Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Why are conservatives so insufferably whiny?

Someone should call up Gerard Alexander and ask if he wants a little cheese with his whine. The poor dear, he doesn't like it when liberals act like they're right and conservatives are wrong. Gosh, you kinda feel sorry for him, always being wrong all the time and then getting called on it.

This is me being condescending, by the way. Just in case your tiny conservative brain didn't process that.

One wonders if Mr. Alexander has ever listened to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. They've done pretty much anything he accuses liberals of doing, but apparently, Mr. Alexander thinks that they're right and therefore not "condescending" at all. Anyway, let's look at Mr. Alexander's "critique" of liberal condescension and see what we can see:
But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration.
Wait, wait, wait, you're saying that liberals think that they're using logic to reach a conclusion, and that people who don't reach that conclusion must be using faulty logic? Good heavens, what would happen if we all tried to use logic to come to conclusions? Why, the world would end! I assume, by Alexander's association of logic and reason with "condescension," that he thinks conservatives don't use logic then?

Liberals have dismissed conservative thinking for decades, a tendency encapsulated by Lionel Trilling's 1950 remark that conservatives do not "express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." During the 1950s and '60s, liberals trivialized the nascent conservative movement. Prominent studies and journalistic accounts of right-wing politics at the time stressed paranoia, intolerance and insecurity, rendering conservative thought more a psychiatric disorder than a rival. In 1962, Richard Hofstadter referred to "the Manichaean style of thought, the apocalyptic tendencies, the love of mystification, the intolerance of compromise that are observable in the right-wing mind."
Pardon me, but is any of this false? Right-wing politics in the '50s and '60s did, in fact, make political hay out of paranoia and intolerance, or do I really need to remind you of Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society? To a right-winger, the world really was made up of a Manichean "good" and "evil" - and still is, really, as anyone who follows modern conservative thought could tell you. Conservatives shouldn't be insulted by factual portrayals of their positions. Rather, if conservatives think that the world is split into clear "good" and "evil" camps, they ought to own it rather than call such a description condescending. And if conservatives don't believe that, they should tell us why that's wrong, but remember - being wrong isn't the same as being condescending.

The first is the "vast right-wing conspiracy," a narrative made famous by Hillary Rodham Clinton but hardly limited to her. This vision maintains that conservatives win elections and policy debates not because they triumph in the open battle of ideas but because they deploy brilliant and sinister campaign tactics. A dense network of professional political strategists such as Karl Rove, think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and industry groups allegedly manipulate information and mislead the public. Democratic strategist Rob Stein crafted a celebrated PowerPoint presentation during George W. Bush's presidency that traced conservative success to such organizational factors.
Of course, when liberals win elections, it's because ACORN stole it for them. Or because Obama voters are illiterate.

But, if conservative leaders are crass manipulators, then the rank-and-file Americans who support them must be manipulated at best, or stupid at worst. This is the second variety of liberal condescension, exemplified in Thomas Frank's best-selling 2004 book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Frank argued that working-class voters were so distracted by issues such as abortion that they were induced into voting against their own economic interests. Then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, later chairman of the Democratic National Committee, echoed that theme in his 2004 presidential run, when he said Republicans had succeeded in getting Southern whites to focus on "guns, God and gays" instead of economic redistribution.
OK, this is a good point. Frank's book doesn't take social issues seriously, and so it is kind of condescending. Dean's comment isn't, though - it's acknowledging a fact. Southern white voters tend to care more about social issues than about asking the government to help them out. But it's the Democrats' job to convince these voters that Democratic policies can help them, and that liberal social policies won't hurt them at all. Doing this isn't condescending - it's good politics, just like Republicans trying to convince the same voters of the opposite. In fact, it's the entire friggin' point of politics.

