Zelophehad’s Daughters

Proselytizing and Liberal Contempt

Posted by Eve

For me political choice is generally negative; prolonged exposure to the proponents of one set of dogmas tends to drive me into the arms of that dogma’s opponents. By the logic of this unpleasant via negativa, my upbringing in Utah County made me liberal; recent years in the ivory tower, on the other hand, have driven me right, although I’d continue to describe myself as a liberal-leaning moderate of the most unfashionable possible variety. Just a couple of my quarrels with the left: I think much of the sexual revolution was a misstep that has resulted in the widespread masculinization of sexuality–not a liberatory move for women, nor even for men–and I find our culture’s adolescent, pornographic view of sex both boring and exhausting. I also have reservations about a certain wholesale uncritical veneration of nature, ongoing now at least since that old wide-eyed hippie rake Rousseau. Sad though some of its consequences have certainly been, we as a species left nature behind about 10,000 years ago with the neolithic revolution, and I for one have no desire to go back. When well-meaning people earnestly inform me  of the virtues of natural foods, natural fibers, and natural sources of energy, all I can think is that there’s nothing more natural than losing all of one’s teeth to chronic malnutrition, dying in agonizing childbirth approximately nine months after achieving puberty, or losing multiple family members to epidemics of cholera or the plague. Hooray for the thoroughly artificial health technologies of our culture. Not so interested in subsisting for long periods of time on berries and bark scrapings, myself.

But to get more to the point: one afternoon last year I was hanging out in the T.A. office pretending to read Slavoj Zizek (emphatically not my choice–I was then stuck in a seminar so dogmatically radical I liked to refer to it as Marxist Sunday school) but basically goofing off in anticipation of spring break when I couldn’t help but overhear a loud conversation between an earnest young undergraduate and a fellow T.A. The undergraduate was in full rant mode: I was treated to an overview of the horrors of the meat industry, the moral imperative of vegetarianism, the evils of legislation defining marriage as exclusively heterosexual, the sexist media campaign directed against then-Senator Hilary Clinton, the absolute necessity of ending the war in Iraq. I myself am sympathetic to many of these causes, but I felt almost physically assaulted by the force of this young woman’s vitriol against “them”–the intellectually unwashed rural inhabitants of the state in which I live. I’m occasionally amazed at (and, to be brutally honest, often contemptuous of) the depth of a liberal hypocrisy that falls all over itself to tolerate and embrace all Others–Muslims, Palestinians, gays, people of color, to name a few–except for the inconveniently conservative evangelical Christian Others who live in our university’s very own backyard.

Since I was then suffering through large doses of forcibly administered Marxist propaganda, I decided I might as well take Marxism at its word, ignore all the highfalutin ideology and consider the economic dynamics of liberal contempt. Liberal contempt is, I’m convinced, a matter of class. High-school educated working class Christian conservatives are uncouth; college-educated liberals are sophisticated and urbane. At my husband’s workplace, a community mental health center, the class-religious divide is particularly telling: the janitors and office support staff tend to be Pentecostals, sadly out of touch with modernity in their fundamentalism and Biblical literalism and embarrassing displays of emotion, while the therapists and other professionals tend to be Buddhists or atheists, politically enlightened and unencumbered by the need for dogma. Similarly, awhile ago I was at a gathering of liberals in which conservative women were excoriated not for their views on abortion, illegal immigration, or the tax code but for the sin for which there can be no forgiveness in this life or the life to come…wearing outdated and insufficiently fashionable clothing. Ye gods, I never thought I’d miss the good old days when feminists were ugly.

The other realization I had, listening to my fellow T.A. and her student discuss the necessity of “raising awareness” and “educating” the public was that whether they recognize it or not, these liberals are proselytizing, and therefore courting all the dangers of proselytizing which have made it so unfashionable on the culturally sensitive left: paternalism, self-righteousness, piety. (A couple of years ago I was proselytized by a Unitarian whose pitch essentially consisted of a somewhat dogmatic, intolerant insistence that Unitarians have no dogma and therefore no intolerance.) Moving as I do between the leftish world of the academy and the rightish world of the North American Mormon church, I’ve been struck over and over by the way the sins of the left are the sins of the right, by the way the left and the right ape and mirror each other in their mutual demonization. It’s massively and rightly unfashionable to tell someone he’s going to hell or to trash someone’s animist beliefs in an effort to make him into a contemporary Western Christian. It’s a grave social faux pas in the university to ask someone if she has accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior. But can we academic liberals (among whom I must reluctantly count myself) recognize the equally contemptuous, overbearing attempts to “educate” meat-eaters about vegetarianism and to “raise consciousness” among war supporters about the evils of the military-industrial complex as the attempts to convert that they are?

69 Responses to “Proselytizing and Liberal Contempt”

  1. 1.

    Fascinating point, Eve!

    Tangentially, I wonder if perhaps the most effective proselytizers (of any stripe, although this might describe academic liberals better than evangelical Christians) are those who don’t even see themselves as proselytizing. They’re not trying to convince people of their particular point of view. They don’t have a point of view. They’re just trying to show people the way things really are.

  2. 2.

    the way the left and the right ape and mirror each other in their mutual demonization.

    I recently challenged my friends to play the “Bipartisan Honesty Game,” a lame game I invented where one must list 5 good things Bush did and 5 that Obama did. I only told them the name of the game after they provided their answers.

    More to the topic: since moving to Seattle, I’ve come to see the Green Movement as a religion; e.g., recycle, not because landfills are ugly, etc., but because trash is “bad.”

  3. 3.

    The problem with this post is that the conservative evangelical christians have never been treated as poorly as gays, blacks, and others.

    You see, if Johnny stands up for Billy, who is a poor black boy that is hard of hearing, it would be silly for Sally, who is the rich popular white girl, to say that Johnny is a hypocrite for not standing up for her.

    We tend to protect the defenseless, not the strong.

  4. 4.

    Yeah, starting a war over faked-up evidence that kills over a million Iraquis and 4000ish Americans is exactly the same as refusing to eat meat. Good to know.

  5. 5.

    Eve, some things are worthy of being furious about. That’s the difference.

  6. 6.

    Just a thought, have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?

  7. 7.

    A few years ago, I moved from being an uncomfortably liberal rebel in the BYU bubble to being a shockingly conservative rebel here in the Berkeley bubble. BYU and Berkeley are so much more similar than I had suspected. Their bubbles are so hermetic! The dogma so absolute!

    When I had just arrived as a new PhD student, I was invited into my department’s office of Diversity, in order to serve on a panel because of a fellowship I had received. The director of diversity, upon finding out I came from BYU, asked incredulously, “Are you Mormon?” She then launched on a tangent about Jim Jones, who led his cult to Guyana and had them drink poison, at the end saying weakly, “I’m not sure what led me down that tangent.” Then, she introduced me to her vice-chair of Diversity (mind you, this is only the departmental fiefdom of Diversity), who said “Well, now that you’re in Berkeley, you should have fun! Get some tattoos and some piercings!” I laughed politely along with them, but inside I was appalled that the office of Diversity, which was supposed to make me feel accepted for who I am as a member of a tiny minority group, had managed to insinuate that I was a member of a dangerous cult and encourage me to betray my native culture in just a few minutes time. Of course, they didn’t see it that way, because as you point out, it’s easy to be pious and paternalistic when you’re sealed in a bubble of self-righteousness.

