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The problem with conservative echo chambers

Separate spaces such as A Conservative Cafe in Indiana lead us further from a united America.

By Nicole Hemmer / July 29, 2009

Evansville, IN.

Coffee drinkers face a slew of decisions each morning: caf or decaf, sugar or Splenda, foam or no foam. But A Conservative Cafe in Crown Point, Ind., signals that there is one more choice to make: red or blue.

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Customers at A Conservative Cafe will find the setting familiar – plenty of tables and plush chairs, flat-screen TVs and books, and a variety of beans and tchotchkes for sale.

Unlike other coffee shops, however, the cafe is soaked in right-wing politics. Loungers who reach for reading material will have to choose from a stack of Ann Coulter books. If they'd rather not read, they can watch one of the televisions tuned to Fox News.

The coffee shop is the latest site of conservative segregation – and the most symbolic. In fin de siècle Vienna, coffee houses were the center of intellectual life, a common space where Austrians could argue over politics and culture. And while Caribou Coffee may not measure up to the Viennese cafe, Americans still view the coffee shop as a place where thoughts percolate alongside the coffee.

If the folks at A Conservative Cafe have their way, however, right-wing coffee drinkers will no longer rub elbows with java lovers of a different political stripe. When that happens, there will be one less venue where people of opposing views can come together to share experiences and swap ideas.

Add the coffee shop to an ever-growing list of places ghettoized by conservatives. Conservatives can attend ideologically friendly colleges like Hillsdale or Bob Jones University to avoid the influence of liberal professors. They can tune into conservative radio stations and marinate in hours of right-wing chatter. They can even consult Conservapedia, the right-wing encyclopedia site embracing "a conservative approach to education." (A taste: the first header under the entry Barack Hussein Obama reads "Obama is likely the first Muslim President.")

The proliferation of conservative-only institutions isn't new. In the 1960s and 1970s, leaders of the newly formed conservative movement perceived a need for alternatives to institutions they believed were riddled with liberal bias. To some extent, they were right. By the 1960s, the majority of Americans were liberal, supporting unions, civil rights, and government programs for the middle-class and poor. Media, universities, and government agencies tended to reflect this.