Snark is the lifeblood of the blogosphere. But at the Gruntled Center we promote gratitude, cheerfulness, contentment - or at least resolute civility. I really do want to find common ground with people I disagree with. And that depends on some common body of facts on which we agree, as well as opinions about them over which we might still disagree.
Other people in the public sphere, though, are met with more than differing opinions. They are met every day with angry people asserting as facts things that are just not so.
When Senator McCain, during the presidential campaign, was confronted by a woman who asserted that Barack Obama was a Muslim, he gently corrected her. She was nonplussed, but did not fight him; she was there as a McCain supporter.
By contrast, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank was confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman who accused him of supporting "this Nazi policy" - by which I think she meant the false belief that the health care proposal before Congress would force old people to accept euthanasia. Congressman Frank asked her "what planet do you normally reside on?" This was fine snark and drew a big laugh, but is clearly an ineffective way to promote civil conversation with people who are determinedly wrong.
Because people do not thank you when you point out that they have their facts all wrong. They just get mad.
Recently, Republican Congressman Bob Inglis reported that at a town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, SC, a man stood up and told Congress to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." The Congressman "had to politely explain that, 'Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,' " Inglis recalled. "But he wasn't having any of it."
He wasn't having any of it. How should one respond helpfully, without arrogance or condescension, in a way that actually reaches people, when they are just flat wrong?
A recent poll by Public Policy Polling tried to find out just what the "birthers" who doubt President Obama's citizenship actually believe. A quarter of the people polled did not believe that Pres. Obama was a citizen. Of that 25%, 6% - a quarter of all the birthers - knew that Obama was born in Hawaii, but did not think Hawaii was part of the United States.
I have not met a birther, or someone who believes that there will be "death panels," or someone who says "keep your government hands off my Medicare." But it is only a matter of time. (In fact, this post may bring a few out). Truly, I would welcome helpful suggestions.