    Thanks for the insightful post, which really sums up a lot of similar feelings I’ve been having lately.

  8. 8.

    Amen. If you replace ‘ivory tower’ with simply living in Seattle for a couple decades, I could have written the first paragraph. ~

  9. 9.

    Amen and amen to the OP.

  10. 10.

    Perhaps in the academic world the liberal / conservative divide is one of class, but out here where we are practicing economic theories rather than talking about them, conservatives are bankers, oil company executives, real estate agents, systems analysts, human resources managers, farmers, teachers and police officers. In the Deep South, where I live now, they are by far the majority; up north, where I lived for most of my life, the balance is more even.

    I very much agree that liberal contempt is problematic and counterproductive.

  11. 11.

    A few years ago I read some reviews of the movie The Other Side of Heaven. Several reviewers seemed unable to get past their own contempt for the very idea of missionary service. Never mind that the film depicts Groberg valuing and even adopting much of the Tongan culture. The reviewers were incredulous that the film passed up the opportunity to condemn what they imagined as a cultural assault inherent in Groberg’s service. Apparently these simple island people can’t be trusted to be exposed to new ideas, and make up their own minds in a way that we white liberal Americans approve of. Thank goodness we liberals are there to protect the Tongans from information they ought not have to deal with.

  12. 12.

    I’ll take liberal contempt over conservative contempt any day of the year. It’s not like it will go away anytime soon. And, more importantly, as facts and truth tend to lean liberal, I’ll stick with the liberal side. Furthermore, while it is nice to see a critique of liberal contempt with an attempt to say “tone it down please” I’ll eagerly wait for the same of conservative contempt, which is far more vile, and more mainstream within the conservative world. As a comparison, note how often and more importantly WHO says Obama is a fascist, and compare with how often and WHO said Bush was a fascist. Note which one had to backtrack, and which one was denounced within his/her own ideology. There is no comparison between the contempt of the conservative and the contempt of the liberal.

  13. 13.

    We recently moved back to Utah County after a few years living in Seattle and then Davis, CA. We had several concerned friends ask us how we could move back to such a terrible, backward place. We have our reasons (family, economics, job opportunities, etc), but I often replied “fanaticism is fanaticism”–I can hang out with the liberal fanatics or the conservative ones and they bug me equally. We do lean a little more liberal in our lifestyle and such and so do a bit more eyerolling here in Utah, but I’ve never been a big fan of ignorant intolerance. I’m personally getting tired of the ‘culture wars’ that I see too often lead people into lazy stereotypes and into building their lives around fulfilling a certain image rather than thoughtful choices about their beliefs and actions. The truth is that most people I know fall somewhere in between the stereotypical ‘blue stater’ or ‘red stater’ and I think it is sad that as a culture we seem to be moving towards more and more dogmatism on either side.

  14. 14.

    Thank you, Eve. Wonderful.

  15. 15.

    @Dan

    And, more importantly, as facts and truth tend to lean liberal, I’ll stick with the liberal side.

    Well, I’m glad to hear things are all settled & so we don’t need openmindedness or tolerance anymore. ;)

    BTW, did you read the post?

  16. 16.

    Post? What post? ;)

  17. 17.

    Shortly after moving to Portland, Oregon, I was doing some continuing ed hours (I’m a clinical social worker). While I have always tended to keep my LDSness to myself, somehow it came up because it was a series on diversity issues.
    A man stated, point blank “Mormonism and social work are diametrically opposed. It’s appalling to me that the Board even allows you people a license in the profession”.
    Frankly, there are times I too wonder if the national association will deem my faith as an exclusion from membership.

  18. 18.

    I feel sad to hear contentious and sometimes cruel rhetoric from people and pundits of both parties. Some people and politicians in our country forget civility, compassion, and charity as they espouse their polarizing political views. Religious self-righteousness and/or ridicule of other religions is becoming more pronounced and troubled.

    President Obama, when asked if he watched any of the political “news” channels, said that the commentators were similar to professional wrestlers, entertaining without much substance. I agree.

    Perahps George Washington was right when, at his farewell address in 1796, he said, “I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

    “This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. “

  19. 19.

    One of the most on-target posts I’ve read on the Bloggernacle in a long time. Thank you.

  20. 20.

    I quite enjoyed this post, and the replies are revealing as well. I think this is a summary statement:

    “It’s easy to be pious and paternalistic when you’re sealed in a bubble of self-righteousness.”

    It doesn’t matter whether the self-righteousness comes from liberal or conservative views, the bubble operates pretty much the same. As a somewhat liberal Mormon, I find myself in both a conservative bubble and a liberal bubble, at different times among different groups. The Arbinger Institute calls it “being in the box.” But whatever you call it, it represents a blindness one is afflicted with. It takes pretty diligent thoughtfulness to avoid the angry righteous attitude that the blindness brings out in me.

    I’ve been so dismayed at the low level of political discourse in recent years that I wonder if the benefits of a liberal vs. conservative two-party system are worth it. I appreciated Carol’s reply with the George Washington quote, and it makes me curious how he arrived at this outlook. Hm. More research is needed.

  21. 21.

    mommie dearest,

    George Washington was appalled at how quick the various Founding Fathers were to backstab each other through alliances of parties, in particular Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Remember that in the 1800 election, the two parties nearly came to blows over the election which happened to be highly contentious and very close, quite similar to the 2000 election. Each of the Founding Father had his own idea for the future of the country. The fact that they all agreed on the Constitution as was presented to them was something of a miracle. There’s a lot of talk these days about the Founding Fathers, as if they were a monolithic group, but they were highly contentious and divided over numerous issues. They used much of the same tactics we use today, using lies and smears to try and tear the other person down. Few of the Founding Fathers actually stayed above the muck. George Washington would be one of them. John Adams stayed somewhat above the muck, but he too dabbled into it. It’s hard not to.

    So when people talk today of being more civil, as if there was a time in our country when there was political civility, sorry, I just gotta say, do some more research into our political past. There was never a time of political civility.

  22. 22.

    I don’t think I implied in my comment that I thought that there was a time when all politics was clean and civil. However, we have done better than we are presently doing. I maintain that I am still accurate in saying that the level of discourse has degenerated in recent times. I do hope that it doesn’t degenerate into worse than vile smears, as we have seen at times in the past.

  23. 23.

    mommie dearest,

    Sadly I think it will degenerate into far worse than vile smears. You don’t smear the President of the United States as a fascist, commie Hitler/Mussolini/Stalin unless you intend to have that stick and get people to actually act on it. How do you back down from such smears and save face?

  24. 24.

    Often times angry rhetoric is empty rhetoric. It is my hope that this is one of those times.

  25. 25.

    Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. It seems rare to find civil political discourse across party lines. It’s a real shame. Painting the other side, whether you are conservative or liberal, as dumb or elitist or ill-informed or whatever label you want come up with, is counter productive. I agree with mommie dearest that political discourse has gotten much worse in recent years, and it’s the fault of both sides, or should I say the extremists on both sides.

  26. 26.

