Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pesky facts, having a liberal bias once again!

Michael Kinsley: Condescending Liberals

"[I]n the end the bedrock common sense of the American people will prevail," wrote conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer Friday in the Washington Post. He was crowing over Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts and the apparent about-face by Americans generally about President Obama's health care reform. He mocked liberals for believing that "the people are stupid" and accused liberals of having "disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the people."

On Sunday in the Post, political scientist Gerard Alexander asked, "Why are liberals so condescending?" He said they "insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots," and "the benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed."

As if to supply them with an example, Slate's Jacob Weisberg, wrote over the weekend that the "biggest culprit in our current predicament [is] the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large." So who wins this argument? Krauthammer and Weisberg are both old friends and former colleagues of mine (at The New Republic) so I can be completely objective. (Joke.) I give it to Weisberg. Where is the evidence that liberals are more condescending than conservatives?

Krauthammer offers a snippet from a New York Times columnist saying that people are "suspicious of complexity," an unnamed Time Magazine blogger who said we're "a nation of dodos," and a nine-year-old New York Times obituary in which a philosopher is credited with offering a "philosophical justification" for conservative ideas. The condescension, I guess, is in the notion that conservative ideas need a philosophical justification. Alexander's examples of condescension are mostly more like simple disagreement. He says that liberals "disregard the policy demands" of conservatives.

Poor babies. If believing that you are right and that people who disagree with you are wrong amounts to condescension, then we are all condescending. Of course, on any given issue, liberals tend to think that they are right. So do conservatives. It's a free country, and people can believe whatever they want. If evidence or reason persuades them that some opinion they hold is wrong, they are free to change it. So at any given moment, we all believe that our own beliefs are correct and anyone who disagrees with us has some explaining to do. Furthermore, if I believe that evidence and reason support my own views, then I also must believe that they do not support the views of those who disagree with me.

So the question naturally arises: how can someone hold a different view than mine on any given issue? Maybe he or she is right and I am wrong--an unhappy possibility that neither liberals nor conservatives keep excessively in mind. But there is no evidence or reason to suppose that liberals are more oblivious to evidence or argument challenging their opinions than conservatives. When was the last time the Wall Street Journal editorial page admitted to doubts about the value of tax cuts? Even if I decide that my current views are wrong, I will change them, and the question of how anyone can disagree with me arises once again.

Three possible answers are that they are misinformed, they are thinking poorly, or they are blinded by self-interest. Or, to put it crudely, they are ignorant, stupid or selfish. There is no evidence that liberals put it that crudely more often than conservatives. In any event, the basic point remains: it is silly to accuse people of arrogance for believing that they are right and that people who disagree with them are wrong. If nothing else, give Weisberg points for guts. It requires no courage to tell Americans that they have "bedrock common sense"--some mystical wisdom that is the gloppiest part of the old theory of American exceptionalism. There is no reason to believe that Americans are wiser, on average, than the citizens of other nations. Weisberg, in fact, makes a good case that the opposite is true. Americans make incompatible demands on the government (cut my taxes, but don't touch my favorite programs), demand change then recoil in horror when they get it, are gulled by transparent absurdities.

Only a hard core of "birther" zealots still believes that President Obama is not an American citizen, but many more are perfectly happy to believe that Medicare is not a government program. Not one in a hundred could tell you in even general terms what Obama's health care reform plan consists of, but that doesn't stop them from having strong opinions about it, which they offer to pollsters, who are the enablers of this particular bad habit. There is nothing condescending about telling your fellow citizens that they are being stupid or selfish. That is treating them as equals. Condescension is telling people that they have "bedrock common sense" simply because they're Americans and--on this occasion--agree with you.

In a society where the only snobbery with any real power is reverse snobbery, being condescended to is something to brag about, something to exaggerate or exploit--or to imagine. Conservatives are, by-and-large, the ones who have deplored the "culture of grievance" in which everyone becomes, as was said about John O'Hara, "a master of the fancied slight." Meanwhile, they encourage grievance and resentment when it suits their political purposes. If you had a friend who was wrecking his future by making bad choices, it would not be "elitist" to tell him so. It would be treating him as an adult--and as an equal. In the end, which is more condescending? To tell citizens that they are behaving like children or like fools, or to praise them for their "bedrock common sense"?

  • The comments section is simply classic, proving Kinsley's thesis again and again. And here is a perfect restating:

    I don't think it's liberals' fault that a majority of the policies put forth by American conservatives are justified by nonsense. That climate change isn't real, that tax cuts generate revenue, that tax cuts are more stimulatory than spending, that the American health system is more efficient than any alternative (let alone a socialized system), that blowing up Iran has any probability of a positive outcome, that torture is good for America, that terrorists cannot be safely held on American soil and that the criminal justice system is not capable of prosecuting terrorism, that stem cell research is pointless because we can grow stem cells from skin, that privatizing social security will have any meaningful impact on medium-term deficits, etc, etc, etc. In all of those cases, empirical evidence overwhelmingly disproves the conservative position.

