When most American liberals first meet me, they assume I’m a European liberal. They ask me how I tolerate living in the United States compared to the EU-topia.
Their supposition is ill placed: I’m an American with a British accent and my politics are conservative. I believe government is necessary, but I also believe society is best served by smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations. But that’s reality.
As I say, when it comes to first perceptions, most liberals assume I support European-style big government. And that I love Washington, D.C., for its brunches, modern art exhibitions and micro-breweries. And restaurants that emphasize presentation over portion size. In fact, though I do enjoy the pursuit of knowledge, I also like Bud Light, and my favorite restaurants are the Cheesecake Factory and Olive Garden.
Regardless, the assumption that a British accent in America means the speaker is a European liberal is itself worth consideration. Because it reflects an American liberal belief that European liberalism represents true enlightenment and that American conservatism is thus existentially retrograde, an ideology unworthy of interaction.
This arrogance is on display every time a supposedly objective journalist showers a liberal politician with deference, and a conservative viewpoint with open disdain. It’s on display every time liberal commentators insinuate that America is a dysfunctional nation solely because of its private medical system. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that liberals should stay quiet and accept American conservatism. On the contrary, all Americans have the responsibility to engage in vigorous debate towards their ideal of a better nation. The problem is that it is difficult to have a debate when your opponent is convinced your ideology — and viewpoints — are intrinsically flawed.
THE REAL CASUALTIES OF THIS ARROGANCE ARE LIBERALS THEMSELVES
The real casualties of this arrogance are liberals themselves. Assuming that conservatives are at best delusional, and at worse immoral, many liberals forget the importance of facts. Instead, they resort to emotion to propel their arguments. It’s a vulnerability affecting the best of liberal commentators. Consider how Mika Brzezinski and Mark Halperin — two otherwise intelligent, open-minded liberals — interacted last week with Charles C.W. Cooke, a fellow British-accented National Review writer. Facing Cooke’s assertion that gun ownership in the United States is complicated and requires specific policy suggestions rather than emotional pontification, Brzezinski and Halperin doubled down on emotion. Accusing Cooke of moral apathy, they offered no policy proposals of their own. As Cooke attempted to spark a policy debate, his opponents simply raised their voices above him, while saluting the word “passion.”
Again, this isn’t to say that liberals have a monopoly on emotional obstinacy. Donald Trump, for example, centers his campaign on using emotion as a pretense for policy. In the same way, too many Republicans offer too many platitudes as alternatives to President Obama’s policies (something that is especially problematic when it comes to complex foreign policy questions). Still, today, liberal politics has experienced an undeniable shift into anti-intellectual emotionalism. The proof is clear. If America’s east and west coasts are centers of enlightened philosophy, why is it that liberals in these cities often express thinly veiled disgust for conservative speakers? Why, if not because these liberals — consciously or unconsciously —believe the debate is over before it even begins? From their perspective, two plus two equals four and bigger government equals righteousness. For them, the debate ends there.
Nevertheless, two deep consequences flow from this arrogance. First, fostering a liberal undercurrent of partisan purity, the arrogance fills a growing pool of sticky anti-intellectualism. Second, it deters conservatives from efforts to find common cause. Ultimately, whatever liberals believe, they would do well to remember that truly effective debate requires one’s openness to the idea that he might be wrong. Absent that philosophy, the marketplace for ideas cannot open fully, and America suffers for it.