    RE: #6

    djinn;
    What an incredibly impertinent idea! The Lord Jesus Christ does not now, nor ever will, need your acceptance to be exactly who He is, the one and only Savior of the world and of all the human family, not only here but wherever they may be found throughout the universe. If every human being who calls themselves a Christian on this ball of mud were to lose their faith in Christ, it would not diminsh by one muon Christ’s standing as the absolute and only Savior of all the human family. Rather, it is we, on bended knees, who need to perpetually implore Him to accept us as worthy of His Atonement and love. The very question smacks of evangelical self- importance, arrogance, and condescension to others who don’t share their belief in formulaic and creedal Greco-Roman Christianity. Jesus is the Christ, plain and simple. Ignore His commandments, refuse to recognize His Atonement at your peril. Enough said.

  27. 27.

    They don’t have a point of view. They’re just trying to show people the way things really are.

    That is generally characterized as the insufferable sin of the Left, just fyi.

  28. 28.

    One of the best books I have ever read is The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. Every penny of BYU tuition money was worth if, if only for being introduced to that book. It helped me understand how fanatics are all alike underneath their phony labels.

  29. 29.

    I love this post.

    Moving as I do between the leftish world of the academy and the rightish world of the North American Mormon church, I’ve been struck over and over by the way the sins of the left are the sins of the right, by the way the left and the right ape and mirror each other in their mutual demonization.

    This exactly describes my feelings about moving from BYU to a PhD program at Harvard.

    @#7

    BYU and Berkeley are so much more similar than I had suspected. Their bubbles are so hermetic! The dogma so absolute!

    When people ask me how Harvard compares to BYU, this is one of my main points.

    @#13

    I can hang out with the liberal fanatics or the conservative ones and they bug me equally.

    My thoughts exactly. By the way, FoxyJ, I know you.

  30. 30.

    High-school educated working class Christian conservatives are uncouth; college-educated liberals are sophisticated and urbane.

    I get this when you say it; I know I am more exception than rule but it KILLS me when I’m being told this same line by right-wingers. I was raised in a trailer park, never completed high school and identify with mostly left-wing politics. So, while I understand the larger point you’re making I also think you are over-generalizing. There is a certain *type* of elitist, left winger that conflates higher education , sophistication and political alignment but I think the right has their own version of this with neo-cons.
    We just happen to be in ascendancy right now.

    except for the inconveniently conservative evangelical Christian Others who live in our university’s very own backyard.

    I think if I were a “conservative evangelical Christian Other” I would consider it one of the Lord’s chief blessings that I was immune from the fawning condescension of token appreciation.
    Now for full disclosure: I have a friend who was raised in Philadelphia and had never “met a Mexican or a Mormon,” until she was in her mid- 20′s living on the West Coast. She is very Progressive, educated (women’s studies minor, school psychologist career) and diversity-oriented. She has come a long way in the three years I’ve been involved with Mormon feminism, she no longer calls LDS, the “Cult of Misogyny,” and has recognized some of her biases. Anyway, we’re going on a roadtrip together this next week – with a stop in SLC and a camping trip with a bunch of fMh-ers in Idaho. When I told mfranti who her houseguest was going to be she said, rather dryly, “oh goody. I get to be the token Mexican AND Mormon.” Almost like she wasn’t excited to be my friends object lesson in diversity. Weird right?

    It is terribly, terribly heart-achingly trite, but you can’t maintain that contempt for the “other” if you know them and you love them. I would throw down and demand a bout of fisticuffs over comments about Mormon’s that I would have made myself three years ago. That’s the truth.
    I don’t let people broad stroke smear the integrity of evangelicals because one of my very best friends is a Focus On the Family -loving, true-blue, little baby Jesus-praying Evangelical, and even if I hope there is a hell so James Dobson can burn in it, I don’t want anyone to question the sincerity of my friend, who is a good person and truly a blessing in my life.
    So somewhere between token-ism and complete insularity there is a good middle ground where progress gets made.
    I’ll meet you there.

  31. 31.

    Like RecessionCone, I’ve done time both at BYU and Berkeley and have been somewhat entertained to see the ways in which the two mirror each other. The attitude I find most disturbing isn’t simple disagreement with other points of view–which seems like a healthy thing–but an unwillingness to acknowledge that other points of view even exist. I think many of us who’ve struggled to balance things like feminism and Mormonism have encountered that in an LDS context–it’s not that people disagree with what you’re saying or your interpretation, it’s that they’re horrified that anyone could have such a view, or think that it should be shut down as dangerous. That drove me crazy at BYU–I still remember reading the president of the Dittoheads stating that Democrats didn’t belong on campus and should go to Berkeley, a comment which was actually quite painful for me at the time (even though I knew there was no reason to take this guy at all seriously), as I was already struggling with feelings of marginalization. But I’ve found it jarring to find a similar sentiment coming from the other direction–the idea that those who cling to organized religion, for example, are hopelessly deluded and just need to come out of the dark and see reality as it is. There are particular hot-button issues about which any possibility of dialogue seems to be precluded at the outset because both sides are absolutely certain that the other is not only wrong, but can’t even be acknowledged. Like Ziff (#1), I think one of the biggest obstacles to conversation is the idea that one doesn’t have a point of view–that unlike one’s interlocutors, who are limited by the various lenses which shape their perspective of the world, one sees things with utter clarity.

    That said, I’m speaking the truth here as it is. And if you don’t believe me, it’s only because the wicked take the truth to be hard.

  32. 32.

    Eve, some things are worthy of being furious about. That’s the difference

    And that illustrates the problem, I think. Because both sides are going to say that their issues are the ones worthy of being furious about, that their tactics are justified by the righteousness of their cause.

  33. 33.

    Well, it’s a tangent, but now I’m wondering if anyone actually reads Zizek… I did more than my fair share of pretending!

  34. 34.

    Ziff, good point. I wonder if the data would show that those who believe they are simply representing reality (rather than proselytizing) are more effective, or less?

    Brain, I really like the idea of considering the virtues of the opposition. I’ve toyed with the idea of requiring students to write papers from the opposite perspective of the one they endorse. Personally, I find such exercises are always instructive.

    RecessionCone, thanks so much for adding your insightful observations and your experience. I’ve had similar ones, and I’ve often found that advocates of diversity stop short in precisely the way you describe.

    Thomas, Ben, thanks for the kind words.

    Ann, thanks for adding the view from the world outside the ivory tower. Universities are strange places, and I’m convinced things go on there that would never fly anywhere else.

    Left Field, you touch on an issue that intrigues me to no end–the ethics of proselytizing. Although (I think!) I recognize the dangers such as those I enumerate above, I favor it than most in the academy I’ve known–of course, I did do it full-time for eighteen months, and that’s certainly my bias. But I particularly like the way your comment touches on the dangers of shutting proselytizing down, which is arguably more paternalistic than permitting it.

    Dan, thanks for honoring my little thread with your presence! As far as I’m concerned, no Bloggernacle discussion of politics is complete without you.

    Clearly we disagree that there’s no comparison between liberal and conservative forms of contempt, but–if you’re still around and care to address the issue–I’d be curious why you think there isn’t.

    FoxyJ, thanks for adding your experiences as well. They dovetail well with mine. Utah is undeniably a strange place, for which I feel a certain exasperated affection, but in the end it’s my home, and I find it disconcerting when people who’ve never been there describe it in stereotypes.

