there is almost no evidence of such a thing?
No, readers have no way of figuring this out.
Can readers figure out how much of this derives from experience colored with fear, and how much from professionally manipulated emotion, in which the fear is pre-colored, as it were?
To my reading, Barstow answers this question, suggesting that grassroots enthusiasm is being organized only after the fact by professional propagandists and activists. The fear seems authentic not manipulated.
Can readers figure out the likely consequences for the Republican Party of attempting to assimilate a political cohort whose central narrative is a paranoid and drastically overdrawn portrait of impending tryanny?
Barstow seems to answer that this is an open question. He finds that the majority of the Tea Party is suspicious of both established political parties and so may not be amenable to assimilation by the Republican Party, even if it made such an attempt. He is clear that the Republican Party’s policies would be unrecognizably different if the Tea Party were to become the dominant faction in its coalition.
I'm writing from personal experience. Also, shooting from the hip, just a little bit.
I linked to a textbook I used at a pretty conservative university with a top-notch earth science program in the late 80s, early 90s. I was also reading Lovelock and a few other texts on climate change that, sadly, aren't still on my shelf.
My intended point was that Universities at that time were already teaching global warming as established ("textbook") scientific fact.
Your Times article, BTW, is from page C-1 -- which is another problem. Such stories weren't treated as top news -- but as science stories. Not for general interest.
You omit a few key parts of the quote you cite from 1987. Here it is in a bit more context:
Industrial activities are producing carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat like a greenhouse, raising the earth's temperature. Scientists believe that man-made chemicals are helping deplete the ozone of the upper atmosphere.
But nature, too, emits and absorbs many compounds, including various ''greenhouse'' gases, ozone, and ozone-destroying compounds. While specialists have learned a great deal about man-made pollution, they still know little of the atmospheric role of natural ecosystems. Such knowledge is important both for understanding current trends and for predicting the consequences of such changes as the large-scale clearing of the Amazon and other rain forests.
''Atmospheric science is a new frontier that requires new ways of thinking, new techniques,'' said Dr. Robert Harriss of NASA. ''We are dealing with a whole new set of issues. There is almost nothing in the textbooks about this.''
The Amazon tests have been made possible now only by the development of new instruments that can measure gases and particles on the smallest scales. For instance, a new laser system devised at NASA is able to picture ozone all the way from the forest to an altitude of 40,000 feet.
In addition, the six-week expedition, which ended May 15, brought together an unusually diverse group of 60 Americans and 90 Brazilians, including geochemists, physicists, biologists and meteorologists, working at 20 different sites. In a gigantic logistical operation, tons of equipment from the United States was moved up the Amazon by ship. Sometimes things simply bogged down when no bulldozer could be found to move heavy gear up the mud roads.
What's at issue in 1987 is pretty clearly -- from your article -- not whether or not manmade global warming exists -- that, in 1987, is established fact. The issue in your story is how, exactly, a natural system such as the Amazon functions to regulate climate.
When Harris is quoted as saying "There is almost nothing in the textbooks about this", he appears to not be referring to whether or not the greenhouse effect exists, but how, exactly, the global carbon cycle interacts with a massive forest ecosystem.
Massive-scale deforestation of the Amazon was in progress in 1987; the forest is an enormous storehouse of carbon. These scientists aren't asking whether the greenhouse effect exists on earth in 1987 -- they're asking, if we continue to slash and burn the Amazon at rates then current, to what degree will it exacerbate the greenhouse effect?
In other words, in 1987 -- 23 years ago -- the science is already decidedly beyond "is this happening?" and into "how does this work, exactly?"
So why, twenty years later (to get back on point), are we back at "is this happening"?
Part of the problem is certainly that political operators who are asking, in 2010 "is this happening" -- or insisting that it is not -- are treated in the press as equally expert to, their positions as valid as, those of experts who answered such questions more than two decades ago from within their fields.
Some of the confusion around the question that Jay raises arises from the inability to distinguish between sincerity of belief and objective truth.
Objective truth is something like, for instance, a mathematical description of gravity. We don't have to prove it every time an orange rolls off a table top. The truth of this formula (really a description of a set of relationships among forces and objects) depends in no way on the sincerity of my belief. If I choose to believe that an invisible elf is responsible for this phenomenon, all the sincerity in the world will not make it true.
It's one thing to say "It is true that an elf makes the orange fall to the floor at a certain rate of acceleration."
It's quite another thing to say, "It is true that I believe an elf makes the orange fall to the floor at a certain rate of acceleration."
Up through at least the 19th century people distinguished between "lying" and "telling a lie," between saying something that was not true when you didn't know it was not true, and saying something that was not true when you did know it was not true. We;ve somehow got it in reverse. In, say, Samuel Johnson's time, whether a thing was true mattered more than whether you believed it; now a lot of people feel that the strength of belief matters at least as much as the objective truth.
We should be wary of this, we should resist it, because we are slobs and don't observe nearly as carefully as we might, and we are often afraid to think or judge for ourselves.
In my observation the inability to distinguish between sincerity of belief and objective truth has the effect of personalizing every disagreement. You tell me you believe that the orange rolls off the table because an invisible elf pushed it. I tell you no, and I am somehow challenging your sincerity, your authenticity, your right to your opinion. So you become even more entrenched in your belief, more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of it, because of your commitment to your sincerity, to standing up for your beliefs. When people take their beliefs in this way, and have them standing in for their real selves, challenging them is like yanking someone's toupee off.
What's needed is not more sincerity but better judgment, comprised of things like a sense of proportion, the ability to admit and correct error, the ability to ask questions, self-awareness that isn't a source of terror and shame. To take for example the difficulty of purchasing ammunition in a crowded city that has been combating gun crime for almost its entire history: this may be factually true, but it makes me wonder about your judgment, your sense of proportion, your ability to put that fact in context with other facts.
The truth needs to be spoken. The truth needs to be stood up for, not because we sincerely believe it but because it helps everyone to calibrate their judgment better.
Something I try to keep in mind when I contemplate people like the teabaggers is that a lot of people are not very good at speaking for themselves. They really do depend on being told how to put their thoughts into words. They are afraid of their own thoughts and feelings, of the solitude that attends thinking for yourself. It is a shameful thing, it puts you outside. They want to hear themselves saying the same things that other people say. This, they imagine, is what competently belonging to the human family feels like. Their education has failed them.