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Give Me A Break

Ideologues' misreadings are driving me nuts

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Take a look at the photo here. Does the person pictured in it look like an aging radical hippie activist to you? No? Well, I'll be damned -- I'm not Jerry Klein. Despite his sometimes wacky radicalism, Klein, who once wrote for this paper, was the nicest guy you ever wanted to meet. But he doesn't work here anymore and I'm not him. Let's be clear about a few things. Because I'm not Jerry Klein doesn't mean I'm implementing a stealth plan to cram a radical right-wing agenda down your throat, either. I've written about the misdeeds of Andrew Reyes and Judge Bill Jones not because they're Democrats, but because both men appear at best to have abused their public powers. It doesn't matter if you know them and think they're nice guys; that is not a logical reason to ignore facts that call their actions into question.

Because I work where Klein once worked and have defended a gay swim club's right to meet on public property, advocated for the legalization of soft-core drugs, and committed other atrocities which I hardly remember but which some of you still obsess over, doesn't mean that the Republicans who once spoke freely to me off the record must now deal with me only in terse, pre-prepared statements.

Generally speaking, my policy toward our readers is simple: it doesn't matter whether you like me, hate me or disagree with me. Like Klein, some of my most loyal readers can't stand me, and if that keeps me fed, so be it. If what a columnist says disturbs you, don't read it.

I've always had a policy of ignoring the half-baked rantings some readers send to this paper, but the stuff I've gotten lately has finally pushed me over the edge. I have a simple request. Before you write us or call to complain, re-read what we actually printed a couple times instead of railing on about whatever it is you think I'm trying to say in between the lines. You're driving me nuts.

After a column I wrote last week about how the Republican Party has a built-in disincentive to get anywhere on banning abortion, I got email from a bunch of readers who clearly think they've got my number.

In the column, I pointed out the well-documented fact that Republicans in the US Senate don't have enough votes to pass a partial-birth abortion ban without the votes of Democratic pro-choice turncoats, and that Republicans have used flawed legislation in the past to ensure that the partial-birth abortion bans they pass won't pass legal muster. To the leftists who wrote me, this was a clear sign that I was trying to persuade pro-choice voters that Republicans weren't really serious about ending abortion. They were outraged with what one guy called "my usual tricks."

Most of the pro-lifers who wrote me -- some of whom said they would pray for me -- took what I wrote to mean that I supported partial-birth abortion, and lectured me on why it was immoral. They also took my contention that the Republican Party uses the Christian right as a ploy to demonize Republicans -- which is exactly what they'd expect from someone who writes for a liberal rag like this one, one person wrote.

The truth is this: The Republican Party uses the religious right just like white Democrats use black Democrats to push them over the edge to victory. Aside from a token gesture here and there, both groups generally get shafted after elections and their leaders know it. That these facts don't conform to some folks' worldview leaves them with two options: adjust it or attack me. Most of the ideologues out there choose the latter.

If there's one thing I'll never do, it's disclose where I stand on abortion and a host of other "litmus test" issues. That would allow the goons out there to pigeonhole me and keep me from my real agenda, which should be pretty transparent by now, given that I write about the same tired theme very often in this space, hoping that someone will eventually get it.

That theme is this: For the vast majority of the political leaders in this country, political survival comes first and ideology comes in a distant second. When either party brings up an issue, the question to ponder is not what you think other people should believe about it, but why the politicians are bringing the issue up now and what they have to gain from your interest in the subject. Folks who can't grasp this because of their unquestioning allegiance to a team of "good guys" are fools. They are the right-wingers who still bemoan the bloated, deficit-busting budget President Bill Clinton passed in the early 1990s but are silent about George Bush's own deficit spending. They are the left-wingers who said nothing about Clinton's attack on Iraq in 1998 -- for which he didn't bother to seek the approval of a coalition of allies -- but are outraged by Bush's Iraq war-mongering.

If one-sided swill that confirms your black-and-white view of the world is what you want, you're going to have to get your reality elsewhere.

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