    Thank you, Ben Pratt and Jacob B., for your kind words.

    Elizabeth, yikes. Just yikes. It’s scary when these things go so far people can’t even recognize the ironies in their position–and when that position potentially threatens your livelihood.

    Yep, Carol, mommie dearest, and DeeAnn, I’m with you on this one. Personally I find it almost impossible to follow politics. I keep telling myself I have a moral religious and citizenship duty to be informed, but a lot of what passes for politics is just unwatchable. It’s a blood sport.

    (And thank you, Boston Puritan, for keeping the faith pure. Very important job, that, and an endless one around here. ;) ).

    Stephen, I think you’re right. One of my favorite cartoons depicts one family commenting upon guests who are driving away, “Well, they’re a little more-organic-than-thou….”

    Mark, thanks for the recommendation! (Aaaaaa….note to self: close eyes, repeat after me, readnomorefunbooks
    untilafterdissertation….readnomorefunbooksuntilafterdissertation…

    Thanks, Orwell. Sounds like your experience is quite similar to RecessionCone’s and to Lynnette’s.

    (If you know FoxyJ, then we’re officially at four degrees of separation, because I know my sister Melyngoch, who knows FoxyJ, who knows you.)

    Crazywomancreek! What a pleasure, as always, to see you.

    Thanks for your observations. I probably didn’t make myself clear enough in my OP on this point–I certainly don’t mean to endorse the stereotype that the working class is always Christian, for instance, and always right-wing–I merely meant to repeat it. Your very existence clearly refutes it.

    Poor mfranti, indeed. I simply can’t imagine why she wouldn’t jump at the chance to occupy the token position on two counts. (Sounds like a fun roadtrip! I think I’d pay a looooot of money to hear a transcript of your conversations!)

    I would throw down and demand a bout of fisticuffs over comments about Mormon’s that I would have made myself three years ago. That’s the truth….and even if I hope there is a hell so James Dobson can burn in it, I don’t want anyone to question the sincerity of my friend, who is a good person and truly a blessing in my life.

    You’re a good woman. Bless you, I say.

    Lynnette, indeed, it’s always a delicate moment when you have to inform someone that well, no, you don’t actually agree with them about religion or politics simply because you happen to share a church or a university (or both). And I agree that the hardest part is introducing people who aren’t aware of it to the possibility that they have a point of view, one among many possible such points of view.

    And Kristine has commented on my thread! My bliss is complete. (Does anyone read those books, or did we all just pretend to?)

  35. 35.

    Eve,

    Dan, thanks for honoring my little thread with your presence! As far as I’m concerned, no Bloggernacle discussion of politics is complete without you.

    I hope that I bring something of value to any political discussion, though in today’s climate that is really difficult. I’m not trollish, I just happened to have unfortunately studied this topic at BYU and now can’t get away from it. :(

    Clearly we disagree that there’s no comparison between liberal and conservative forms of contempt, but–if you’re still around and care to address the issue–I’d be curious why you think there isn’t.

    The difference is that on the conservative side, the leaders of the conservative ideology have allowed the extremist nutcases to take charge of the direction of the movement. Clearly there are nutcases on both sides, and no one is disputing it. There are plenty of radical liberals who wish to push for full socialism, or unionizing all workforce, or nationalizing gay marriage. There are radical liberals who think 9/11 was an inside job and who press for the discovery of such plots.

    On the right, your crazy folks think that socialism seeps in through the Department of Education. You get people who think that a new health care policy will create “death panels” that will pull the plug on grandma. You get people calling the president of the United States a modern day Hitler. You get people saying that Obama was not actually born inside the United States but is a part of some Manchurian Candidate secret plot to take over the country.

    Do you know what the difference is between the radicals on the left and the radicals on the right? A lot of those things on the right are being charged by leaders of the conservative movement. When you have actual congressmen and Senators say that the new health care bill is full of death panels that will pull the plug on grandma, when they know they are lying through their teeth, you know that the radicals have taken over. I can’t recall any actual Democratic/liberal leader who called for investigation into an inside job on 9/11. I could be wrong on this, but I can’t recall. Maybe Dennis Kucinich, but few on the left take him seriously. However, on the right, Ron Paul, a good comparison to Kucinich, is taken very seriously.

    When liberals attempted to compare George W. Bush to Hitler, they were shouted down both by the right and by those within their own group, because the comparison was of course silly. When Obama is compared to Hitler by the likes of Glenn Beck, where are the voices to shout that silly comparison down? How about when a Congressman does it? Do you remember when Dick Durbin said something about Nazi Gulags as a comparison to what we are doing to terrorist detainees? The right went gaga over it! How dare a Congressman compare Bush’s efforts to that of the Nazis!

    Finally, there is no comparison between the two because of this last point. When conservative presidents are in power, right-wing militia groups are silent and there is little political domestic terrorism. When liberal presidents are in power, this group tends to be more vocal and also more violent. We’ve had three incidents so far this year of political domestic terrorism. Fascinating that they all show up only when a Democrat is in office. Gun sales go up when Democrats are in office.

    I would not be surprised at all if there is another Oklahoma City bombing type incident that occurs in the next couple of years with a Democratic president. The hateful rhetoric coming from conservative political leaders (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, sitting Congressmen and Senators) fuels their fire and their fear. There is nothing comparable on the left. Maybe 40 years ago, with groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, but today? Maybe environmental terrorists who burn up a few Hummers in California. But again, the difference is that no reputable liberal leader speaks for these kinds of groups.

    This all said, I do think that contempt of the conservative will get worse among liberal thinkers the more that the conservative world falls into the degeneracy that they are currently mired in. I’m certainly contemptuous. I’m no liberal in the sense that I agree with most liberal thought. I’m fairly moderate, but I cannot in good conscience align myself with conservative thought when the likes of Glenn Beck rule the conservative coop. The contempt that I feel is related to the fact that during the last eight years, conservatives constantly called anyone who disagreed with the president of the United States an anti-American. And now that we have a new president, you would expect consistency, that those very same people who be respectful to the president, but they are not. I knew they would not be. So I have contempt for them. I cannot ally myself with them whilst they live in this hypocrisy.

    I wrote down on a notebook in my senior year in high school that I considered myself a moderate Republican. I remember the 1992 election. I didn’t like George H. W. Bush very much. I liked Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary, but he lost to Bill Clinton. Ross Perot made some sense, but I didn’t like his style, so I was stuck with Bill Clinton. I don’t think I’ve changed my views too much over the years. What has certainly changed, at least from my vantage point is that the right has shifted hard to the right so that the supposed middle also shifted. I think most of this shift happened thanks to conservative radio (particularly Rush Limbaugh) and the appearance of Fox News. I think Fox News has poisoned America terribly so, degenerating America’s political discourse into something very very ugly. I can’t tell you how many foreigners I have talked to who shake their heads at what they see in America’s political discourse. There is no comparison between conservative contempt and liberal contempt. However, the divide will grow even greater, and heck, it is even taking on the form of splitting this great country of ours up into separate nations. When a sitting governor of a large state actually considers secession, that should tell you something. Governor Perry of Texas floated the idea back in April of this year. For what? Because taxes were too high. That whole teabagging thing. Who organized that? Oh yeah, Fox News. Now there are leaders within Texas who scream out at rallies that they “hate the United States.”

