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Ross Douthat: Resolve to read views from other perspectives

  • New York Times
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Come what may in the next 12 months, 2013 has this much going for it: It’s a year without a midterm election, and a year that’s as far removed as possible from the next presidential race.

So use the year wisely. For a little while, at least, let gridlock take care of itself, shake yourself free of the toils of partisanship, and let your mind rove more widely and freely than the onslaught of 2014 and 2016 coverage will allow.

Here are two steps that might make such roving particularly fruitful. First, consider taking out a subscription to a magazine whose politics you don’t share.

So if you love National Review’s political coverage, add the New Republic or the Nation to your regular rotation as well. If you think that the New Yorker’s long-form journalism is the last word on current affairs, take out a Weekly Standard subscription and supplement Jeffrey Toobin with Andy Ferguson, Adam Gopnik with Christopher Caldwell. If you’re a policy obsessive who looks forward every quarter to the liberal-tilting journal Democracy, consider a subscription to the similarly excellent, right-of-center National Affairs. And whenever you’re tempted to hurl away an article in disgust, that’s exactly when you should turn the page or swipe the screen and keep on reading, to see what else the other side might have to say.

Second, make a special effort to read outside existing partisan categories entirely. Crucially, this doesn’t just mean reading reasonable-seeming types who split the left-right difference. It means seeking out more marginal and idiosyncratic voices, whose views are often worth pondering precisely because they have no real purchase on our political debates.

Start on the non-Republican right, maybe, with the libertarians at Reason magazine, the social conservatives at First Things and Public Discourse, the eclectic dissidents who staff the American Conservative. Then head for the neo-Marxist reaches of the Internet, where publications like Jacobin and the New Inquiry offer a constant reminder of how much room there is to the left of the current Democratic Party.

If these exercises work, they’ll make 2013 a year that unsettles your mind a little – subjecting the views you take for granted to real scrutiny, changing the filters through which you view the battles between Team R and Team D, reminding you that more things are possible in heaven and earth than are dreamed of by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Then, and only then, will you be ready to start counting the days till the 2016 Iowa caucuses arrive.

Ross Douthat writes for the New York Times.

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