by Conor Friedersdorf
Over at his exceptional policy blog, The Agenda, Reihan Salam wrote something that I want to strip of it's context for a moment:
...it is generally a good thing for the views of large numbers of citizens to be part of the larger public conversation. This allows others to gauge those views and to make judgments about them, and it helps dissipate the anger that tends to build among people who would otherwise feel excluded. My libertarian friend interpreted this as a straightforward utilitarian claim -- i.e., so the anger will dissipate and these people won't become violent extremists, ergo we will save lives. That's not quite how I would put it. This isn't really a hypothesis we can rigorously test. Rather, it is a gut instinct.
I concur with that gut instinct. It's why as editor of my college newspaper, I insisted on preserving a policy where all signed letters to the editor were printed, why I'm so enamored with the excellent new site Ricochet, where right-leaning readers engage in all manner of forceful disagreements in the comments section (often debating with yours truly), and why I adamantly oppose the sorts of hate speech laws that are present in Canada and certain parts of Europe.
As it happens, it is more possible than ever before for large numbers of citizens to participate in the larger public conversation. It turns out that the contest of the remarks above is the public debate over the mosque and community center near Ground Zero, where the viewpoints of mosque opponents and proponents alike are being reflected on national television, inside magazines, on countless Web sites, through social networks, and even in old fashioned conversations.