    I think the continuance of the current status will lead to a breakup of this country, on familiar lines.

  36. 36.

    Eve,

    This Republican gets it.

  37. 37.

    Dan,

    You make a good case that conservative contempt is currently ascendant. To me, though, the more interesting question is whether the two forms differ in kind as well as in pervasiveness, or if–as I clearly suspect–they’re fundamentally similar.

    In that vein, I’m curious about your expressions of contempt for the conservatively contemptuous. Is your contempt the same as or different from theirs, would you say? (Is your contempt more justified, and if so, why?)

    A related issue: Are people ever worthy of contempt? While of course many acts deserve our condemnation, some our rage and sorrow, do their perpetrators deserve contempt? I’m not sure they do. I know the hate-the-sin love-the-sinner distinction gets a lot of bad press these days, perhaps deservedly, but I still think there’s something to it.

  38. 38.

    Just for the record, I agree with Dan’s statements in #35. It’s pretty much exactly what I would have written.

    However, I’d like to point out in reference to the original post that while there is a split between conservative and liberal thought in the US today, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all liberals or conservatives think alike.

    Taking myself as an example: I am a moderate with liberal leanings. (I only have liberal leanings as a reaction to the right’s extremism – what Dan had mentioned above in #35. Otherwise I’d probably be right down the center, if not a little on the Right.) However, if I look to my life outside of politics, I am very conservative with many of my actions and thoughts, influenced by my religion. Some people would consider it impossible to be both conservative in my life but still be liberal politically. But I find it the only reasonable place to be, considering the alternatives.

    I assume that there are many people who are conservative or liberal based on the core values that are espoused by both platforms (eg: family values, etc for the GOP and care for the worker, etc for the Dems). But those values have shifted over the years. As Dan mentioned, the Republicans have shifted to the extreme hard right. But the Democrats have also shifted to the right in this country. At least it has with Obama, who is a centrist. And so the safe, comfortable place for a intellectual conservative to automatically vote Republican no longer exists because the party has moved away from where it once stood. The Republicans no longer have a powerful intellectual conservative to make a reasoned and reasonable defense of conservative values. It instead relies on Rush and Glenn who are not exactly the poster boys of a reasoned and reasonable defense.

    And so I’d say that is is decidedly possible to oppose the extremes of both parties, as we should being reasonable men and women. But at the same time, we should not be ensconced within our own political bubble to the point that we can’t see how the political landscape has shifted so radically in recent years. Neither the Dems or the GOP are where they were even a decade ago. If we don’t see that we run into the possibility of attaching ourselves to a party that no longer truly has our personal core values at heart.

  39. 39.

    Eve,

    I can only speak for myself in an attempt to draw out how I view the contempt I have of conservative contempt. I feel that I stick as close to the facts and truths discovered in this world as I can. My contempt is for those who cannot get beyond their preconceived notions about a subject matter to grasp the facts. This includes leftists. For example, at Daily Kos I wrote one of two posts defending the church’s stance on gay marriage in California and was roundly denounced, not because my positions were not well founded, but because of the preconceived notions people had about Mormons.

    So when a conservative says “Obama is a socialist” I immediately feel contempt for that guy, because he is simply wrong, has no logical standing underneath his claim. If someone says “Obama will wreck this country with his policies” I will look at why that person takes that position, because it seems he is more likely to have really thought out his view, and based it on sounder positions.

    After all my studies in life, my personal view is that leaning liberal is closer to reality than conservatism. I feel that conservatism tries to set up certain standards that on several notable occasions conflicts terribly with reality. Women’s rights, would be a fairly obvious one. Thus why I lean liberal.

    I would prefer a more reasonable political discourse in America, but as long as the conservative world allows such idiots as Glenn Beck to speak for them, I cannot sit back and be silent, gentle or kind. Politics is a contact sport, and Democrats’ inability to hit back in 2000 led to the rise of George W. Bush, one of the worst things to have happened in American history. I will do all I can to ensure nothing like that happens again, as most liberal bloggers will do too. The Democratic leaders right now are fairly wimpy, but the younger generation is far smarter, savvier and willing to say and do what needs to be done.

  40. 40.

    Eve, great post. I love politics, though. Well, perhaps it’s love-hate. :)

    I had to laugh about the unfashionable feminists. I’m a sucker for a little fashion (not nearly as much as some at Exponent), so perhaps I’m a little less of a feminist because of it.

    Your OP reminded me of a conversation I had with some girlfriends the other night. I had heard on NPR recently that some in the GOP are hoping for health care reform to fail because they want Obama to have his first big loss.
    When I heard that I felt physically ill. Health care reform is a very important issue to me, as I have two children with chronic health conditions. From what I can tell, most people agree that the system needs work, so I would assume that most people would be willing to try to fix it.

    But with politics, it’s never that easy. The more I thought about these Republicans who would block good policy because of politics the angrier and more self-righteous I became.

    Then I stopped. I thought of Bush’s big push for SS reform a few years ago. Yes, I knew the system was broken and that it was important for me and my children. But was I in favor of it? No. I was glad that Bush’s SS reform never materialized because I DIDN’T LIKE HIM.

    Then I felt really bad. I’m just like them, just like the Christian Right that I barely tolerate/loathe/ignore.

    Sometimes it’s good to see the extreme in another group because it helps us realize the extreme within.

    (On a side note, I was very annoyed to see an advertisement for Glenn Beck’s book on the back of a Deseret Book mailer. Seriously?)

  41. 41.

    Jessawhy, if you don’t believe in Glenn Beck, you don’t believe in the prophet. ;)

  42. 42.

    http://thinkprogress.org/2009/09/08/jean-schmidt-birther/

    Actual Congresswomen agree with constituents that Obama is not a natural American citizen. There is no comparison with the extremism of the right and the left today.

  43. 43.

    You are so right, Eve. The difference between Mormons and liberals is that Mormons admit they’re proselytizing and liberals don’t. And I say that as a liberal.

  44. 44.

    #32: Well said Lynette! When one believes that they “really are correct” that is at the heart of the problem. In a secular republic we must be willing to be potentially outnumbered or outvoted by those who not only have different opinions, but who see the world in vastly different terms. Such a society can not exist if we believe our neighbors are fundamentally misguided. My brief brush with philosophy gave no indication that anyone can prove their philosophy is correct. All secular philosophies are based on assumptions and this is why many liberals sound eerily like conservatives in that they believe either God or a powerful substitute backs them and their views.

    What a wonderful post Eve! Seeing all of these comments infuses me with optimism since many of us have had shared experiences and seek loftier discourse. Let’s all try to be less judgmental and stereotypical of others. Let’s all be willing to admit that regardless of our education or beliefs, or how loud we scream, neither the 1st Amendment nor the ballot box considers our views to be more important than those of others.

  45. 45.

    Re Dan: #35:

    While I won’t address all of your examples point by point, I have thought of each of them and I believe that yours and Eve’s differences are ones of perspective. Depending on which side of the political spectrum one finds himself/herself on, one usually notices the lunacy of the other side more than their own. Or in the alternative, I have hypothesized that the political views of many people depend on which nuts they fear more: left wing nuts or right wing nuts. Or who do they find more powerful? Conservative power lies in AM radio, cable news and legislative bodies. Liberals find it online, cable news and in judicial tribunals. Bother are quite powerful and if you listen to conservatives they feel surrounded by liberals because of social change but liberals tend to feel surrounded because of a history of losing elections. Even having won a big one, that thought pattern is hard to escape.

