Monday, September 27, 2004

Are liberal elitists completely out of touch?
I was reading a piece by Ann Althouse (via InstaPundit), and it helped combine some of the feelings I've had over the past few weeks. She describes how John Kerry lost her support (it's a long post, but completely worth reading), and seems to stumble across something that I've been feeling recently. The passage that grabbed me: "I had TiVo'd the C-Span coverage of all nights of both conventions, but the Democratic Convention bored me and the Republican Convention gripped me. The speakers that made a real impression on me were: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Ron Silver. These men all spoke well and with conviction. I listened to every word they said. I will admit to feeling deeply struck by Silver's line: 'The President is doing exactly the right thing.' Silver was open about being a liberal on the social issues--as I am--but passionate and clear that national security trumps other matters. I agree! I even enjoyed Zell Miller's old-style preacher speech." (emphasis added)

It seems to me that the liberal elites, perhaps more accurately called liberal elitists, must be feeling frustrated. They are scaring away the public, the moderates and swing voters like Ms. Althouse and they don't seem to have the first clue why. They are out of touch with the American public, and they don't know how it happened.

I think the cause is isolation, created through a decade of systematic self-segregation. We hear so much about red states and blue states, so much about the urban/rural divide, so much about the liberal and conservative media biases, so much that we've decided that the country has become more polarized. Everyone has become set in their ways, and the middle is shrinking, or so we are told. Liberals are in urban centers, watching CNN and reading the NYT; you know, unbiased news sources. Conservatives are still out in the rural areas, listening to the talking points of country music, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News. The problem is, these assumptions are partially true, and mostly misguided.

Yes, the elitist liberals are focused in the northeast and on the west coast, in mostly metropolitan areas. But liberals in general are found all around the country. Look at the number of battleground states there were at the start of this presidential election. The majority of Missouri is rural, but it was thought to be a toss-up. Same for Iowa. Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority (Democrat) Leader is from South Dakota, and it doesn't get any more rural than that. The fact of the matter is, while they don't make up the majority in rural districts, the majority of Democrats do still live outside of urban centers, it's just the elites who have coalesced there. They write in the big-city newspapers, they attend and teach at the liberal arts universities, and they shun anything and everything conservative.

Lileks has a great post today, about these people, as they relate to the NYT Magazine: "The Sunday Times is the weekly sermon: let us reinforce your world view, your sense of belonging to the Thinking Class, the Special Ones. Let the Red Staters spend Sunday morning in itchy church clothes at Perkins, dumping syrup all over their pancakes and yelling at little Lurleen not to pour salt down her baby brother's jumper; you're in your elegant spare little apartment with a cup of coffee (frothed on top; sprinkle of nutmeg) and a pastry from that wonderful place around the corner (okay, it's an Au Bon Pain -- hell, they're all Bon Pain now) and there's some light jazz on the radio. Morning jazz, if you had to give the genre a name. Anyway, it's a sunny fall morning -- well, noonish. Now comes the capstone moment when you lay the slab of the Times in your lap and begin the autoposy of the week. Scan the A section headlines - yes, yes, yes, appalling. Scan the metro: your eyes glaze. The arts section -- later. Travel -- Greece again? Good for Greece. Six pounds of classifieds: discard. No comics . . . there was always comics on Sunday back home. But that was IOWA, for heaven's sake, what else would you expect but Blondie and Ziggy and the rest . . . ah."

And then, a few paragraphs later, the hilarious self-awareness of this New Yorker: "Why are we all like 34 and unmarried? Christ, is it that hard? "

The thing is, as I began to say, these people are segregated. They live with others of their type, and don't experience the conservatives of the world, or even the normal liberals. They read these sermons and think that the whole world sees things in that light. But it doesn't stop at failure to understand or experience: it is a constant choice to avoid and condemn people who do not think this way, who do not embrace this lifestyle.

I take my first example from something I found through InstaPundit a while back, concerning the behavior of liberals towards conservatives. Many of my friends who know I think Bush will win this election, and who know I'm big into studying political trends and strategy have been asking me recently why they don't see more Bush-Cheney bumper stickers and lawn signs around. They say that they understand New Haven is a liberal bastion, so you can't expect much Republican support in the area, but that when they go home to St. Louis, or California (even Orange County), or other places, all around the country, they don't see anything but Kerry-Edwards support. Well, the simplest explanation is often the most accurate: "Many Republicans are afraid to put Bush-Cheney bumper stickers on their cars or signs on their lawns because they are afraid of physical retaliation from angry liberals.

It is not just that one sees few Bush-Cheney bumper stickers and lawn signs - even in areas in which one knows his support is high. I do not have such a bumper sticker or lawn sign. In fact, most Bush supporters I have asked, even those who are fairly passionate on the topic, just don't think the risk of a key-scratch or broken home or car window, or much worse, is worth whatever benefit one receives from a partisan bumper sticker or lawn sign. There are just too many personal stories of cars and homes defaced and damaged.

