20 Feb 2009

Condescending Liberals

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William Veogeli, in the Wall Street Journal, contemplates liberalism as the politics of snobbery.

Our age has seen political disdain become seamlessly integrated into cultural disdain. The prominent novelist E.L. Doctorow showed the way in 1980 when he wrote that Ronald Reagan had grown up in “just the sorts of places [small towns in Illinois] responsible for one of the raging themes of American literature, the soul-murdering complacency of our provinces. . . . The best and brightest fled all our Galesburgs and Dixons, if they could, but the candidate was not among them.” Reagan did attend college, but not the kind that would have given him some exposure to the world outside the soul-murdering towns where he grew up, and to moral ideas calling into question his parents’ religion. Instead, wrote Mr. Doctorow, a “third-rate student at a fifth-rate college could learn from the stage, the debating platform, the gridiron and the fraternity party the styles of manliness and verbal sincerity that would stand him in good stead when the time came to make his mark in the world.” Achieving success in his first job out of college, as a radio announcer in Des Moines, Reagan made a number of local speaking engagements, “giving talks to fraternal lodges, boys’ clubs and the like, telling sports stories and deriving from them Y.M.C.A. sorts of morals.”

We see here all the basic elements, employed for the past 28 years, of liberal condescension. Every issue of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone makes clear that the policy positions of George W. Bush, Republicans and conservatives in general are wicked and stupid. The real problem, however, is that everything about these people—where they reside, what they believe, how they live, work, recreate, talk and think—is in irredeemably bad taste. To embark on a conversation with one of them, based on straight-faced openness to the possibility of learning something interesting or important, would be like choosing to vacation in Wichita instead of Tuscany.

Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.

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