    I also think who is in power has a lot to do with your perceptions. Those who are OUT of power usually do most of the barking and say most of the crazy things. Only months ago it was leftists but now its rightists. The Republicans are doing lot of soul searching now and you wont’ find Pawlenty or Romney saying what Palin is saying and Palin isn’t necessarily saying what Glenn Beck is saying.

    All in all I find the current state of rhetoric alarming, but this is all happened before. I think America is a great country and we can figure out how to get past the current polarization.

  46. 46.

    Z,

    It really is hard to explain that my contempt for the conservative world right now is quite valid, but thankfully Republicans continue to give me fodder. During President Obama’s speech to Congress this evening, a Representative from South Carolina, one Joe Wilson, screamed out to the president “you lie!” breaking with House decorum rules, and with 200+ years of tradition to respect the President of the United States when he speaks to Congress. This has never happened before. Joe Wilson’s outburst was based on a lie to begin with. The subject was health coverage for illegal immigrants. There is no such provision in the bill, no matter how much Republicans think there is. When Obama speaks truthfully that there is no such provision in the bill, why would Rep. Wilson call him a liar? Look at the contempt that a Congressman has for the President of the United States. That he is willing to be the first ever to call the president a liar in Congress. No matter how much contempt liberals had of George W. Bush, you would never have seen this, and we never did see this from any Democratic Congressman.

    There is no comparison between the contempt conservatives have of liberals and vice versa. There just isn’t.

  47. 47.

    “we as a species left nature behind about 10,000 years ago with the neolithic revolution, and I for one have no desire to go back.”

    How does one leave nature behind?

  48. 48.

    Thanks for stopping by, Jessawhy, and for your thoughtful remarks. (I’d hire you to give me a makeover if I thought it would do any good, but I know from sad experience that the improvements wouldn’t stick. I once gave an entire conference presentation before realizing that my sweater was inside out [insert blush of shame here]).

    Tangentially, I find Deseret Book’s choices fascinating. What makes the cut, what doesn’t, and why? A social scientist really needs to get on that immediately.

    Thanks, Emily and Z. Glad you enjoyed the OP and the discussion.

    Dan, might I propose a worthwhile project I suspect you are uniquely positioned to undertake? Why don’t you write the equivalent of Preach My Gospel for liberals proselytizing Mormons? It’s clearly an endeavor about which you care a great deal, and you may be uniquely positioned to understand how liberals might build on common beliefs, to borrow a phrase. (Perhaps you could even adapt and incorporate tips from the evangelicals who themselves specialize in proselytizing Mormons.)

    How does one leave nature behind?

    Parker, if you’re interested, email me off-list and I’ll send you the standard bibliography and a complimentary subscription to Wired.

  49. 49.

    Here is a post from Politico that points out that we have also seen boorish behavior from the left at Presidential speeches before Congress (although this author argues that Wilson was still different):

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/glennthrush/0909/Dems_heckled_Bush_but_Wilson_was_different.html

    Again, I think it boils down to perspective. My own perspective is that there is just as much lunacy, conspiracy theory and bad manners on the left as on the right. I also have found there are thoughtful, intelligent and well mannered folks on both sides.

    In sum, if it is boorish and alarming behavior that we are going after, then we should criticize that behavior wherever we find it and not unfairly or illogically subscribe bad behavior or lunacy to any one point on the political spectrum

  50. 50.

    Z,

    The rules of decorum in the House clearly delineate that calling the president a liar is a big no no.

    http://www.rules.house.gov/POP/house_comm_dec.htm

    Under those rules, what Democrats did to Bush was not out of line, and not “alarming” behavior. Once again, there is no comparison. There are examples, of course, of comparable behavior, but what we see from the conservative side in this day and age does not compare with the liberal side.

  51. 51.

    Wow, you have a seminar that really requires you to read Slavoj Zizek? You have my heartfelt pity.

  52. 52.

    Eve, stellar post. I can relate, from a slightly different vantage point- it was Seattle and Art School for me- but oh yes, I do understand.

  53. 53.

    As a liberal, practicing Mormon with 4 kids attending grad school in cultural anthropology in a town where liberal activism rules, I have personally experienced both kinds of contempt. Right wing contempt coming from most of my extended family and half my elders quorum. Lefty contempt coming from a majority of my colleagues (grad students mostly — the proffs are curiously non-contemptful, at least here…). None of it is ever aimed directly at me, but I am almost always implicated in it, regardless of the direction it comes from. They are qualitatively different, but both can hurt.

  54. 54.

    This was a brilliant post – one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read.

  55. 55.

    Nice post, Eve. Of course, the subjectivity would be in itself subject to one’s current leaning, but I wonder which type of fanaticism represents a larger portion of its group. My sense would be that fanatics on the right are a larger contingent of the right than their counterparts on the left (i.e. the left has a larger percentage of moderates)… but again, I lean left and I simply don’t have anything but anecdotal experience.

    I am tempted to say that being moderate (including a slight lean in either direction) seems like the spot for a “reasonable person”, but the truth is that what seems reasonable is usually right where happen to stand at the moment. Thus, reasonable and fanatical are flexible descriptors relative to our current worldview.

    But my current worldview is the best one. Get right. ;-)

  56. 56.

    Dan,
    I’m really amazed at the insistence of some to insist, no to cling to, the fact that their side must be “in the right” because their political opponents have more crazies or perhaps higher placed crazies.

    And every objection someone raises or points out conveniently gets ruled out of bounds and doesn’t count for some reason or another.

    So ultimately you get to be the final arbiter of not only who a “true model liberal” and who is a “true model conservative” but also you take it upon yourself to declare who is right and who is wrong.

    Not only is that entirely amazing, but what is also interesting to me is that I am sitting here typing this, knowing full well nothing I can say or do will every cause you to discover your wrongness in insisting “the other side is so much worse”, so I am left wondering why I am typing this at all. Perhaps it’s cathartic. Perhaps I’m stroking my ego (through an anonymous post on top of that!) Perhaps I just desire to make the world a better place with my own misplaced “enlightenment” and I’m tilting at windmills even though I know better.

    Whatever the case it’s unfortunate you can’t simply see that both sides are completely compromised. And the only people worthy of contempt, if there ever were people worthy of contempt are those who are so insistent that “what is wrong” is the result of the other side. And yes I know my logic probably just included myself in that statement.

    We really are still living in Plato’s cave. Even (especially?) those of us who think we’re on the outside.

  57. 57.

    sam,

    That’s why I said in #46 that it is really hard for me to describe my position well. I am honestly and sincerely trying to find, at the national level, an equivalence of this contempt that we are talking about, and I keep coming up short of examples of liberal contempt that equals the depravity of conservative contempt in this day and age. Now, this may be because my natural inclinations toward liberalism over conservatism makes me more sensitive to attacks against those inclinations, thus because I place a higher value on those inclinations, when they are attacked I see the impact of that attack at a different value than I would at an attack on a position I do not value as much. But I believe that our positions should be grounded in reality and on sound logic. And in the end, are there really more than one truths out there? Can two people taking completely opposite positions both be right?

