I had all kinds of ideas for things I wanted to write before I left, but between last-minute packing and phone calls from friends and family, it didn’t happen. So I’ll just say a few things quickly.
As I said before, one of the things that led me to start blogging in the first place was the fact that I thought the country had gone crazy, and one of the things that particularly bothered me was the sheer level of invective and hatred that people seemed to feel comfortable directing at one another. I hated this, not just in itself, but because I thought: this harms us all.
A democracy is essentially about determining the course of our nation together. To do that, it helps a lot to have a good citizenry. A good citizenry is informed, serious about things that are worth taking seriously, and not liable to be led off course by demagogues. (Everyone doesn’t have to be like this, but you need a critical mass of people who are.) But I’ve always thought that a good citizenry is also composed of people who assume, until proven wrong, that many of the people who disagree with them are acting in good faith.
This matters for policy: you’re unlikely to choose sound policies if you assume that anyone who disagrees with you is a depraved, corrupt imbecile. It’s hard to learn anything from people you have completely written off. But it’s also corrosive to any kind of community or dialogue to assume the worst about large numbers of people you’ve never met. It makes you less willing to try to take their problems seriously, and to try to figure out how they might be solved, or to try to understand what’s driving them.
I hate it when people do this to me. I never wanted to do it to them.
The thing is, it’s hard to see how to try to help create a better citizenry. It’s not something that can be accomplished by enacting a policy, the way covering the uninsured is. It’s a matter of individual moral choices, and as far as I can see, the only way in which we can have a better citizenry is to make the best choices we can, and to try to help other people when it’s in our power to do so. I once had a friend who decided that she would research all the down-ticket offices, candidates for judgeships, etc. — the races we all vote on without having a clue who we’re voting for — and distribute the information she found to anyone who wanted it. She was helping out in the way I have in mind.
When I started blogging, I thought: with all the craziness and vitriol that’s flying around, it’s worth at least trying to do something like that. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to be informed, by covering stories that weren’t being covered, and by always linking to my primary sources, so that only one of us had to spend time figuring out how to find some bill or GAO report, for instance; and to fact-check claims that struck me as dubious, and that were being accepted.
But I also wanted to try, if at all possible, to treat people, and most especially my political opponents, with respect, except where respect had been clearly forfeited. (Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, I’m thinking of you.) Because, as I said, I think it’s just corrosive to democracy if people are not willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to one another. Besides, it’s uncharitable and wrong, and besides that, perhaps some people would survive in a world in which no one was ever more generous to them than they deserve, but I am quite sure that I would not.
That was one of the things I wanted to try to do. I wasn’t particularly confident that I’d succeed at all, but I thought: the least I can do is try. It might be a complete failure. It might be that the idea of me trying to do this is just laughable, and that if I had the self-awareness God gave an oyster, I’d be rolling on the floor laughing. Still, I thought, if it doesn’t work, the fault will probably be mine, and I’ll learn something. (One thing about blogging: you have to be willing to regard criticism as a learning experience, because your shortcomings, including the ones you don’t know about and will be mortified to discover, are always in plain view.)
I think that democracy, like any kind of community, takes effort. It needs to be maintained. People need to work at it. And the last five years have made me realize, yet again, that even when things seem really bad, they are not hopeless. There is always something you can do. Even when you’re not expecting it, you’ll get an email from Moe Lane asking: would you like to join our blog?
All you can do is try. And as my grandmother used to say to us: it is not worthy of humanity to give up.
I also want to thank everyone who commented on the various goodbye threads at ObWi, the Monthly, and elsewhere, my wonderful co-bloggers, and all the people who have commented over the years. It means more to me than I can tell you. But I’ve always felt that I got much more than I gave from the communities at both blogs, and I’m more grateful than I can say.