No, not the ayatollahs in Tehran. This is a letter to you, the conservative American ayatollahs who demand purity, just like the ones over there. I’m not talking about all of you, of course. But this open letter is for many of you; maybe even most of you – the ones who say you agree with what I write on this Web site and what I say on the O’Reilly Factor almost all of the time, but as soon as I fall out of lock step with you … you vow to never listen or read another word I say or write. You are the ayatollahs this letter is aimed at.
The last two columns I wrote – one about whether Christian small business owners can refuse to do business with gays, the other about the civil war raging in the Republican Party – have drawn a ton of negative reaction. In both cases I wasn’t pure enough for many of you. Let me be clear: dissent is welcome. Unlike many of you, I don’t believe I have a monopoly on Truth. Do I like comments that say, “Bernie, right on, we love you”? Sure. But those of you who disagree are free to state your opinions just as I’m free to state mine.
But what I’ve learned is that while many of you claim to respect people in the public eye who stand up for their views, no matter how unpopular, what you really mean is you respect people in the public eye who stand up for your views. What I’ve learned reading your comments over several years now is that many of you only want your views validated. Nothing else is good enough. You don’t simply disagree with the other guy. You don’t want to even hear the other guy. You want the other guy dead (in some cases, I suspect, literally dead!). So this feel-good nonsense that you spout – that you admire people who stand on principle – is just something you say to make yourself feel good -- about yourself. But you don’t mean it. Like the other ayatollahs, reasoned dissent scares you. You talk tough. But you’re weak.
In my particular case, I have never written or uttered a word on TV that I didn’t honestly believe. Those views often offend liberals who read or listen to me. Understood. And every now and then those views rub my hard right friends the wrong way. But despite what you say, you don’t really respect independence. You only want to hear from people who agree with you. You rightly deride liberal colleges for not welcoming diverse opinions. You rightly wonder what they’re afraid of. You, my conservative ayatollahs … are them.
You know how many of you (again, rightly) condemn liberals who attack black conservatives for straying from the liberal plantation? You ayatollahs are no better. You condemn me for straying from the conservative plantation. And even if you agree with me most of the time, one false move and I’m dead to you. Think I’m exaggerating? Try this sampling (with bad spelling and bad grammar left intact) from those of you angry conservatives who are no better than angry closed-minded liberals:
From Leisa: “I can no longer listen to you. How disrespectful and foolish can you be. I will stop watching O'Riley in fear I might possibly see or hear from you again.”
From Wade: “Followed you for years and bought [your] book. Never again Go to Hell.”
From Vicki: “Bernie. you have now lost me. wow. you missed the point entirely. You and O'Reilly are done.”
From Conservative Citizen: I will never watch them [Goldberg and O’Reilly] again. Just like MSNBC.
From Mal: “last time I'll bother reading Bernie!”
From LaMont: “Been a long time follower of yours Bernie, but after seeing youR comments on Ted Cruz and Eric Bolling, it seems that you are just anther Karl Rove ASS KISSER. YOu establishment GOP guys suck - our only chance is if the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Eric Bolling can get rid of you, Rove, McConnell, and Boehner. Go screw Pelosi you traitor - I AM DONE LISTENING TO PHONIES LIKE YOU!”
There are many more just like that.
When I wrote about liberal bias while I was still a CBS News correspondent, conservatives applauded me. But some of my liberal CBS News colleagues called me a “traitor” because I didn’t toe the party line. They were afraid of dissent. Dissent would force them to consider another point of view, and that’s the last thing they wanted to do. Now I’m called a traitor again – this time by you conservative ayatollahs, for expressing a few opinions you don’t want to hear. Once again, you are what you condemn in liberals.
There is little difference between the authoritarians on the hard left and those of you ayatollahs on the hard right. You’re both closed-minded. You both demand ideological purity.
The ayatollahs in Tehran survive because they will not tolerate dissent. This is all the proof you need regarding their insecurity. You, my American ayatollah friends, are no different. You don’t simply dislike opinions that don’t mesh with yours. You don’t ever want to be exposed to them. At some level you see opinions you don’t share as viruses that may do you in. That’s why, like the ayatollahs over there, you too want to shut down dissent. You too are insecure.
I know, as I said at the outset, that some of you reading this – whether you agree with my views on various subjects or not – are open-minded enough to hear me out. That’s all I ask. It would be nice if more of you took on the ayatollahs with strong comments on my Web site, but that’s up to you. As for the right wing authoritarians who have threatened to never read another word I write, or listen to another word I say, do what you have to do.
The good people in Tehran will not miss their ayatollahs when they finally go. And we won’t miss you, either.