So, I used to watch The Daily Show every day. It was smart, funny, insightful, revealing, and it reflected the obvious inconsistencies and hypocrisies of conservative America that made me so mad. It felt so good seeing Jon Stewart “stick it” to Fox News. However, sometime early last year it all started to lose its juice for me. It stopped being so entertaining and satisfying and I started to wonder why.
What first occurred to me was that I just got tired of being so angry at the other side. That’s part of it for sure, but I wanted a more concrete, logical explanation. And one day it hit me.There are 320 million people in the U.S. and given that there’s a pretty even split between liberals and conservatives, that means that there are 160 million conservatives. There can’t really be 160 million Americans that are as crazy as
The Daily Show makes them out to be, can there? Is there really no virtue, nothing worthy about the conservative position? Are they really crazy?
The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that the answer was no, they’re not crazy, and yes, there’s got to be some virtue in conservative thought. That was exciting. I don’t know about you, but I love discovering when I’m wrong, hypocritical, or inconsistent. I love discovering my ridiculousness. I’m not a big fan of when other people point it out, but when I discover it on my own, it’s pretty thrilling.
So, last October, after raising some money and buying a camera and an old van, I threw my dog Charlie in the passenger seat and left Los Angeles to head across the country to film the documentary, The Other Side: a liberal democrat explores conservative America. 5 months, 20,000 miles, 35 states, and 80 interviews later, I feel like a different human being. I don’t even know where to begin. It was utterly fascinating. Here are some of my discoveries.
Discovery #1: conservatives exist in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of backgrounds. Among the conservatives I interviewed were a Zen Buddhist priest, actors, people who grew up in the projects, African-Americans, Latinos, relatives (I thought we were all liberal), teachers, an arborist (literally a conservative tree hugger), and one who lived in Berkeley, California (or is it “the one conservative that lives in Berkeley”?).
Discovery #2: many conservatives are socially liberal – especially the younger ones. Most of the younger conservatives I interviewed were totally pro-gay marriage, for example, and irritated with the older conservatives that keep making gay marriage an issue. In fact, I interviewed a guy in Wyoming that learned tolerance and became pro-gay marriage from being in the Army. The ARMY taught this guy tolerance. My head just about popped off my head, did a 360, and plopped back down on my body.
Discovery #3: conservatives have valid criticisms of liberal ideas and programs. I interviewed an African-American who grew up in the projects in Pittsburgh and he told me the problem he had with welfare by telling me this story: He was on the bus heading to school and he heard a girl behind him tell her friend, “I’m going to get pregnant again and this time I hope it’s a girl so they’ll have to get me a bigger place.” Apparently, she already had a boy and social services would move her into a bigger apartment because they don’t let boys and girls share rooms.
Discovery #4: I can have a fruitful conversation with anyone, no matter how different we are. Sometimes it was hard -- I mean REALLY hard -- but I was able to make something positive happen in every one of my interviews. Sometimes we discovered common ground, sometimes we investigated solutions to a social problem together -- teamwork style. And even when there was no common ground and everything the person said made me mad, I was always able to find a value underneath their beliefs that I could celebrate. Sometimes it took me a while to find, but I didn’t quit until I did (a few of my interviews lasted over 2 hours).
Truth be told, biting my tongue and listening -- really listening -- to conservatives was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took every ounce of strength and courage not to fight back at times. Seriously. Every ounce. And I failed often – especially when it came to George Bush’s Iraq War. I got into a few shouting matches over that one.
But it was 100% worth it. Biting my tongue and keeping myself curious instead of argumentative created a connection and intimacy in my conversations that was surprising and heartwarming. Conservatives opened up and shared some pretty intimate things with me. As one conservative told me, “You’re the first liberal that I feel really listened to what I have to say.”
Keep up with the film as we put the footage together and put on the finishing touches at theothersidedocumentary.com.