Hitting Below The Beltway

A couple of days ago, I alluded to my waning affection and interest in Outside The Beltway. Since I hung that out there, I guess I better elaborate.

I’ve long liked OTB, and there’s a lot of overlap between Wizbang and OTB. Heck, their caption contests are run by a former Wizbang Guest Blogger. (Hi, Rodney!) But in the last few months, I’ve found myself less and less inclined to visit there.

Part of it is the new layout. I generally don’t like the “print a teaser, click for the rest” scheme. (Hot Air is an exception; they have great headlines and brilliantly-chosen pictures for their teasing.) But in most cases, I can get past my dislike if the content is worth it.

No, what’s turning me off over there is the gradually changing tone of the place.

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In a way, I owe them a debt for their change, because it helped me realize a policy I (and most bloggers) follow purely on instinct. And it has to do with tone.

Now, Wizbang is a conservative blog. All of us fit, to various degrees, on the right. We side with the right far more than we do on the left.

I’m probably the most “liberal” author here, and I have several positions where I stand apart from the mainstream right. And I don’t hide them.

Gay marriage? In favor. Abortion? Squishily pro-choice. Oliver North? Despise him. Sports? Utterly apathetic. Christian? No, thanks, I’ll pass.

And I’ll bring those topics up whenever the mood strikes me, even though I know it’ll get me flak from the regulars here. Hell, I do it sometimes just because I know it will.

But when I do bring them up, I bring them up respectfully. I approach the topic knowing that the loyal readers are already disagreeing with me, and are quite ready to tell me so. So I don’t start off by looking to turn the disagreement into a fight.

Why do I do that? Because I believe that Ronald Reagan was right when he said “if someone disagrees with me 20% of the time, he’s still 80% my friend.”

Oh, I have no problems writing with a snide, condescending, outright hostile tone. In fact, I think I’m pretty good at it. But I reserve that tone for when I’m not interested in making nice and getting along with those who disagree with me.

That covers most of the time when I take on a liberal idea or agenda or issue. But I trot it out against the right, on occasion. Mainly on the conspiracy nuts and their pet conspiracies — the Birthers, the John Birchers, the racists, the 9/11 Truthers, and the like.

I’ll cheerfully smack down those I deem needing of a good smacking. Hell, it’s fun doing that. But it’s generally not what I choose to do when I’m asserting my independence from the right.

That’s not what I’m generally seeing over at OTB. Yeah, they’re still on the “right” side of an issue, but when they choose to assert their independence, they don’t pull their punches. They express their disdain quite openly.

Now, there’s a certain admirability in that kind of egalitarianism. It has a certain honesty in it.

But it can also be a tremendous turnoff. One expects a certain level of tact and respect from a “friend” as opposed to a stranger.

And showing that deference is not a sign of dishonesty. One can disagree without being disagreeable. One doesn’t have to put down the opposition when expressing an opinion. Back to my own experiences — does anyone here who opposes it doubt my sincerity of my support for gay marriage? And does anyone who opposes it think that I hold them in contempt and disdain for disagreeing with me?

I intended, when I started writing this piece, to cite specific articles and authors, where I saw signs that OTB was succumbing to the infamous “LGF syndrome.” But that is getting too close to trying to start a “blog war,” and that’s hardly my intention.

No, as I did some poking through OTB’s recent archives, I came to a different conclusion: they’re trying to be a “professional” blog. Its purpose is to be seen as objective, analytical, independent, and dispassionate.

In other words, acting like lawyers.

That’s not the model I’ve always sought. (I tried it, for a while, didn’t like it.) No, I’ve preferred to be more personable, more informal, more casual. I’m not trying to come across as the lofty expert, dispensing my wisdom from on high.

No, I’m more interested in the social interaction, the offering of my opinions and hearing those of others. I crave the dialogue. (Another reason why I gave up “going pro.”)

I would offer one word of advice (unsolicited, of course, but that’s the blogger’s stock in trade) to OTB: their commenters are getting an awful lot like the gang of assholes that currently make up the LGF pack of swines. They might want to think about engaging and discouraging some of the more noxious ones before they take over the place.

We’ve got some here, on both sides, but we make sure they don’t run the place. Personally, I’ll get right down into the trenches comments and take them on. So do my colleagues.

And when they go too far, we’ll use our authority and show them the door.

One of the most important responsibilities of any blogger is setting and enforcing the tone of the site. And that is something that OTB seems to be failing at.

And that’s a damned shame. For down that path lies madness.

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