Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Nicholas Kristof's column this morning on ideology and vitriol is a relevant followup to my post last week on ambivalence. What he doesn't address, though, is the conventional wisdom that partisan loyalty is, overall, in decline among Americans. Is that still true? Or are moderates just more decisive now? Or are extremists just more outspoken? (And are liberals really getting more secular and conservatives more religious? I thought the heyday of the "Religious Right" had mostly waned, and more evangelicals voted for Gore than for Clinton.)

That ambivalence posting was prompted by a recent offer I got to write some newspaper op-eds. My problem with op-eds is that I hate the sanctimonious and presumptuous tone in which they're usually written, and which I struggle to avoid myself. Mostly, I hate trying to boil things down into overly simplistic terms. I was reading this interview with my brother-in-law, Stephen Henderson, by the Poynter Institute, which two years ago gave him an award for his editorial writing in the Baltimore Sun. The questioner asks if he's "opposed to editorials that say, 'On the one hand...' and 'On the other hand...'" Steve responds, "That's the kiss of death. ... You've got to get all that out of your mind before you sit down at the keyboard." His point is not that an argument should be boilerplate or take on straw men, just that it shouldn't be muddled. Still, in light of Kristof's column, I think that as long as opinion pieces end up at a solid conclusion, they should do a better job of illuminating the merit of two or three sides if they are to truly serve the public and not just rally an interest group.

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