As some of you are aware, I am a regular on another blogsite, which shall remain nameless, amid posters and bloggers from left, right, and around the block. A great many of the comments from self-labelled conservatives on that site start out complaining about:
“condescension from [partisans of] the left, who are … self-defined as more “enlightened,” and
“Massachusetts, where one is likely to be labelled “stupid,” “idiotic,” “conservative, or “Fascist,” not to mention “fundamentalist,” “evangelical,” a “redneck,” a “cracker,” “podunk” or “white trash” if one strays inadvertently one inch, one centimeter, to the right of wherever the line in the sand has been drawn on that particular day by the tolerant and open-minded people of that great state,”
before stating their own beliefs.
Every now and then, one also sees leftists proclaiming:
“The fact is that many Bush-bots bought the notion that Kerry was a commie pinko rather than a bona fide Vietnam war hero, actually confirmed by the military. Bush didn’t even show up to all his reserve unit duty. Republicans are suckers for ‘Rambo’ type talk and the rest of us pay a price,” or,
“When I discuss politics [in Texas] with Americans who may be on their way to no longer being my friends, I hear things like “stupid,” “idiotic,” “liberal,” or “Communist” in reply to what I consider simply a different set of observations and experiences which do not embody absolute truth.”
What all this comes down to is that we have all become a whole lot more touchy about politics lately. By which I don’t mean that we take politics seriously. I mean we take it personally. No, not in the sense that “the personal is the political.” In the sense of “tell me what you believe and I will tell you who you are and whether I will let my kids play with your kids.” My own vantage point is pretty much leftist, so that’s what I’m mainly talking about for the moment. Whenever I, or somebody whose opinion I share, disagrees with a conservative, the response is almost always sure to include stuff like, “I know you despise people like me, and you think we’re stupid, but…” usually ending with “…so you’re an arrogant elitist snob.”
Generally, I and many of my colleagues on the left are pretty respectful when talking to conservatives, or at least we sure feel as if we’re being respectful, and deserve all kinds of moral points for not saying, “I despise you and I think you’re stupid.” So we are especially annoyed at not even getting credit for not saying what we went out of our way not to say. I suspect that Obama’s comments about “bitter” working-class voters were made in very much that spirit.
And of course, the nastiest thing you can do to a liberal, who wishes to be a brother/sister to all of the wretched of the earth, is to accuse him/her of being an arrogant elitist snob. Compared with that, vague accusations of moral corruption and omnifutuance are small potatoes, if not an outright source of bragging rights.
So we are operating in a universe of discourse in which conservatives feel insecure about their intelligence and liberals feel insecure about their humanitarianism. Each tends to take offense from those respective vantage points at whatever anybody on the other side says about almost anything.
In the process, we tend to ignore all sorts of other dimensions of each other’s discourse. For instance, even though liberals tend to get branded as overly tolerant of immorality, we actually tolerate only specific (mostly sexual) varieties thereof. We yield to no one in our intolerance of financial hanky-panky, violence, and environmental trashiness. And on the other hand, while conservatives may talk a good game of judging other people’s sins, on the personal level they are often a lot nicer than liberals—even to those they disagree with. If I were stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, I think I would be more likely to be assisted by somebody with a “God, Guts, and Guns” bumper sticker than by the guy driving a hybrid with a Darwin fish on it.
Part of the problem is just that we all read, or digest pre-read byproducts of, sociology. Which tells us that liberals have more education and more money and more refined tastes in food, art, and decoration, and less religiosity, than conservatives. I’m not actually sure of the validity of those data anyway, and I used to be a sociologist. But I do know for a fact that lots of liberals have less money than lots of conservatives—even after discounting Black and Hispanic voters. I also know that lots of liberals are religious, and that some are even evangelical. Maybe this is because I am broke, religious, and liberal, so a lot of my friends are too.
Aside from that, even where the generalizations are based on valid data, they are based on old data. A new age is coming. A lot of people whose parents were middle-class are working-class now. A lot of people who went to college may have trouble getting their kids through the BA. Many of today’s adults could not afford to buy the houses in which they grew up, or live in the same neighborhoods. Even those who were raised to prefer croissants to Twinkies™ often can’t afford the croissants any more. We are all finding ourselves spending more time bagging peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to work and cooking rice and beans at home, no matter whether we used to prefer eating out at McDonald’s or La Maison de Quiche Raffinée. Mobility is not what it used to be. I can tell, because I can’t remember whether that accent aigu is supposed to go over the first or the second e.
So anyway, guys, can’t we all—at least those of us who frequent the same sorts of blogspace and care about the same kinds of issues—get along? Can’t we assume a certain amount of good will on the part of anyone we are discoursing with who hasn’t actually come out and said,“I despise you and I think you’re stupid,” or “You are a morally corrupt pinko”? If we did, maybe we could actually exchange ideas and come up with a few useful new ones that could help all of us out of the mess we are all, whether in the right, left, or center lane, heading straight into.