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November 30, 2004

A Liberal Who Doesn't Want (Much) To Call You a "Retard" Anymore

It is a start:

The answer to the big question is that we’ve got to get serious about being and building a political opposition in this country. To do that we’ve got to learn to take the Republican majority seriously, as fellow citizens and as political opponents.

That means quit passing around stupid jokes about them, thinking of them in caricatures, treating them with contempt, calling them names. (Though it can be therapeutic to poke fun at a real jackass or a crazy idea from time to time!) It means seeking every opportunity for honest dialogue with Republicans, even looking for the odd patch of common ground on which we can work together. It means listening carefully and respectfully when they talk and learning what we can about them. As Tom McClintock showed in the recent gubernatorial recall campaign, there is sometimes a thoughtful intelligence and real integrity on the other side of the debate. As Peter Camejo showed, there can be well-reasoned and persuasive arguments, and not just slogans, on our side as well.

In college I was a spectator to a fight between two people. One was a conservative, the other a liberal. They were fighting over whether or not the government should provide some social service. The liberal was quite insistent that the conservative's failure to support this service made him a loathesome, selfish person.

He blew up. "What are you talking about?!" he demanded. "You and I do the same things. Neither one of us donates our time or money. We just sit around and bullshit and drink beer. But because you have this political position that costs you nothing in terms of effort or money, you pat yourself on the back for being morally superior!"

I actually think that's a big problem with modern liberalism, especially in terms of its diminishing political appeal.

Liberalism isn't just an ideology. It's not just politics. It's what makes them good people. The political has truly become the personal.

Many liberals take genuine offense at the expression of an anti-liberal political notion. It's not just a political disagreement; to them, it's an attack on them as a person. As the liberal has so much of his sense of personal worth invested in his identity as a liberal, disagreements over policy are actually attacks on the core of his feeling of self-worth.

Not only does this make honest and logical argumentation difficult, but it also has the unavoidable effect of making liberals think that anyone who disagrees with them is a bad person. There's no getting around that implication: If liberal thoughts make one good, then it must be the case that un-liberal thoughts make one bad.

And that's why liberals honestly, genuinely believe that people who disagree with them are just plain bad. Not misguided. Not merely wrong. Not beginning with a different set of unproveable first assumptions which, inevitably, lead to wildly different conclusions. No-- if you disagree, you're a bad person. You're certainly unenlightened, probably stupid, and maybe racist and fascist to boot.

Liberals really have to learn to check that impulse. It's difficult to persuade those who disagree with you when your pitch is made from the standpoint of condescension and barely-disguised contempt. And the fact that so many liberal shibboleths are deemed sacred and simply not open to debate -- after all, if those bromides are questioned, wouldn't that be a confession that perhaps liberals aren't quite so superior as they think? -- make them inflexible and unreasonable even in the face of evidence and declining political appeal.

Just my own two cents. I actually don't pray for the destruction of the Democratic Party, or liberalism generally. Like many other Republicans, I think that one-party dominance leads to arrogance and corruption. A healthy politics requires two parties strong enough to challenge the excesses and corruption of the other.

But to get back to parity, liberals are going to have to commit themselves to the idea that that they're not necessarily morally superior beings whose job it is in life it is to witness to and teach the unenlightened and stupid and retrograde. They believe in one system of political thought, not necessarily any better nor noble than any other, and to sell that system to the public, they're going to have to better engage the public.

And engage them as equals, not as moral exemplars sent by God(dess) to bring light to darkened minds.

Shock: Eleanor Clift Begins to Get It: Six words that barely make any sort of sense when written together, and yet there's evidence that it's true.

Meanwhile, KerrySpot gloats over Ruy Texiera's pie-in-the-sky optimistic predictions of an "Emerging Democratic Majority." The word "cocooning" is mentioned.

We Are the Hollow Men Update: 72Virgins offers what he terms a "paraphrase" of TS Elliot: ""Half the harm in this world is done by people ... who are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

Here, here.


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posted by Ace at 11:46 AM

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