From a reader:
I think your analysis of the law professor anecdote is a little unfair. The
professor may have been a liberal, but he was also a smart guy who had
argued that Bush’s warrantless surveillance might well be legal – that is,
he was someone who held a different position than Obama. In talking to him
and exploring his views, he obtained a more thorough understanding of the
issue. That he didn’t talk to a card-carrying right-winger doesn’t seem
relevant to me.
Beyond that, the fact that he generally comes down on the liberal side of an
issue is unsurprising, since he is, in fact, a liberal guy. (Though I would
say not nearly as liberal as he’s often painted – by most metrics, such as
the ACU and voteview.com, he’s far from the Most Liberal. And most of his
positions aren’t even stereotypically that liberal: he wants to pull out of
Iraq… so we can put more troops in Afghanistan; he wants to raise taxes on
the most wealthy… and cut them for everyone else, including the
sorta-wealthy.) What’s important isn’t that he’s a liberal. What’s
important is that he’s someone who listens to arguments from those with whom
he disagrees, which is pretty uncommon in Washington.
Me: I think the criticism of my characterization of Obama’s conversation has some merit. I’d reword it slight differently now. But again, I don’t think the story of Obama calling Cass Sunstein(!) is really a great example of open-mindedness and searching for contrary views. It strikes me as more self-serving for Sunstein than anything else. Imagine if Richard Epstein or Robert Bork told a similar anecdote about John McCain. Would liberal bloggers really be persuaded that this is proof that McCain is open-minded? I doubt it, and rightly so. But again, I think there’s room for disagreement on my reading.
But I also think there’s some mythology at work here. The reader writes: “What’s important is that he’s someone who listens to arguments from those with whom he disagrees, which is pretty uncommon in Washington.”
Who says? Just because cable news shout shows give that impression, that doesn’t mean it’s true. These Senators have lots of friends across the ideological aisle. Where is the evidence that Obama is unique in this regard? Do we really think that Obama is the only Senator who asks the opinion of smart (and ideologically sympatico) people who might have different opinions than their own? Evidence please.
Update: From a reader, speaking for many:
Dear Jonah: In your “In Defense of Mr. Thoughtful” post yesterday you quoted an e-mailer who said: ”What’s important is that he’s someone who listens to arguments from those with whom he disagrees, which is pretty uncommon in Washington.” Ugh, where is the evidence that Obama ever listens to anyone?? He sat in the pew at the Rev Wright’s church for 20 years and apparently didn’t listen to, hear, or understand that the preacher was spewing anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-American hate-speech!!