The Loyal Opposition

I am a proud conservative. And judging from the last eight years, I am one of the few left in Washington. But that doesn't mean I don't love listening to and learning from those with whom I disagree.
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One of the more hopeful aspects of Barack Obama's historic campaign in 2008 was his call for a new style of politics. It was a message that was appealing even to those of us who did not agree with many of his political views.

As I said repeatedly on "Morning Joe" this year, I believed Barack Obama to be a new kind of Democrat.

While he was a traditional liberal on the campaign trail, he also appeared to be more accepting of those who did not share his worldview. Being the host of one of the few news shows that interviews people from all sides of the political spectrum, I am excited by those who have intellects that invite diversity of thought instead of being threatened by it.

That is why Arianna Huffington and I have shared a friendship spanning two decades and three White House administrations. That is also why I enjoy working with David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs more than many members of my own party.

In Congress, I always carried the words of Bobby Kennedy with me as a challenge. "Question initial assumptions" was Bobby's directive.

I always did. I continue to do so today. Maybe that led me to be one of the first conservatives to blast George Bush for moving America toward bankruptcy. That is also why I was the first news host from any network to began attacking the Bush Administration for their horrific response to Hurricane Katrina. For those with short memories, check out historian Douglas Brinkley's book on the subject.

Make no mistake of it. I am a proud conservative. And judging from the last eight years, I am one of the few left in Washington. But that doesn't mean I don't love listening to and learning from those with whom I disagree.

These past several weeks have been challenging on many fronts. I believe the stimulus bill that was signed into law on Tuesday was a terrible piece of legislation. I am greatly concerned that it will put us deeper in debt without giving us enough bang for the buck. In fact, that bill violates just about every economic belief that I hold dear.

But that doesn't mean I question Democrats' character any more than it means I am cheering against the president.

For the sake of America, I hope I am wrong. If I am, it wouldn't be the first time.

In 1993, I had great concerns about Bill Clinton's tax increase. I thought it would harm the US economy. I was wrong.

Two years later, Bill Clinton and Democrats across America were sure the Republican budget cuts would cripple the economy. They were wrong.

By the end of the decade, President Clinton and the Republicans who ran Congress for most of his presidency had waged fierce budget battles every year but somehow managed to balance the unbalanceable budget. We left with a $155 billion surplus and started paying down the national debt. That creative friction did great things for America's economic strength.

The same thing can happen again. Let's hope so and pray that I am wrong about the stimulus bill for the millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their bills every month.

Because I believe that diversity of thought is a strength, I wish President Obama had made a stronger effort to be bipartisan. But I will not waste my time on that topic since I know that no one who reads this website will agree. And frankly, I don't have the time to waste typing to myself.

But I do want to comment on the continued unbridled hatred that always seems to fly from the keyboards of many Huffington Post readers who comment on my articles and write posts.

Weeks back, I sent a post into this site describing the pride I felt seeing Barack Obama sworn in as President of the United States. Even though he was not a member of my party, he is the president of my country.

I spent the rest of that week blasting Republicans for their refusal to celebrate in the historic moment. I hardly think it conservative to cheer against a president's success.

That positive post about the new president was greeted with vitriolic responses and personal attacks from Huffington Post readers who called me everything but Adolf Hitler and a latter-day Ted Bundy.

Hmmm. Okay.

And then last week, my co-host held our producer's baby on her lap. Mika did it for a very complicated reason. She loves babies and when she saw little Andrew in the studio, she grabbed him. Our floor manager counted her in and the camera light turned on before she could return the baby to his father. Because we are very relaxed on set, Mika rolled with it and interviewed Senator Jim Webb with the baby on her lap. It was great TV and that relaxed atmosphere is what many believe makes our show work.

But that harmless little segment was greeted with more vitriolic emails bashing Mika, the baby and me. For some reason, that rage was unfocused and uncontrollable.

I wish I could say I was surprised. But I told Mika and the child's parents that it was par for the course.

And then, yesterday, I was emailed Bob Cesca's post that compared me to infamous red-baiter Joseph McCarthy, a man described by Time magazine as one of the most evil of the 20th Century.

I am not exactly sure what planet Mr. Cesca has been living on for the past year, but the guest list of "Morning Joe" should be enough to inform anyone with a 3rd grade education that I invite ideological diversity and avoid McCarthy-like inquisitions.

Perhaps Bob should talk to the person who wrote the forward to his book to see if he engaged in a bit of "McCarthyism" himself. If he did talk to that person, I am sure that Arianna Huffington would vouch for my character and just how open-minded I am.

Speaking of Arianna, I was asked by her to write a regular column called "The Loyal Opposition." I agreed immediately, thinking that a free flow of ideas from someone who does not live in the echo chamber of the liberal blogosphere would be an exciting opportunity for readers. Judging from the hate-filled responses to even my positive posts about President Obama, I guess I was mistaken. Too many writing comments below my articles are threatened by anyone who is does not dogmatically follow their own beliefs. And they react by hatefully attacking me.

How open-minded.

As for Mr. Cesca, he has taken my opposition to the Democratic stimulus bill-- based on economic and philosophical differences-- and turned it into something dirty. Bob says I am a "neo-McCarthyite."


So instead of talking about the philosophical tension that has defined our Republic since Jefferson debated Hamilton over the size of the federal government while in George Washington's cabinet meetings, Mr. Cesca has resorted to name calling. That's too bad.

For those of us who love our country and the diverse viewpoints that have made America the greatest experiment in the history of government, now is the time to engage in intellectual debates between Jeffersonians who err on the side of individual rights, and Hamiltonians who are more likely to defer to the state.

Now is the time to debate the New Deal, the Great Society, Welfare Reform and the direction forward.

Now is the time to debate the causes of the banking disaster, the Wall Street meltdown and our economic collapse.

Now is the time to plan how to put our best foot forward, by investing in Al Gore's dream of a green grid, alternative energy sources and a new economy fueled by green technology that will provide the kind of growth America needs for its long-term health.

Now is the time to talk among ourselves, debate the issues, raise our voices, and learn from those with whom we disagree.

But after reading comments attached to my columns and posts like Bob Cesca's, I'm not so sure that many visitors to this site want anything more than to have their initial assumptions echoed day in and day out.

That's too bad.

Arianna deserves better.

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