Here’s a dirty little secret about life for politicos in D.C.: We’re all friends here. Republicans, Democrats, Hill staffers, consultants, lobbyists, journalists — we all drink at the same bars, gossip about the same people, shop at the same grocery stores. Sure, at work we’re policy wonks and experts on talking points, but off the clock we unwind over the same drinks and drunkenly deal with life’s bigger issues like our fantasy football draft picks. We’re actual people who think for ourselves.
That’s why it’s always kind of surprising when my friends from outside the Beltway bubble take certain issues or stands I write about so personally. Last week, a friend of mine sent me an opinion article arguing that Republicans are anti-intellectual and accused me of promoting candidates whose supporters can’t think for themselves. Well, in my humble opinion, Republicans (and the other 56% of mainstream voters not planning to re-elect Barack Obama) are not anti-intellectual, we’re anti-intellectuals. I’m sure you know just who I’m describing: those smarmy people who always know so much more about a topic than anyone else because they read one article about it.
The fact is that people on both sides base their opinions on what they read. (And if you think I’m talking about everybody except for you, you’re not alone.) Conveniently, they tend to only read publications that are likely to reinforce their worldviews. This holds for everything from big issues like global warming, the economy and unions, to seemingly minor ones like takeout containers or even hand soap. Yes, hand soap. Every cause has its own activists.
Just last week, The New York Times published an innocuous article about the Food and Drug Administration deciding against a ban on antibacterial hand soaps. A reasonable person would assume that’s because the agency has no good reason to think the public is in any danger. Mother Jones magazine disagreed, and railed against it, accusing the FDA of not doing its job. Mother Jones even blamed the “soap lobby” (it must be very clean there) for defending their safe products. Apparently, it’s evil for an industry to defend itself. It’s everybody else who’s innocent until proven otherwise.
Mother Jones’s source is the left-leaning National Resource Defense Council (NRDC). But are there any chemicals the NRDC doesn’t want to ban? Lemme see, nope. Any time an environmentalist wants to write an article and needs “data” to support it, she knows exactly where to look. The NRDC says a chemical in hand soaps called triclosan creates superbugs, even though evidence exists that those superbugs have actually existed for over 30,000 years.
Some advice for all my loyal readers who don’t live in Washington and work in politics: Rather than just letting Mother Jones or Andrew Sullivan or even me tell you what to think, seek out a second or third opinion and decide for yourselves whether anything, including hand soap, is safe.
More and more, when I engage in political discussions with my liberal friends, I’m accused of being a helpless idiot if I don’t agree with left-wing propaganda The Daily Beast and Mother Jones. But when everybody with a soapbox starts contributing their two bits to my well-being or calls me a partisan hack, I tell them I’ve tried my best to come to my own reasoned decisions, but I’m wide open to hearing their side.
I admit, I’ve lost friends outside the Beltway because of candidates I voted for and causes I supported, but here in the thick of it, I know Republicans who smoke pot, Democrats who are staunchly pro-life and everybody in between. We here try to live our own lives and make up our own minds.
Natasha Mayer is a political consultant in Washington, D.C.