That question was posed in the Feb. 7, 2010 Washington Post Outlook above Gerald Alexander's argument that liberals “to a degree far surpassing conservatives” believe their view “self-evident” and that conservatives are either too ignorant to have legitimate views or are liars.
Liberal sanctimony far surpasses conservative sanctimony? The words “talk radio” alone should dispel that notion.
Not that liberals aren’t condescending. They are. It’s from getting there first on the social issues: universal education, civil rights, women’s suffrage, Vietnam. They are the outreach branch of government. They believe they can see the future, shape it and bring everyone on par with themselves (whether this means up or down). As Alexander implies, their condescension can be insufferable. Liberals not only think they are right -- as in correct -- they believe they are in the right. This is akin to believing God is on their side, which actually has something of a right-wing ring to it.
Alexander’s interchangeable use of Republican for conservative and Democrat for liberal is also inadequate to describe the paralyzing failure of legislators to listen to one another.
As the spouse of an elected middle-of-the-road Democrat I’ve had plenty of opportunities to sit between one of the many conservative Democrats in my husband’s district and one of the fewer liberal Democrats.
Painting in broad strokes, the liberals are condescending and, as Alexander describes, suggest that if I were smarter I would grasp the imperative of their vision and its singular rightness. When they are at the podium they tend to lecture.
Again in broad strokes, the conservatives are bombastic and not listening either. They pegged me as a liberal since I was a reporter a decade ago. Not that I wrote opinion pieces, just that I worked for a newspaper so I was a liberal. They don’t care if I’m smart or dumb, they just don’t care. When they get to the podium they tend to criticize.
It just isn’t about a warring two parties. If it were that simple the past year would have been a legislative triumph for the Democrats.
It isn’t about philosophical differences. The conversation is nowhere near a philosophical level. That would be a huge step forward. Great friendships, even love can grow across political, religious and ancestral divides. Even if not common ground, an exchange of give and take can be forged among people speaking and listening to one another.
It is about behavior, as Alexander suggests, but not just of the liberals. Perhaps town meeting rage shocked some federal lawmakers last summer, but nearly any local government forum on property taxes or garbage or land-use will show no one group more vitriol or inflexible than another. Or that one subject – be it health care, immigration, Afghanistan, Iraq – draws more fury than any other.
Enraging tones of voices and superior attitudes are the norm in political arenas today and maybe everywhere. Perhaps this is what is meant by “postmodernism,” suggested a friend more conservative than I am who agrees that no one philosophy or party has a corner on the misbehavior market. Her point is that today we value individual expression, the individual above the group.
Now that sounds capable of producing the intractable behavior both parties and both liberal and conservative philosophies appear to embrace today. In terms of the U.S. Congress, that would change the formula from a simple us versus them battle – which surely would have been won/lost by now—into a case of every single legislator versus everyone else.
Now that is postmodern. That is intractable.