A Response to AT's Comment Threads

When I first started writing political pieces, an experienced pundit told me “Don’t waste your time reading the comments.  At the very minimum, if you do read them, don’t respond.” At times I have reluctantly followed that advice but generally,try to peruse the comments and get a feel for the reader’s reaction.  Occasionally, I submit comments in response. 

When I started the San Francisco Tea Party, I responded to every email I got: it was obvious that people felt marginalized, they were hungry to be heard, and didn’t believe their elected officials were listening.  The common man has few if any opportunities to be heard -- calls to his congressman are answered by interns, letters and emails are responded to with form letters (if at all), letters to the editor usually sink into a black hole, and talk radio can only accommodate a handful of callers with maybe 30-60 seconds and, this, after waiting for hours and often getting cut off.

The Tea Party offered the grassroots an opportunity to participate and be heard, and the internet -- thankfully -- allows us all to vent and contribute by writing and commenting.

The comments at AT range from thoughtful, respectful, and supportive, to sometimes funny, sometimes informative, and occasionally thought-provoking enough to reconsider a position you took as awriter.  Then, there are the nasty and unproductive comments, which most writers and readers ignore, but when they don’t, the back and forth is sometimes endless and unpleasant.

The comments I find most irksome are the ones that go from zero to sixty in a few words.  Let me give you an example:  in my blog about Palin’s mistake regarding Putin, I was met with a barrage of comments about my hatred for Sarah Palin, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  According to some experts in our readership, I have some issues I need to work out with Sarah Palin and there are some meds I should take simply because I took issue with her understanding of history. Yes, her prediction was spot on but, as many readers noted, after Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia, the concern that red dominoes would start to fall once again, wasn’t that unique. Kudos to herfor having the guts to say it, but as I watched her, with family who grew up in the USSR, I felt this needed to be addressed -- especially because we have so many young people today who are poorly informed about the Cold War, in particular, and history in general. For many of them, KGB might as well be letters on a license plate.

Sure, the imperialists shared some common hegemonic goals with the communists and sure, the Soviet elites and Russian aristocrats had privileges unavailable to the common comrade. There is no denying the similarities between the grandiose lifestyle of Putin, the czars, and politburo elites,and their enrichment at the cost of freedom and prosperity for the millions in the Russian Federation, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

But why does the clarification or correction I offered have to immediately translate into an accusation of hatred, jealousy, and resentment for Ms. Palin?  Why do readers often cast writers at AT as RINOs if they criticize the Tea Party or extremists if they criticize the “establishment” and then dismiss them outright?

As a leader for 5 years of the San Francisco Tea Party -- in a city that is more hostile towards conservatives than any other place on the planet -- I find it laughable when I am labeled a RINO or Tea Party extremist and now I can add “Palin H8r” to the list.  I found it equally comical when Nancy Pelosi and Co. called tea partiers “Nazis” -- especially me, a conservative Jew. All of these epithets have no bearing in reality but, when they come from my own kind, the dial on my worrymeter goes haywire.

Conservatives pride themselves on being able to conduct intelligent, reasoned discussions, whereas liberals are the ones who consistently walk away from conversations in a huff, resort to nastiness, name-calling, and hysterical antics, and often demand someone be silenced.  Over the years, AT has published a range of articles on a range of issues with a range of opinions and has always welcomed a range of comments.  And yet, from time to time, commenters upset by an article will suggest that AT should be ashamed for publishing said article or that the writer should no longer be published.  It is unbecoming a conservative to try to shame AT or its contributors into silence.  I expect this from the progressive left; not from conservatives of any stripe.

If conservatives start acting like liberals -- especially regarding speech -- then as a movement, we are doomed. 

The fact is, conservatives are thinkers and we have a range of opinions on many issues.  Obviously, I disagree with Sarah Palin about Putin, but this is not a distinction without a difference, as many comments suggest:  communist despots have different goals than their imperial counterparts.  In any case, if our conservative principles are ever to shape America, we have to speak respectfully to each other and figure out a way to present our solutions given our differences. That will only come from discourse.

I have had conversations with young people who have read articles at AT but were turned off by some of the comments, not by trolls, but by conservatives who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to act like the liberals we encounter every day. Many people have written to me offline because they are uncomfortable sharing a viewpoint in the comment section. Those comments should have a home at AT, not just in my inbox. 

When I write, I try not to burn my bridges with fellow conservatives even when I vehemently disagree with or criticize them. I can see nothing in my article about Palin and Putin that engenders any hate. In my humble opinion -- which you are invited to disagree with -- we should all take some personal responsibility when we commentors write so we can get our points across -- even when we are angry and disappointed -- and foster an atmosphere that attracts readers and contributors and hopefully voters, rather than repelling them.  We should all make every effort to stay above the liberal fray and take some personal responsibility to keep things civil. If we cannot do this amongst ourselves, then it should be no surprise that conservatives can’t do this in the halls of Congress or in their state legislatures.

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