    I don't think Weisberg's right to blame the public for collective ignorance on issues that command so much attention to understand, though. I do think that the modern American conservative philosophy was given several solid years of complete power over American governance (Bush effectively had a supermajority in both houses of Congress for several years given the number of conservative Democrats), and that it provably failed in a number of ways. Running the military as if it were Toyota did not work. Cutting taxes did not increase revenue. Deregulating everything did not juice the economy. It's incumbent on Democrats to package this argument and make a coherent and compelling case, though. If your opponents are dishonest and your audience is uninformed, that should be an opportunity and not a burden.

As if to prove the point . . .

Aravosis: With all Palin's talk about being an 'energy expert', Alaska isn't even among the top 10 energy producing states

Alaska produces 2.9% of the total energy production of the US. Why does the media let her get away with her ongoing lie that Alaska produces 20% of the nation's energy, and thus that makes her an energy expert? It simply makes her, once again, an idiot and a liar.

As if to prove the point cubed . . .

Think Progress: Inhofe’s Grandchildren Build Igloo To Mock Killer Snow Storm: ‘Al Gore’s New Home’

The record-breaking snowstorm that has shut down the mid-Atlantic region for days has become a favored target for mockery by Republicans who deny global warming, seemingly on the supposition that deadly blizzards invalidate the science of climate change.

Before the storm hit, the Virginia GOP launched a web ad mocking “12 inches of global warming,” attacking Democrats who had voted in favor of climate and clean energy legislation. Now, after hundreds of thousands of people lost power, several people have been killed, and states of emergency declared in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) family has joined in the mockery, building an igloo on the National Mall and calling it “Al Gore’s New Home“:

The Oklahoma Republican’s daughter, Molly Rapert; her husband, Jimmy; and their four children built an igloo — roomy enough to fit several people inside — at Third Street and Independence Avenue Southeast. They officially dedicated the humble abode in honor of global-warming crusader Gore, even posting a cardboard sign on the igloo’s roof reading “AL GORE’S NEW HOME” on one side and “HONK IF YOU [HEART] GLOBAL WARMING” on the other. Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is famously one of Congress’ most vocal critics of global warming. And he told HOH that he found his family’s ironic tribute to Gore — which came during one of Washington’s snowiest winters on record — “really humorous.”

In reality, winter snows do not invalidate the reality that the planet just experienced the hottest decade on record. Scientists have been warning for decades that global warming would increase the severity of winter storms.

This past January was the warmest January on record for the planet. And as National Wildlife Federation climate scientist Amanda Staudt notes, winter storms are getting fiercer even as the season gets warmer. “The last few years have brought several unusually heavy snowstorms as warmer and moister air over southern states has penetrated further north, colliding with bitter cold air masses,” she explains.

Elliott (TPM): Obama Admin On Al Qaeda: Don't Panic!

Ramping up the push-back against GOP criticism of the handling of the attempted Christmas bombing suspect, a top Obama aide argues in a new op-ed that America's "system of justice" is fully capable of dealing with terrorists.

Writing in USA Today, Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan calls, essentially, for the United States to calm down.

"Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America's counterterrorism professionals and America's system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd."

In a notable swipe at the administration's critics, Brennan also asserts that "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda."

The op-ed follows Brennan's appearance on Meet The Press Sunday, in which he revealed that top Republicans were informed that Umar Abdulmutallab was held in FBI custody on Christmas day.

John Cole: ATTN: White House

This is a real opportunity:

Leading House Republicans raised the prospect Monday night that they might refuse to participate in President Obama’s proposed health care summit if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) expressed frustration at reports that Obama intends to put the Democratic bills on the table for discussion at the Feb. 25 summit.

“If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate,” Boehner and Cantor wrote.

I know you all won’t do it, but this really is a gimme. Set up the room with a side for the Democrats, including nameplates, one for the Republicans, including nameplates, and hold the summit no matter what. If they come, you can have the summit. If they don’t, then you can have the summit without them, and can use the time (as the camera pans over their empty seats) to promote the positive aspects of the current bill all while discussing the only GOP plan out there- the Paul Ryan bill. I’d suggest panning the room a good bit.

And if the Republicans don’t take a hit in the polls for refusing to show up, and if the media does not rip the Republicans apart, then you all can take out a shovel, beat bipartisanship in the back of the damned head until dead, and bury it in the WH yard, and start acting like you have large majorities.

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