Along the Tracks

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Stein's honesty refreshing

I've got to say, I was a little disappointed reading Hugh Hewitt's interview with Joel Stein, columnist for the LA Times.

Stein, of course, wrote Tuesday, "I don't support our troops," then explained precisely why he believes being "anti-war" yet "supporting the troops" is evasive and hypocritical.

Frankly, he's right. What's more, he's pretty brave to come right out and say it.

While I find his depiction of the proper military role in American security naive at best, it is a position uncomplicated by the sophistry and patriotic acrobatics performed by many liberals, particularly in the national leadership of the Democratic Party. Stein's column is informed by typical left-wing rantings about "American imperialism," and he's apparently fine with fighting a war against genocide (Kosovo - which had far fewer victims than the Saddam regime in Iraq) as long as the action is ordered by a Democrat. Nevertheless, the basic point he's making is elegant: If you do not support the war, you cannot truly support the troops (and by default, their mission) in any meaningful way. You must demand their return home - or else you are culpable for passively allowing their mission to continue.

Getting back to the Hewitt interview ... I was looking forward to reading Hugh's questions and their responses. After all, here was an honest liberal willing to stand up for his position. It was an opportunity to understand anti-war sentiment as something quite different from the Bush-hating which seems to animate the left most of the time. Stein's worldview is one which those of us who DO support the war, the troops and their mission should stand ready to debate with facts, goals and vision at the ready.

Unfortunately, Hugh took a tack very similar to one for which I blasted Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hackett just last week. Hugh challenged Stein's personal background, his relationship with the military and with service members, quibbling over which situations Stein might support the troops, attempting to draw him into a hypocritical statement about supporting a friend or relative in the military. Hugh played the guilt card, presenting Stein with a scenario where he would meet the parents of J.P. Blecksmith, a fallen Marine, on the street: "What would you say to them?"

It continued this way throughout. Based on Stein's simplistic and rather uninformed worldview as shown in the column, Hugh ripped and embarrassed Stein like a fourth-grade bully during kindergarten recess.

The question is, did we learn anything from this exercise?

We learned Stein is not easily goaded to anger, to his great credit. We also learned even thoughtful, perceptive conservative interviewers like Hugh Hewitt can easily get caught up in emotion. Rather than a typically sharp yet informative back-and-forth on the actual topic rather than the person's background, we got O'Reilly Lite.

Stein discovered he has a lot to learn about the world, recent history and especially his country's military men and women - although most readers already knew that from his column. Unfortunately, Stein learned something I wish he hadn't.

"I definitely should be more cautious," he responded when questioned about bringing up the military when writing his columns.

We all operate on limited knowledge and understanding. Part of understanding opposing points of view is recognizing their gaps. Another part is taking their arguments at face value to help us recognize our own - and then strengthening our positions for the next go-round.

Finally, in an open, democratic society, the key to political success is not merely defeating one's ideological opponents, but convincing the uncommitted (and perhaps even some of those adversaries) your own viewpoint is right.

P.S. - Stein said in the interview no one had ever said to him, "Good column" or "Bad column," on any of his work. If so, that's a shame. I couldn't disagree more with his opinion of the war or of the dedication and heroism of our troops, but he is a fine writer with a keen sense of logic. Hewitt posted a phone number to call if you want to cancel your subscription over Stein's column. I'm posting the LA Times contact screen so you can tell him "Nice column" - even if you disagree with him like I do. (NOTE: I originally used the Times suggested email address formula for Stein, but I got a failure message, so the contact screen will have to do.)

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