    Furthermore, if you take a position, should you not be standing by it when push comes to shove? For instance, my favorite: Republicans/conservatives claim they are for smaller government. They talk of this frequently, nay incessantly. Yet when their men and women are in power, they do not reduce the size of the government, but instead increase it more than liberal presidents do! Thus the contempt held for “tax and spend” liberals by conservatives stinks far worse than a comparable swipe a liberal might take. When it comes to fiscal conservatism, Democratic presidents have had a better track record in post-World War II America, by far. George W. Bush came to office handed a surplus and national debt at about $5 trillion. He passed a massive tax cut ($1.6 trillion), added much to our debt (the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the prescription drug bill, the Medicare plan) without finding ways to make this generation of Americans pay for it. Thus when he left office, not only did he hand his successor a failing economy, but the United States’ debt standing at $10 trillion! The most fascinating thing about this whole tragedy (which I purposefully kept a close eye on) is that during the Bush years, fiscal conservatives were fairly quiet about their own representatives irresponsible spending habits. Not within days of a Democratic president taking office, suddenly a torrent of talk of fiscal responsibility from the very people who were silent or complicit in the massive spending under George W. Bush. The contempt of the conservative far surpasses that of the liberal, sam.

    Since the emergence of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, the balance is heavily shifted to the right in terms of contempt and I stand by that. That doesn’t discount the examples, multitude of them, of liberal contempt and misrepresentations of conservative views and positions, but it would be a false equivalent to compare what liberals say about conservatives to what conservatives say about liberals. It’s just not there. It’s not equal. One side is worse than the other. Keith Olberman is certainly trying to catch up, but he’s nowhere close to his main rival, Bill O’Reily. I would not put Rachel Maddow in this picture as she is fairly restrained and polite. Other than those two, who does the left have? Bill Maher? Not really that influential.

    Historically speaking, there is no doubt liberal contempt was far worse than it is now, particularly at the academic level, or we would not have gotten Bill Buckley to be such a vocal dissident academic. But then, in that very same period you get McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which was just utterly ridiculous contempt.

    I do see that both sides are compromised, sam. I disagree that the best course of path should be to somehow attempt to be above the fray. That’s the notion that I disagree with in Eve’s well argued post here. While I call myself a moderate, I am not one who doesn’t take a side. I had a politics professor at BYU who taught PoliSci 170, and he could never decide where he stood with things. It was frustrating, to say the least, and I felt he was selling us short.

    I am torn on one last issue, on how respectful we should be in political debates. Politics is a contact sport. Our Founding Fathers certainly didn’t think it was necessary to be polite, in particular Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. I don’t think there is much of a guide for this from our religious leaders, except the usual “be Christ-like, harmonious, etc.” But… then again our very own prophets were fairly contemptuous of certain political groups over the years. Geoff, over at Millennial Star not long ago highlighted J. Reuben Clarke speaking much ill of FDR. Harold B. Lee was not kind (nor accurate) toward Democrats and liberals. Neither was Ezra Taft Benson or Joseph Fielding Smith. I don’t feel too badly for calling Rep. Joe Wilson an a-hole.

  58. 58.

    The difference between me and you is you accept the line, “they’re all A-holes but these ones are my a-holes .” (lower case a to a lesser extent)

    I don’t support any of their efforts because the vast majority of them on both sides are corrupt and power hungry.

    You’re running through your laundry list of comparisons justifying and excusing just like I said. I could engage you on every point and it wouldn’t matter. Nothing could be said to make you change your mind on this issue. It seems like I could just post my original reply right back here because everything said still stands.

    Back to plato’s cave… I do think we’re all still stuck in the cave, even those of us who think we got out. I still know I’m in the cave while you seem to think you’re out in the sun and can see everything clearly.

    In fairness, there’s probably nothing you can say that will cause me to think most Democrats or even most Republicans are good at “governing”.

  59. 59.

    no, there probably isn’t, sam. But think of this. You say that you don’t support “any of their efforts” because the vast majority of all of them are corrupt and power hungry, thus what’s the point of supporting them. Exactly when are we supposed to support politicians, Sam? When they are righteous like a prophet? Like, say, Harold B. Lee, who was quite contemptuous of liberals based on inaccurate data? As Mormons, are we supposed to support only Mormon politicians, like Joseph Smith, thus voting as a block and becoming a political threat again to other groups as happened in Illinois and Missouri? I know Orin Hatch would just love that! :)

    Tell me what the alternative is, Sam. Is it “pick the guy who is closest to your morals and support him?” Or “pick the party that is closest to your morals and support them?” How far do you go in supporting them? Do you get into countering the “other guy?”

    As for Plato’s cave, yes, I do think I am out of the cave, but what I see out of the cave is no different than in the cave, and this is something Plato never understood. It’s just a bigger, sunnier cave. :)

  60. 60.

    I saw a really interesting (and amazingly entertaining) one-man show in San Francisco a few weeks ago called “The Real Americans.” The writer/actor, Dan Hoyle, who is an SF native, spent a year in Nigeria talking to people about their lives. On his return, he created a show that told their stories. At the beginning of “The Real Americans” his liberal, yuppie friends (whom he mercilessly satirizes) suggest a new project–venturing out into the small town American South and Midwest to talk to people and learn their stories. He sets out expecting to be able to come to understand their positions by talking to them and learning about their lives.

    But by and large he finds that he can’t. He encounters some truly appalling racist views which can never be justified, and biblical literalism he’ll never understand. His conclusion is that the only way to heal the widening divide between left and right, to heal our country, is to heal the “angry white guys” (as he calls them) of the radical right. He actually does couch it in terms of proselytizing–funnily enough, he compares himself to Mormon missionaries: “They say Mormon missionaries convert 2 people a year. I was out three months, and I had one convert.” But he wasn’t preaching liberal yuppie-ism, just tolerance and a willingness to investigate the facts of a matter (e.g. Obama’s birthplace) rather than just swallowing the rhetoric of the extreme right whole.

    I’m sorry about the long-winded summary. It was a very interesting show, and although I don’t think I agree with everything he said, he had some valuable ideas. Anyway, the show I saw was just a preview. If you’re interested, it will be opening for real in SF in January.

  61. 61.

    Here is an example of the false equvalency, comparing an Orly Taitz with 3 Democratic Congressmen who flew to Iraq in 2002 and said Bush was going to mislead Americans to war. Talk about an imbalance!

  62. 62.

    Here’s my take on a key difference between the bubbles on the left and the right. The right hasn’t really figured out how to use irony, satire and humor to their advantage (Or have I missed something? Are there conservative counterparts to Jon Stewart or writers like Gail Collins of the NYTimes?) Of course, the left’s capacity to make jokes at the expense of the right adds to that whole self-righteous condescension that people on the right genuinely feel from the left.

    And even though there are definitely very serious, dogmatic, angry people on the left, so many people who are left of center are able to laugh at the absurdity of liberalism that goes too far. The further you head right of center the less people are able to laugh about the antics of the extreme right or the opposition. I mostly see scoffing and anger and fear and, increasingly, hatred. And a more pronounced propensity to take up arms for their cause.

