Counterculture Con HQ

January 29, 2010

The Angry Left and the politics of intellectual contempt

At CCHQ we don’t like to deal in the currency of party politics because little to nothing can be learned from it.  For every boneheaded move by the Dims there’s an equally boneheaded move by the rethugs.  They both cancel each other out.  Nothing is proved.  But when it comes to the topic of cultural elitism, between the Dims and the rethugs there is no contest.  It is strictly a domain of the Left.  There are socio-historical reasons for that, but we’ll set that aside for a later date.  The cultural elitism of the modern Liberal is always on full display during elections.  When you, the America people, hand them a victory, they love you.  Suddenly the American people are overflowing with “hope” and “passion” and “optimism.”  You find redemption in their eyes.  But when they lose?  hoo boy!  You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.  When you hand them a defeat, all the nasty things they say about you behind closed doors are laid bare for all to see.  You are “small” and “angry” and “racist.”  That same sneering elitism was displayed loud and clear when Scott Brown (R) won in Massachusetts.

Last week Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth described the election of Scott Brown as “a collective primal scream.” It’s an old trope, reminiscent of the late Peter Jennings’s classic declaration after the 1994 election:

Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any 2-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It’s clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It’s the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled 2-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week. . . . Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry 2-year-old.

Echoing this view of the voters as angry, unreasoning and immature is Time’s Joe Klein, who in the headline of a blog post describes Americans as “Too Dumb to Thrive”:

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 [sic] stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it’s been wasted on them. . . .

This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed…and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Hey, wait! Didn’t this nation of dodos elect Barack Obama not 15 months ago? Why yes it did, and Pete Wehner digs into Klein’s archives to find that back then the Time scribe had a much higher opinion of his fellow Americans:

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world–and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

It turns out the Wehner trick works with other commentators too.  Here’s the New York Times’s Charles Blow reacting to the Massachusetts special election:

Welcome to the mob: an angry, wounded electorate, riled by recession, careening across the political spectrum, still craving change, nursing a bloodlust. . . . It seems as if Obama and the Democrats made the mistake of believing that a heart once won was forever won, that people would be patient, and that the mob would accept their reasoning for lack of results.

They were wrong. The mob is fickle. And it’s back with a vengeance.

Here was Blow on May 23, 2009:

In 1984, Ronald Reagan won every Northeastern state. Since then, the leadership of the G.O.P. has systematically shed its idealists in favor of ideologues, reducing itself to the current Cheney-Limbaugh illusionati whose strategy is to exploit faith and ignorance by fanning fear and hatred.

But, Northeasterners are not so easily duped. Voters there tend to be wealthier, better educated, less religious and more progressive than those in other regions.

Is it even possible that Massachusetts–the quintessential Northeastern state–underwent such a transformation of attitudes in a scant eight months? Is there any way the American electorate could have been as smart as Klein thought in 2008-09 and as stupid as he thinks now? Or are these guys the ones who are fickle, angry, unreasoning and immature?

You won’t find many politicians directly casting aspersions on the voters the way these angry pundits do. But this politics of contempt is of a piece with what one might call the Obama administration’s politics of condescension. The New York Times quotes White House aide David Axelrod, who argued on “This Week” that Congress should ignore the voters’ clear rejection of ObamaCare:

With House and Senate leaders trying to figure out how to proceed legislatively, Mr. Axelrod also issued a warning to Democrats who were reconsidering their support for the health care measure.

“As a political matter, the foolish thing to do would be for anybody else who supported this to walk away from it,” he said. He added, “The underlying elements of it are popular and important, and people will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it, the president signs it and they have a whole new range of protections they never had before.”

“People will never know” is gentler than “a nation of dodos,” but the underlying message isn’t that different. Axelrod, speaking of the president, tells the Washington Post: “This is someone who in law school worked with [Harvard professor] Larry Tribe on a paper on the legal implications of Einstein’s theory of relativity.” That’s got to be a joke, but the message is clear: President Obama and his men are a lot smarter than the average voter.

It is likely that this is true. Shockingly, half of all Americans have IQs below the median. But intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or sense. Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas.

What’s more, there is a particular type of stupidity to which intelligent people are uniquely prone: intellectual snobbery, or the tendency to cultivate an attitude of contempt toward those who are not as bright. This may appeal to New York Times readers or voters in, say, Hyde Park–that is, to people who think they’re better than everyone else too. But it may prove Barack Obama’s undoing as a national politician.

I’ve been on both sides, gentle readers, and the contemp the Left has for the American people is strictly a Lefty thing. You know it.  You feel it.  I was a first hand witness to it.  It always rears its ugly head when they lose elections, like they did in Massachusetts.  I’ve not seen anything like it on the Right, not even when we lose an election.  When the Right loses an election it’s because you’ve been conned by the crafty Libs.  But our inate faith in the American people remains.  When the Left loses, on the other hand, it’s proof you are morons.  It’s not that we’re more graceful in defeat than they are.  I don’t think that’s it.  Although there is something distinctly adolescent about the Left.  It has more to do with how the Left view themselves vis a vis the American people.  Unlike the Right, they see themselves in contradistinction to you.  To them, you are the masses they are tasked with elevating from your lowly status.  They are reaching down to you from the rarified heights.  Because you are “commoners”, uneducated, uncultured, boorish, untravelled, racist, individualistic (greedy), white, christianist, etc., I could go on.   Basically you are a nation of Sarah Palins.  Ever wondered why they hold her in such incomprehensibly visceral contempt?  Now you know why.  Keep in mind that self-professed Liberals–the cultural elite’s real constituency– number no more than 20% of the country’s total population. The rest of you are the people they’re trying to convince to give them the power.   So when you hand them an electoral victory, you are redeemed from all that in their eyes.  You have risen above your inate Sarah Palin and are evolving towards their “New Man.”  But that only lasts until you hand them their next defeat.  Then you’re Sarah Palin again.  And you know how they feel about Sarah Palin.

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