Is Liberal, Intellectual Condescension Really the Problem?

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Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

A conservative professor of politics at the University of Virginia has written a column in Sunday’s Washington Post asking the question: Why are liberals so condescending?

In the setup, he writes, “Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. 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. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.”

Later on, he adds, “This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government — and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.”

Rather than posting a comment on the Post‘s Website to point out how the professor has it so wrong, let’s take his argument apart here.

First of all, he starts out with an obvious bit of false spin, just like the conservative commentators on TV he seems to try to defend.

“…even with Democratic fortunes on the wane, leading liberals insist that they have almost nothing to learn from conservatives.”

On the wane? President Barack Obama’s personal popularity is the same as Ronald Reagan’s after one year in office, and the Democrats still have a majority in both houses of Congress. Just because TV pundits are saying the Democrats may lose a few seats in the mid-term election in 2010 doesn’t mean their fortunes are totally “on the wane.”

In fact, it has been pointed out over and over again that the Republican Party is all but dead, except among white males mostly in the South. Just because one Republican won a Congressional race in Massachusetts doesn’t mean the Republicans are about to take back the country tomorrow. The election is still 10 months away. Anything can happen and probably will.


“Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation — as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a ‘Bolshevik plot,'” according to the professor.

Well, isn’t that true? Conservatives are good at oversimplifying things into wedge issue sound bites. The administration of George W. Bush proved the anti-government party couldn’t govern.

Bashing government is a campaign ploy, not an alternative plan to get rid of the deficit.

While seeming to dismantle liberal thinking, the professor simply bolsters it.

He writes, “Prominent studies and journalistic accounts of right-wing politics … stressed paranoia, intolerance and insecurity, rendering conservative thought more a psychiatric disorder than a rival…. 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.'”

This appears to be way more true today than it was in the 1950s and ’60s. I wonder if the professor bothered to catch any of the coverage of the Tea Party convention in Nashville?

The professor talks of four major narratives about who conservatives are and how they think and function, and rather than offering a real counter to that, the professor proves the case.

The first narrative is the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” a vision that “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.”

All true. Where’s the evidence it’s not true? The professor doesn’t offer any. He just calls liberals “condescending.” For what? Being right?

He goes on to prove the case.

“This liberal vision emphasizes the dissemination of ideologically driven views from sympathetic media such as the Fox News Channel. For example, Chris Mooney’s book The Republican War on Science argues that policy debates in the scientific arena are distorted by conservatives who disregard evidence and reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity. In this interpretation, conservative arguments are invariably false and deployed only cynically.”

Yes, and your point? We know that the Bush administration spent eight excruciating years using industry lobbyists to run just about every government agency. That is an indisputable fact. Every news organization in the country, including the conservative Wall Street Journal, documented the war on science at the EPA, the Interior Department, and on and on.

Is it an equal political argument to say it is a “liberal conspiracy of condescension” and use innuendo to imply that there was no war on science?

Perhaps the professor should visit one of the hard science departments at the University of Virginia and ask some of them what they think. Or are all scientists just liberals who scapegoat Christian conservatives for standing in the way of progress on solving real problems, like the energy crisis and climate change due to human induced global warming?

The professor says, “Some observers have decried an anti-intellectual strain in contemporary conservatism, detected in George W. Bush’s aw-shucks style, Sarah Palin’s college-hopping and the occasional conservative campaigns against egghead intellectuals.”

Duh. What is untrue about that? They all learned it from George Wallace in Alabama in the late 1960s and ’70s, which is what allowed Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to be elected president in the first place. There is a host of scholarship on the “Dixie Strategy.” I mean, just Google it.

There is not a serious political scholar anywhere who would really deny this at the end of the day. Politics is a game of words. Half the population has no clue about the facts. Whoever wins the spin war wins the election. That is politics American-style.

Obama has it right. The Democrats should keep hitting the Republicans where they live, in the land of Oz, and they will stay on top.

What the professor could have said, if he wanted us to take his case seriously, is that the Democrats have to prove they can govern by getting some concrete things done. Otherwise, they will lose enough of the independent vote to cost them elections.

Of course it is hard to get things done when “the party of no” filibusters every good idea just to stop progress so they can maybe win an election.

Obama has already said he will listen to their ideas. He has bent over backwards to try to work with the GOP, even to the consternation of many liberal Democrats who have tried to tell the president they won’t listen, they have no ideas, and they won’t help govern because it is not in their political interest to solve problems.

It is in their interest to flash Tina Fey glasses and ignorant, extremist, sound bites at the masses, hoping to fool enough of the people some of the time. That’s Sarah Palin’s job in Nashville. She has no chance of getting elected to anything. She is a spoiler that keeps the anti-Democrat crusade going another day on TV.

Alabama’s very own Ten Commandments Judge called Obama immoral. Does the professor really think that is true and that it will win elections? Where is the alternative governing strategy in that?

Answer: There’s not one. It is nothing but spin. Is it condescension to point that out? I think not…

© 2010 – 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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