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How Conservatives Killed Robin Williams

by Michael Austin, published

Chances are you clicked on this link in order to confirm whatever partisan narrative you happen to have. Maybe you want to understand how conservative policies and practices, at a deep and fundamental level, were responsible for the death of one of America’s best-loved entertainers. You know that conservatives are dangerous, and this just proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Or maybe you wanted to sneer at some misguided liberal who doesn’t know anything about anything and wants to divert attention away from the president’s failures by slandering conservatives. And you can’t wait to forward this post on to show your friends how deluded liberals can be.

In either case, I am very sorry to disappoint you, but, you see, the headline was just a diversion to get you to click. To create it, I followed three time-tested rules of political discourse:

  1. Find the topic that everybody is talking about today.
  2. Toss in the name of a person (Obama, Kerry, Boehner, etc.) that I don’t like.
  3. Create some vague, but plausible sounding argument to relate B to A in any way possible--the more outrageous the better, since people tend to forward things that make them mad just as often as things they agree with.

This is just a way of trying to get attention by shouting through all of the noise. There is so much information in the world that moderate, reasonable, well-argued opinions don’t stand much of a chance. This is especially true on the Internet, which is still basically an entertainment medium, though, often, the entertainment goes by the name of “news.”

The master, perhaps, is the political commentator

Ann Coulter, who, in the past month or so, has managed to outrage soccer fans by blaming soccer for the decline of American values, and Christian missionaries by asserting that they deserve to get the Ebola virus because they can’t manage to stay home and serve Christ in America.

This is not a criticism of Coulter at all — just a recognition that she is exceptionally good at the game that the rest of us are all trying to play too. A game called “Get Noticed on the Interwebs.” There the only rule is that there are no rules, and if you shout really, really loud, you get a pony.

As a result, we have ended up with 1) a political discourse that consists mainly of people shouting at each other; and 2) a rhetorical context in which pretty much everyone can blame pretty much anything on pretty much anyone. All one needs is a confirmation bias and an Internet connection.

The problem, however, is that our world is many orders of magnitude more complicated than the headlines we are most inclined to click on.

Conservatives did not kill Robin Williams. Neither did liberals. His death was the result of a terrible mental disease that strikes people of all political persuasions, nationalities, income levels, and religious affiliations. The suggestion that his death had anything to do with partisan politics would be immoral and obscene. I hope that most people (usual suspects aside) recognize this to be true.

But this is the case with a lot of the things that occupy our attention these days.

We live in a world where a lot of things happen that do not fit neatly into America’s early-21st century partisan narratives. ISIS, Russian expansionism, Chinese business practices, international gas prices, and Libyan terrorists are just a few of the forces in the world that do not much care about the current American definitions of “liberal” and “conservative.”

So the next time you see a headline advertising a spurious connection between the day's top news story and somebody else’s political opinion, remember how you felt when you first saw this headline. Try ignoring it, and see if it goes away.

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