In his 2008 book, "Nixonland," progressive writer Rick Perlstein argued that Richard Nixon created an enduring Republican strategy of mobilizing the ethnic and other resentments of some Americans against others. Similarly, in their 1992 book, "Chain Reaction," Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall argued that Nixon and Reagan talked up crime control, low taxes and welfare reform to cloak racial animus and help make it mainstream. It is now an article of faith among many liberals that Republicans win elections because they tap into white prejudice against blacks and immigrants.
Again, is there anything here that's false? Nixon and other Republicans did use racism to win elections - no less a conservative leader than former RNC chair Ken Mehlman has said as much. And anyone familiar with Jesse Helms' "white hands" ad can say that racial politics survived at least into the '90s. Of course, it's a little rich to say that liberals are condescending when they say conservatives used to be racist when conservatives are accusing Obama of the same damn thing.

Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the influential progressive Web site Daily Kos, commissioned a poll, which he released this month, designed to show how many rank-and-file Republicans hold odd or conspiratorial beliefs -- including 23 percent who purportedly believe that their states should secede from the Union. Moulitsas concluded that Republicans are "divorced from reality" and that the results show why "it is impossible for elected Republicans to work with Democrats to improve our country." His condescension is superlative: Of the respondents who favored secession, he wonders, "Can we cram them all into the Texas Panhandle, create the state of Dumb-[expletive]-istan, and build a wall around them to keep them from coming into America illegally?"
I have my own issues about that poll. But let's put ourselves in Markos' shoes and take the poll at its word here. You're criticizing him for saying that a good number of Republicans are divorced from reality when he's discussing a poll that shows that significant numbers of Republicans think he wasn't born in the US, that ACORN stole the 2008 election, and that he wants the terrorists to win? Those positions are objectively and demonstrably false. The act of holding beliefs that are objectively untrue is the very definition of being divorced from reality. Criticize the poll, but don't call it condescending. Call it a poorly constructed poll.

These four liberal narratives not only justify the dismissal of conservative thinking as biased or irrelevant -- they insist on it. By no means do all liberals adhere to them, but they are mainstream in left-of-center thinking. Indeed, when the president met with House Republicans in Baltimore recently, he assured them that he considers their ideas, but he then rejected their motives in virtually the same breath.
This is, perhaps, the most telling part of Alexander's column. According to him, it's condescending to tell someone they're wrong. Does Alexander think that all criticism is condescension? Well, it's not. It's criticism. I don't accuse you of condescension when you tell me my beliefs are wrong. Disagreement and criticism is healthy in a political debate - hell, that's what makes it a debate!

Alexander goes on to criticize Jon Stewart, which is equally telling. Stewart serves two roles - calling bullshit, and making fun of people. Is making fun of people condescending? Perhaps, but it's hardly toxic to our political debate. Indeed, when Stewart makes fun of conservative viewpoints he's generally good about including in those jokes why, exactly, Stewart finds those positions worthy of derision. One wonders why conservatives, instead of complaining, don't try to give as good as they get. And conservatives call us humorless? Puh-leez.

Alexander goes on to talk about how previously marginalized conservative ideas turned out to be good ideas, to which I might add previously marginalized liberal ideas like racial equality and a 40-hour work week. But see, we liberals criticize ideas because we think that they're wrong. Conservatives do the same thing, too. It's called the political debate. Sometimes it gets a little unsubstantive, and sometimes - yes - it starts to seem condescending. But we condescend because we think you're wrong. Guess what, Mr. Alexander? So do you. What you call "condescension" is really criticism, and when you blame liberals, you really ought to be blaming yourself for having such a thin skin.

Anyway. If it's real, honest-to-God pointless condescension you seek, Mr. Alexander, just read the first two paragraphs of this post. Otherwise, allow for the fact that people are allowed to tell you that you're wrong and make fun of you, and that this is okay and natural and part of a healthy society. And that when you accuse liberals of something, chances are conservatives are just as guilty of it.


Matthew B. Novak said...

I don't really have a comment, I just felt like I should post something because I actually read the whole thing.

Mike said...

I guess that means I should have posted something too, but I didn't feel like bragging :)