    It seems like people on the right would do well to tap into their inner Stephen Colbert.

    Full disclosure: I was raised by a mother who has been sucked into the vortex that is Bill O’Reilly and who also remains faithful to her life-long passions for organic gardening, recycling and eschewing unnecessary consumption. I am a moderately left of center independent with a streak of bleeding heart who rebelled when I moved out on my own by throwing everything away into one trash bin rather than sorting garbage into no less than 13 different receptacles. I have been working through a repentance process and am now quite diligent about taking all of my Diet Coke cans to the aluminum recycling place. I am pleased to report that composting is now within the realm of possibility.

  63. 63.

    And even though there are definitely very serious, dogmatic, angry people on the left, so many people who are left of center are able to laugh at the absurdity of liberalism that goes too far.

    During a Saturday Night Live retrospective about politics, Lorne Michaels commented that when making fun of Republicans he’s never heard a word of complaint from them as they expect to be made fun of. But when SNL goes after Democrats, he almost always hears something along the lines of “Hey, we thought you were on our side”.

    Are there conservative counterparts to Jon Stewart or writers like Gail Collins of the NYTimes?

    PJ O’Rourke?

    You do touch on a good point though. Republicans haven’t really learned how to use the media to their advantage, apart from Huckabee who did this brilliantly. Republicans have holed up at Fox News and other similar areas and have relinquished their voices and opinions to those of the John Stewart, BIll Maher – types. Their are many Republicans who refuse to do those types of shows which is a mistake in my opinion.

    In fact, immediately following Palin’s nomination I was of the opinion that the campaign should have made her a star and get her on TV every day on the Daily Show, Colbert, Letterman, etc. I don’t think the questions would have been that tough, especially early on.

  64. 64.

    Tim, exactly my point. Who would really question that SNL is on “their side” and yet SNL continually spoofs liberals. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get under the skin of some of them. But many of them laugh and laugh and keep watching.

    PJ O’Rourke is definitely funny IMO, but again we see him on The Daily Show, Bill Maher, etc. Left of center shows revealing the absurdity across the political spectrum. And I’m not always really sure where Libertarians who question all people who hold power like O’Rourke fit on the liberal-conservative spectrum. Except for socially conservative Libertarians, they sort of transcend the spectrum? Or maybe they represent the point where the spectrum bends around to meet itself?

  65. 65.

    And here’s another thought that illustrates a related point in a more serious way. Why didn’t the people who were sure President Obama was going to give a partisan speech to school children hold up Ronald Reagan’s speech in the early 1980s as an example? Or here locally in Utah, George H. W. Bush’s speech to BYU students, again in the 80s, in which he completely ignored a request from BYU administration he’d agreed to to keep it non-partisan? Frankly, it could have been their very best argument for stopping the showing of Obama’s speech live in its tracks.

    I have no doubt that if the situation were reversed, liberal humorists would have no hesitation in throwing a liberal president, no matter how revered, under the bus.

    On a serious note, while I’m fed up with both sides acting like they have the corner on the market of righteousness, I’ve been trying to figure out why the right seems so much scarier and more threatening these days. It seems easier to dismiss left-wing lunatics. And I would argue that the anger toward Bush and his administration was not so much defined by the far left as it was defined by general disillusionment and seemingly relentless setbacks (heatedly disputed 2000 election got him off to the wrong start, then after 9/11, we had war and torture, Katrina, economic downturn).

    Right wing lunatics? Not so easy to dismiss. They’re waking up and giving voice to deep-seated anger about all sorts of things. And while I think it’s completely legitimate to push back against liberalism (and, of course, expose any corruption in government), it feels like powerful voices are really playing with fire. There’s a lot of dry tinder out their just waiting to go up in smoke.

    PS: I personally don’t have a problem with sitting presidents giving partisan speeches to students. What an amazing opportunity for them to see democracy in action and develop critical thinking skills.

  66. 66.

    More evidence that there is no comparing the contempt of the right to that of the left:

    To see that, just look at what that movement’s leading figures said and did during the Clinton years. In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that “just about every military man” believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South: “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard.” The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible “murder” of Vince Foster. Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker. Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating “Whitewater,” a “scandal” which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define. When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of “wagging the dog” — trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal). And, of course, the GOP ultimately impeached him over that sex scandal — in the process issuing a lengthy legal brief with footnotes detailing his sex acts (cigars and sex talk), publicly speculating about (and demanding examinations of) the unique “distinguishing” spots on his penis, and using leading right-wing organs to disseminate innuendo that he had an abandoned, out-of-wedlock child. More intense and constant attacks on a President’s “legitimacy” are difficult to imagine.

    There is no comparison to this kind of depravity. Remember, this kind of language and acts were done by the conservative political leaders of the time, and not just fringe weirdos. You cannot find anything equal of the same magnitude and the same level from liberal leaders at any time in the history of this nation, as what was leveled upon President Bill Clinton, and now on President Barack Obama.

  67. 67.

    Geez Dan, do you think it’s even remotely possible that you are obsessive, deluded, and mistaken in many ways?

    Here’s a hint: You are. Greenwald is an embarrassment to himself ever since he invented sock-puppetry on his own blog, and your citing him as an authoritative source makes me laugh out loud. And your own senator Schumer, in addition to congresswoman Cynthia Mckinney called for congressional hearings into whether GWB orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. 30% of the American Left continues to believe that that dastardly W caused it all.

    Please give it a rest, for everybody’s sake, including your own. This kind of willful hatred really is bad for you.

  68. 68.

    Mark,

    I may be obsessive, but I am not mistaken. As for Schumer, if you really make that accusation, you’re going to have to prove it. I did just a brief search and could not find where Schumer wanted to reinvestigate 9/11 to see if it was GWB who orchestrated the attack. I saw some truthers reporting that Schumer didn’t have a problem with reinvestigating the attack to make sure everything was covered (which is not a bad thing), but no evidence at all that Schumer’s action was intended to investigate Bush orchestrating 9/11 himself. As for McKinney, yes, you’ve got one. Good catch. In the mean time, I can get for you ten Republican Congressmen and Senators who question Obama’s birth. Again, no comparison.

    I already stated earlier that I am not really partisan on this, that I don’t discount the contempt from the liberal side. There is plenty around to go. But I fully stand by the fact that in today’s world there is no way in heck that the two are equally comparable. Not in the last 20 years. The amount of contempt conservatives have of their rivals far surpasses the contempt liberals have.

  69. 69.

    The Conservative Liberal debate. I guess both sides have their flaws. What I would like to see is real compassion, one where unfortunate people are helped without hidden agendas such as attempts to brainwash with religion or covert population control with birth control or abortions or abstinence teachings. Why every time we help we have to ram our beliefs down peoples’ throats or worse yet set them up for future exploitation. An quick examination of history show the liberals having a better record. The conservatives have been on the wrong side regarding, slavery, worker exploitation, discrimination and lately excess of government power with their sanctioning of Bush’s roll back of citizens’ rights. However, the current Democrats are currently getting on everyone’s nerves with their pandering to big interests in deference to the little guy: bailouts and lately pandering to the pharmaceutical companies and HMO’s. People have to get past the loyalty to these twin demons and call things as they actually are.

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