In her new book, My Turn at the Bully Pulpit, Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, who hosts On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, gives her straightforward take on the issues of the day, from patriotism to medical malpractice. The following excerpt is about loyalty and conflict, and how meanness in politics cheapens debate.
Here is an excerpt from My Turn at the Bully Pulpit:
Chapter 4: On Loyalty and Conflict
People who like each other — even love each other — can disagree. They can fight. What is better than spirited debate? But it doesn't need to get personal, and it should never become mean. Also, mistakes happen; it's people who make them. It's critical to admit your mistakes, pay the piper, and move on. As for the rest of you — get over it!
I don't think there are many subjects as dear to my heart as the topic of a good fight. Come on, I'm a lawyer — I'm paid to argue. But for me the ability to disagree with people and maintain respect and affection is a fundamental value. I believe in good strong aggressive debate.
The writer Annie Lamott wondered aloud if people who are cruel get sent to the mean-people's room in heaven. I wonder too. Why do we have to be mean and call each other names when we disagree about something, whether it is abortion, the death penalty, tax policy, or homeland security? Why the finger-pointing and the challenging of other people's patriotism? Why has good old-fashioned disagreement suddenly turned into a question about moral character and patriotism?
I don't think we have to be cruel and personal. I'm not naive, and I am not the sweetest person in the world. But I think the level of rancor we see in politics today cheapens the quality of our national debate. And it is exactly this quality — we Americans can disagree and fight with each other, hold fierce electoral campaigns, and yet not shoot and kill each other — that distinguishes our two-hundred-year history of democracy from the rest of the world. That's not the way it is in Iran or North Korea. If we do not protect that open quality of our public life, we are finished.
Let's start with a major national nonissue: my arrival at Fox News. A lot of people flew out of their skins when Fox hired me. Wasn't I a liberal Democrat over at CNN? Hadn't I defended Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson? How could I possibly go to Fox, the conservative cable network? Leaving CNN was one thing, Greta, but going to Fox?
Everybody went nuts. The conservatives hated me before they even knew me, and the liberals felt betrayed. Even people who had never seen me on television seemed to have an opinion.
Now wait a minute. Let's put aside the fact that nobody really knew my personal opinions on anything. I had never taken any big public political positions, so how did people form these ideas? And who says I have to agree with everyone I work with or they have to agree with me? I didn't agree with everything said at CNN. I don't agree with everything said at Fox. I don't agree with everything my husband thinks either, but I still love him.
What I need to worry about is what I think, not what somebody else thinks. What I say on my show are my words, my thoughts, my opinions, and my ideas. Frankly, from time to time, as I rethink matters and as the facts change, my ideas and opinions change. Nobody tells me what to say; nobody tells me what my views are. They didn't do it at CNN when I was there, and they haven't done it at Fox.