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Saturday, July 16, 2005

About six weeks ago, David von Drehle of the Washington Post invited me and another blogger, Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog, to Washington to talk about blogging and public affairs in general. Barbara is an extremely liberal, and I fear, deeply vituperative blogger. I am a deeply conservative blogger. The goal of the article was to see how two bloggers from the opposite sides of the political spectrum view the world today and the future of blogging. We didn't find much that we could agree on, but we were civil, probably much more so in person than bloggers tend to be digitally.

There is also a certain jargon of partisanship that just doesn't seem appropriate when faced with someone of the opposite tribe in person, particularly while wired for recording. It just doesn't seem the thing to call the other person a moonbat whack job in person. Perhaps if more bloggers of differing ideologies knew each other, the level of mutual disdain and biting sarcasm would be lowered. Or perhaps not. It is hard to be gracious when you so deeply disagree with everything the other side believes, but we can but try. I know I fall off the wagon regularly. And don't feel all that guilty afterwards, so perhaps, I'm just succumbing to a mild, Pollyannaish attack of civility.

David took us around Washington on the Washington Post's generous expense account and would throw in little questions and then each of us would have our say and then debate a bit on the issue. The article is the cover story of the Washington Post Magazine this week. Read the article and let me know what you think.

Mr. von Drehle is a very interesting guy. He is an aspiring historian and has written a well-reviewed history of the terrible 1911 Triangle Shirtwast Fire that some AP U.S. history teachers use in their classes. He has also written on the culture on death row as well as contributed to the Post recap of the 2000 election fight. I think he has a sincere interest in the history of politics, one of my favorite subjects. So, you can see that he astutely places blogging in the long history of political debate and acrimony in our nation's history. And he is so right to point to the ugly pamphlets and newspapers that carried the debate in early years of the republic. Jefferson even gave a sinecure to the poet Philip Freneau at the State Department to fund the newspaper, The National Gazette and attacks on George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and later on John Adams. This was while Jefferson was serving as Washington's Secretary of State. And the language wasn't beanbag. In retaliation, Hamilton helped John Fenno found The Gazette of the United States to attack Jeffersonians. Imagine today if the Secretaries of State and Treasury were each supporting and contributing to partisan newspapers, or blogs if you will, and using these media instruments to attack each other in the harshest words. Not so different from the anonymous leaks to journalists that make up a great deal of what passes for journalism these days, eh?

It seems rather ennobling and inspiring to be part of that tradition. It's also encouraging to see a major journalist have such respect for the blogs and read them regularly. David told me that he likes reading the blogs on both sides and takes criticism that bloggers write about his articles to heart. I have always wondered if any MSM journalists pay attention to the criticism that they get from both sides and David said that he isn't so interested in the attacks that organizations like the Media Research Council from the right or Media Matters from the left launch at journalists because he feels that they have a financial stake in whipping up outrage over media coverage. But he is interested in what individuals like bloggers write and he tries to pay attention to that. Bully for him.

David has also been intrigued about the gulf between the red and blue states. In January of this year, he took a journey into the heart of redness by actually going to places like Kansas and Oklahoma and talking to residents there about what matters to them and why they supported George Bush for a Post Magazine cover story. The result was, I thought, a fair look at the concerns and beliefs of the people that the MSM often seems to regard anthropologically as some primitive culture.

Anyways, this has been a weekend of fame and glory for me. First, someone wrote up a Wikipedia entry for me, then I got a nice plug on CNN's look at the blogs, and this weekend I'm on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine. Pretty heady stuff for just a middle-aged high school history teacher.

UPDATE: David von Drehle will be online to discuss the book on Monday at 1 pm. So send in your questions now or during the discussion.

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