The Proud Duck
Friday, November 05, 2004
For the sore loser files.
If "know your enemy" is good, helpful advice, you'd expect the political faction with the least accurate understanding of its opposition to lose. I think it just did.
I think conservatives have a far less simplistic understanding of left-liberals than the reverse, possibly because so many national cultural institutions display the left-liberal conventional wisdom so forthrightly and inescapably. You have to have your head tucked several feet deep in the sand to miss the point of view of Hollywood, the networks, the major broadsheet newspapers, the news weeklies, the universities, etc. You definitely get a clear picture of where they stand and what they think -- it's on display for the whole country to see.
Conservative ideas, on the other hand, aren't so pervasive. While there are plenty of conservative voices, they often must be sought out actively -- which, if your sensibility is liberal or apolitical, you may not be inclined to do.
The result is that the conventional-wisdom left-liberal may become cloistered, and have his opinions hardened into the kind of unbelievably stereotyped caricature displayed in the editorial linked to above. (Summary: Middle America consists of ignorant, non-critically-thinking religious fanatics led blindly by amoral corporate pirates.)
The problem with presenting one's opposition as such a caricature is that the people you're trying to persuade may actually know a conservative or two, and notice that the caricature doesn't match the reality. They may know, for example, an evangelical Christian who doesn't handle snakes, who is well-read, who can hold his own in a reasoned discussion, and is generally a nice person. (True, that person's wife may have big hair and an appalling taste for saccharine music, even incorporating it into hands-raised, eyes-closed, swaying church service, but we can't all be Episcopalians.)
The farther the caricature diverges from the reality, the less the credibility of the person presenting the caricature. The Democrats' present problem is that an awful lot of its partisans think the opposition is too stupid to live. I've encountered this intellectual vanity myself -- and I've often found it's actually backed by intellectual reservoirs about an inch deep. The Socialist Paralegal (mentioned below), for example, is bright enough, but has proven that he knows a lot less than he thinks he does. (The Patriot Act, for example, doesn't mention library records anywhere.) It's not what left-liberals don't know that hurts them; in many cases, they actually know quite a bit. It's what they think they know that isn't so.
Even when you're right, proceeding as if you're ten times smarter than the opposition is a suicidal political strategy. People don't like know-it-alls, and they don't like to be talked down to. And they especially don't find it convincing when, if you disagree with them, they get all emotional and think that yelling "Listen to yourself!" over and over is a good way to win an argument.