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By far, one of the most substantive discussions at this year's largest conservative gathering, CPAC, was the panel that followed the screening of Hating Breitbart. The film which focused on the career and character of Andrew Breitbart, showcased his wit, grit and determination.
Following the screening of the film, a panel comprised of Larry O'Connor from Breitbart.com, Ari Rabin of Media Matters for America, John Fund from National Review Online, James O'Keefe of his own Project Veritas and finally, David Mastio of USA Today began the discussion by recounting how they first met Andrew Breitbart. The moderator, Rusty Humpries, saved Rabin for last. Rabin expressed his condolences for the loss of our favorite happy warrior... and then immediately proceeded to call James O'Keefe a liar.
O'Keefe responded on point, but respectfully. Rabin's diatribe was littered with mischaracterizations of Jame O'Keefe's work, but he made one point that's definitely worth exploring. "You've [conservative media] spent so much time speaking to each other, you no longer have the ability to speak to the American public." Of course as a progressive, Rabin didn't cite this as a complaint, but rather as a victory for progressive leaning entities like Media Matters. His comments are something everyone engaged in conservative media should mull. When was the last time we engaged with someone who didn't agree with our political leanings? When was the last time we sought out opposing points of view, not to mock, but to learn?
It is unfortunate that exchanges such as this don't happen more often. These days it's easy to forget our political foes are flesh and blood, not just vitrolic little avitars or bylines on a computer screen. While there's something to be said for online engagement of ideological foes, nothing beats a good heart to heart conversation with someone diametrically opposed to everything you believe.
When I first found conservatism, I also found William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley's show Firing Line is still one of my favorites and there are episodes I watch periodically. Some I watch purely for amusement, but the others I enjoy because of the fact that Buckley was able to consistently, civily engage with the most radical of the radical (the infamous Gore Vidal incident being an exception). In addition to giving a platform to all kinds of viewpoints, good the bad and ugly, a genuine curiosity of the opposition made Firing Line intriguing.
Aside from shows like Fox News' The Five (which barely, if even classifies as a broad spectrum presentation), there's a disappointing lack of oposing opinions landing in the same forum. Factor in tailor made news sites that shelter readers from the wiles of "liberal media," and we're moving towards a culture of ideological isolation. Isolation that arguably justifies Rabin's criticism of conservative media.
The O'Keefe/Rabin exchanges and years of Firing Line archives prove one thing: you will survive verbal encounters with ideological enemies. And even better than that, you may actually benefit from them. If we are to advance as a movement, our ideas have to be released from the prison of the echo chamber. Engaging with the opposition serves as a necessary reminder that life exists beyond your opinion and that people really do believe differently.