The sentiment is not symmetrical: One sees plenty of Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers and lawn signs - even in highly Republican neighborhoods. Indeed,one sees plenty of such stickers and signs that express left-wing sentiments much more intense and partisan than mere support of the Democratic presidential ticket. Not infrequently these stickers and signs mention some form of violence or even death with respect to Republican officials."

Of course, this makes things seem a little more extreme than they are, right? No, it really doesn't. I have an acquaintance who has asked me not to name him (and yes, I realized that I've railed against anonymous sources before, but I have no choice here) who works for the Democratic Party in New Haven. He noticed that I have a Bush 2004 bumper sticker on my car, and suggested "Man, don't park anywhere near the headquarters. My boss has a standing order for any Bush cars to be keyed. Most of us just laugh it off and don't do it, but I've seen him key at least one car. So, seriously, don't park there." There are no such concerns for liberals who proudly display their Kerry-Edwards stickers and signs wherever they want. The reason? Conservatives disagree with liberals. Many of us even think that many liberal policies put us at greater risk, particularly post 9/11, and other policies simply go to far in devaluing life, love, hard work, success, and morality. But, at the end, conservative elites and most conservatives respect the right of liberals to think that way. We may try to protect ourselves from the destructive policies, but we don't protest your right to think on your own in large numbers (6 arrests at the DNC, over 1,700 at the RNC), we don't destroy your private property when it is marked as liberal, and we don't hate you as people. Liberal elites, on the other hand, abhor that anyone could think, and especially vote, conservative. (Disclaimer: of course there are exceptions. Don't post comments about how we hate the gays, etc. because the party rank and file at the upper level do not think that way, and don't post about peace-loving, free-speech hippies, because of course there are some, but I'm dealing with generalities.) This is why I have modified the term to liberal elitists.

The reason this has been on my mind of late is that classes have been in session for a few weeks here at Yale. I'm taking one class in particular where the liberalism at this school has mattered: Current Issues in Biology. The class consists of a thrice weekly lecture, purely science-based, and then a discussion section of about 18 people once per week, focused on a specific topic of discussion. The first week was about "patient-assisted suicide," and last week about legalizing drugs, sparked by comparison between nicotine and marijuana. What I learned in these sections is that I am some lower form of human being because I don't want legalized suicide and drugs. Far and away the classic moment, however, was when a white student from suburban Richmond claimed that "the educated African American leadership has come out for legalization because the unfair prosecution of black drug offenders is destroying their communities." There were two black guys in the class, sitting near me, one of whom immediately spoke up and demanded to know what black leaders advocated drug legalization. The Richmond kid stammered "Well, maybe not national leaders, but urban minorities want legalization." Both black kids just waved their arms in dismissal, and withdrew, though they looked pretty pissed. I followed up with them after class. They both said that they are from urban areas, and that sure, some want legalization: the ones who use drugs. No one else does. In fact, if anything, people want a higher police presence. They want fairer treatment under the law, and higher prosecution rates in suburban and white neighborhoods, and they want cops who don't abuse their power, but they don't mind drug dealers being arrested.

The reason the exchange during that class was important, however, was the looks of disgust on faces around the room. The idea that these guys thought drug prosecution was a good thing, even if mandatory minimums are not, was intolerable to at least half the class. And, after only two weeks, whenever someone expresses a clearly leftish idea, eyes glare at me, as if to say "I dare you to challenge that one." If I do, they all sigh with frustration. A common response is "you really think that?" Tonight we debated stem cell research, and one said to me "so, you're against abortion and stem cell research [I am not against stem cell research, I support the ban on federal funding enacted by President Bush, as I have expressed], but you probably support the death penalty." I love that one. The two are so clearly incompatible right? But how come you never hear a conservative say, "so you don't support the death penalty, but you're in favor of abortion?" You don't, because they're not in opposition. But I digress.

The point is, liberal elitists think that they have reached their positions through a clearly founded logical reasoning, and therefore that any other position must be misguided. They pity me for my error, but more than that they are disgusted by it, and many hate me for it. The problem is, I am nowhere near alone on these positions, and they have no recognition or understanding of that fact. On each of the major issues (stem cell, abortion, death penalty, taxation, healthcare, global warming, military funding and policy, etc.) I have at least half of the population on my side, including many intellectuals, scientists, lawyers, doctors, business people and members of other intelligent groups. They fail to recognize, or even consider that this might be the case, or, taking it a step further, that this might lend some credence to my beliefs.

They voice their beliefs so loudly, and especially in colleges and universities around the country, that each of these educated people who think similarly to myself has been forced to confront their positions, and legitimately discredit them in their own minds. And liberals, by dismissing conservatism so easily as misdirected, or selfish, or whatever else they throw at it, are scaring away votes, chasing away the middle. If they ever want to retake the country, that will have to change.

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