"Conservatives are angry. They are angry about President Obama, about taxes, and about government spending. If it were legal, Tea Party conservatives would like to vaporize much of Blue America.
"Liberals are not angry—they are disgusted. They are disgusted by the endless questions about President Obama's birth, by the hysteria over "death panels," over Republican candidates demanding an end to masturbation. If it were legal, liberals would move all of red America behind a large screen where its antics would be less "embarrassing.
"If the dominant tone of conservatives is shrill, the dominant tone of liberals is saracastic. The philosophical position of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, expressed in body language, would be a raised fist and a clenched jaw. The philosophical position ""of Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher would be a raised eyebrow and a wrinkled nose. Angry coverage on Fox News has become the standard bearer of the right. Irony and mockery on Comedy Central have become the standard bearer of the left.
"Right-wing blogs reek of blood and guns, violence and revolution. The tree of liberty, they remind us, needs to be refreshed with the blood of patriots. Look at the weapons of the left—Colbert's sly smile, Maher's snigger, and the endless jokes about the stupidity of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Christine O'Donnell. Even the bumper stickers of the right are grave in tone. They ask, "What Would Jesus Do?" Their opponents' bumper stickers respond, "What Would Scooby Doo?"
"The right is convinced that the left is evil. The left is convinced that the right is retarded.
"In the conspiracy theories propounded by the right, Barack Obama is not an idiot but a clever double agent whose purpose is to destroy capitalism, Christianity, and America from within. If you listen to the left, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are small children who have gotten their hands on very large bazookas and need to be told to put down the weapons—preferably using words with few syllables.
"Both anger and contempt have deep psychological roots. Anger usually stems from feelings of unfairness or betrayal. Contempt is anger mixed with disgust. Anger and contempt are not just emotions. They are scripts that determine our political conversation. If you are a conservative blogger, you will hunt out material that shows liberals to be unpatriotic and dangerous, because your audience wants affirmation of its underlying feelings. If you are liberal, you will play up material that shows conservatives to be stupid, because your audience wants affirmation of its sense of superiority."
END OF VEDANTAM QUOTATION
As so often occurs in such analyses, Vedantam lets the liberal-left side off too lightly. There contempt stems from an almost insufferable sense that theirs, and only theirs, is the "reality-based" view. Too much has happened over the last few years to sustain this hubris. Perhaps it should be otherwise, but the liberal world-view is now deeply incoherent. Yet the liberal spokespeople keep acting as if nothing has happened.
Why is liberalism incoherent? The source of the rifts goes back almost a hundred years, when the Labour Party rose to eminence in Britain, gradually supplanting the Liberal Party. In the nineteenth century the movement of Gladstone and Mill had opposed Tory paternalism by favoring free enterprise, free trade, and free speech. The Labour Party, echoed by the Democrats in the US, saw fit to erode all of these principles in the interests of an ill-conceived "social justice." Above all, this Second Liberalism found the answer to all social problems in increasing government intervention. One can see the clash of the two views--Liberalism I and Liberalism II--in the difference of the two approaches with regard to free speech. A dwindling band of Liberal I stalwarts gives unqualified support to freedom of speech. Ye the Liberalism II group favor speech codes on campus (whether overt or covert) and punishment of "hate speech." Of course this latter trend has gone much farther in Western Europe. As I write, the Dutch politician Wilders is being tried in the Netherlands for daring to say things Muslims have deemed offensive.
Obama's election was supposed to ratify and restore this hoary liberal faith. It appears now that it has done nothing of the sort. The irrelevance of liberalism is shown by the fact that it is being defeated by two truly puny enemies: Republican obstructionism and Tea Party infantilism.
If liberalism offers a true account of how the world works, how could it be threatened by such adversaries? Threatened it is, but the liberals and the left see no need for rethinking their premises. Above all they claim to be the champions of the working class, the "people." Yet the people are deserting them. Abolish the people and appoint another? I don't think so.
Labels: Political polarization