A few weeks ago I spent a wonderful morning at a national wildlife refuge in Rhode Island. At the end of my meanderings, a fellow birdwatcher stopped to chat and we had a pleasant 20 minutes discussing white-eyed vireos and our favorite places to bird. Toward the end of our conversation, he turned the subject to politics, and at first I was interested in what he had to say. But soon he was trembling with rage, at President Obama, the Congress, foolish liberals and the like. As soon as I saw his disposition, I backed right off and tried to calm the waters. I resorted to simply nodding my head and was soon glad to get away.
My acquaintance was a victim of the apparently widespread delusion that strong opinions are a worthy substitute for factual argument and that the more vehemently you express these opinions, the more valid they are. Join this to the idea that everyone has a license to berate others and a pleasant interlude can be turned into a psychologically perilous encounter for both sides.
I lay much of this at the feet of television news channels, particularly MSNBC and Fox, which disseminate these attitudes. He watched both, as it turned out, but preferred one over the other. If you watch and listen to these channels carefully, you will notice that many of the voices are the voices of bullies. They are loud and aggressive, they admit no possibility of error and they go on-and-on-and-on, one rant after another. This is disgraceful stuff and a disservice to the country. We would all be wise to turn them off and look for better evidence of what President Obama, Governor Romney and other candidates for office believe. On C-Span, for example, we can listen to the candidates in their own voices.