Last Monday I penned the most difficult opinion piece of my life. I wrote here that on the basis of the first presidential debate in Denver, in which Mitt Romney performed with stunning vigor and enthusiasm and President Obama performed with stunning aloofness and arrogance (this wasn’t simply a “bad day” as he later described it but a profoundly disturbing one), I had made a decision to support the Republican nominee for president.
As a lifelong Democrat from a family of lifelong Democrats, I noted repeatedly that the decision was anguished, difficult, emotional, but rooted in a sincere conviction that I could no longer back a president who no longer acted like he wanted to be president, who offered a vision for the country as original as those college essays you can buy off the Internet, who in front of 70 million viewers acted like he had 90 minutes to kill before going out to dinner with Michelle for their 20th anniversary. Coupled with Romney exuding a belief that this is a country that can still move forward, not backward. Coupled with Romney's return to the moderate he always was as Masschussetts governor.
As it turned out, the anguish of the column was the fun part.
What followed was reaction—thousands of comments on The Daily Beast website and Twitter and Facebook; writers from national media outlets trying to pick the column apart because they were outraged that one they considered part of the tribe, a journalist and author, would actually turn away from the ingrained liberal leanings of the profession sans Fox that are part of reportorial membership. My wife disagrees with me to the point where beneath our agreement to not talk politics is the hard crust of resentment and marital spats. My book editor disagrees with me. Most of the thousands commenting disagreed with me. An entire town disagreed with me when I wrote Friday Night Lights, so I am used to disagreement. But this did leave a sour taste, because what I wrote was so measured and careful in which Obama, for all my disappointment after the debate, was also cited as someone of great and admirable principle, just as Romney was cited for having serious flaws.
The response to the column, for me at least, is far more interesting than the column itself. I did not write it to inflame—anybody actually reading it could see that. I wrote it to show that reflexively clinging to political party beliefs without any room for tolerance whether liberal or conservative, is exactly why this country has fallen into disrepair. I wrote it to show that we have to move beyond the dangerous reactionary conviction where liberals believe there has never been a good conservative idea in the history of the Republic and conservatives believe there has never been a good liberal idea in the history of the Republic.
I realize now that I was naive to think any of that would percolate through. But I did learn some valuable lessons:
1. Why did so many care? Of all the responses I read, my favorite was,d “Who is this clown and why should I care who he supports?” The answer is both simple as it is depressing—too many reporters trying to fill the canyon of content and groping for anything to write about because an author of several bestselling books, including Friday Night Lights, is being cast as seeking asylum in the East Germany of Republicanism. The support of Romney is a one-shot deal. The next time around, just like this one, I will support who I think is best for the job, not because the candidate is Democrat or Republican. Up until the column, I was pretty sure that as an American, that is my free choice.
2. Liberals preach tolerance, but 90 percent are every bit as nasty and vitriolic as the conservatives they rightfully condemn for being nasty and vitriolic.
3. While negative reaction to a piece of writing is the embodiment of the free speech that is one of the great rockbeds of America, you do find out who your friends are. Virtually all of them, and all of them liberal, disagreed with me. Some did say they respected my right to an opinion (gee, thanks). A few reacted with requisite smarminess. Most were offended and outraged, to the point where my relationship to them will never be the same again, and I think that is a mutual feeling. It wasn’t their negative reaction that bothered me, but their craven anger, to the point of some saying they will never read what I write again (now there’s a tolerant response). Not to mention that they live in the same ozone level as virtually every other American in which they only believe what they want to believe (I know because as the afternoon talk show host in Philadelphia for 1210 CBS AM, I spend five to six hours preparing for each day and do nothing now but read politics from a variety of differing viewpoints. I may be a misinformed voter but I am not a low-information one.
Most were offended and outraged, to the point where my relationship to them will never be the same again, and I think that is a mutual feeling.
3. Forgetting Fox for a moment, which is a good thing to forget about, as well as MSNBC, whose shotgun marriage to the left for the sake of making money is just as transparent, the column only confirmed for me the liberal bias that is rife in the mainstream media. Every colleague but one vehemently disagreed with my support of Romney, and they are deceiving themselves if they think they can keep such political views out of their stories. As someone who still has plenty of liberal beliefs left, I could not when I was a reporter.
5. To say that the media creates nonconspiracy conspiracies is unfair: what too many outlets do is sloppy and cowardly, suggesting conspiracies in the form of the ominous question—“Is it just possible ... ” They make no attempt to find out what happened, which would take all of a single phone call. Mitt Romney has embraced the slogan from the television show Friday Night Lights—“clear eyes,” “can’t lose,” etc. I was in France when this absolute nonstory was revealed and had no idea about it until after the column was written. But I still started seeing stories implying that my column was somehow a thank you to Romney for invoking the slogan. No one bothered to call me, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since I would have been denying an untruth, which in this day and age might as well be admitting a truth. My favorite was New York magazine’s website, which attributed the famous slogan to the book. I wish.
6. In what passes for reporting these days, a writer from BuzzFeed went back and searched my old tweets to see if I had said anything about Romney. He found that four months ago I wrote a series of tweets about Romney in which he visited a WaWa convenience store in his woeful efforts to act like the common man he is not. I called him clueless and racist in the profane terms I used in every tweet. Heavens to Murgatroid it's true! I did trash him as in keeping with my Twitter feed. I have trashed about 10 thousand other people. Romney was pathetic that day, for the very reason that so much of his campaign up until the debate was terrible: he was running against himself. At the debate he stopped running away from his record and his centrist views and back toward them.
To save investigative reporters the trouble, get a load of this:
I contributed $2,300 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
Stop the presses ...