Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Sins of Liberal Fundamentalism

Right about now in even-numbered years, I tend to get tired of talking politics with my liberal friends.

Lacking any other race to focus their fervor, Vermont’s ardent liberals seem to have decided that everything Sen. John McCain says, every move he makes, is evil, mendacious, and politically motivated.

And as for Gov. Sarah Palin, my friends seem to say, she should learn not to say “nucular” -- then crawl back into the cave where McCain found her.

These days, most every conversation with my friends turns into a discussion of the opposition’s idiocy, accompanied by a litany of McPalin’s latest outrage.

The new cellphone towers at McCain’s Sedona retreat that were supposedly placed there as a political favor (but turned out to be required by the Secret Service).

The number of times McCain rolled his eyes during the last debate. (No mention of Sen. Obama’s fake smiles when he disagreed with McCain, the kind of “I’ll suffer this fool gladly” attitude he must have learned at Harvard.)

And then there’s the delight that liberals have taken at Joe the Plumber’s failure to get a plumber’s license or belong to the union – not to mention the back taxes that Joe owes. As an MSNBC pundit said of Joe’s experience: People who are about to get their 15 minutes of fame
don’t realize that 10 minutes of it is a rectal exam.

Perhaps liberals were just taking their clue from Sen. Obama’s attack on Joe, delivered last week in New Hampshire, in which Obama derisively asked, “How many plumbers do you know who make $250,000 a year?

Secure in their ardent partisanship, my friends have conveniently ignored Obama’s call to widen the war in Afghanistan, which is a violent quagmire if there ever was one. Or his reneging on his pledge to take public campaign money. Or his sudden and scary conversion to favor offshore oil drilling – not to mention his longstanding love of nuclear power and “clean” coal.

Ultimately in these discussions with liberals – and here’s where fundamentalism enters the picture – it comes down to one question:

“Whose side are you on?”

You’re either with us or a-gin’ us. (Didn’t George W. Bush say something like that?)
We liberals have been so outraged by the Bush presidency — and so spooked by Willie Horton, impeachment, and the sheer immorality of the Iraq war – that we’ve vowed we won’t get fooled again.
But we’ve overdone it. We’re off the deep end in the land of true and unquestioning believers.
After last week’s debate, I suggested to a couple of liberal friends (pretty much the only kind I have these days) that McCain had scored several good points during the debate.
I thought, for example, that McCain made a lot of sense when he attacked Obama for his reflexive instinct to solve every problem with a solution from the federal government. That instinct is one of liberals’ greatest weaknesses, and it hurts us politically.
My friends reacted as if I’d said Obama was a child molester.
As for the obviously unqualified Sarah Palin, the left’s critique of her is rife with putdowns that wouldn’t be out of place in a freshman dorm. Sneers at how many colleges she went to or about her sportscasting abilities. Doubts about her intelligence or the validity of her religious beliefs because she happens to believe that abortion is immoral.
Even more troubling than the snooty superiority of Vermont’s liberals, though, is the black-and-white tunnel thinking that has become so pervasive – and so similar to the opposition’s.
The right has Rush and his Dittoheads, along with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs.
On the left, we’ve all been living in the echo chamber of the New York Times op-ed page, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” the Huffington Post and Salon.com. The red states that support McCain are Jesusland and only we blue states are the real USA. We sport bumper stickers about villages in Texas that are missing an idiot, and we buy our dogs little shirts that say, “McCain is Bush’s poodle.”
And then we shake our heads at how devalued and mean the political process has become.
The fundamentalism practiced by many American liberals has become almost as dangerous as Christian fundamentalism.
Both groups think they’ve got the right and true word. They both think that people who see the world in another way need to be saved, stripped of their deep and unfortunate delusions and made to see the light.
Perhaps I come by my skepticism of today’s liberals as a matter of professional habit. I spent more than 20 years as a journalist. If you don’t give both political parties a fair shake as a journalist, you’re not doing your job.
One of the things young reporters learn is that a lot of people lie to them. Liberals, it must be said, lie just as much as conservatives. You learn to be suspicious of everybody’s claims.
Nonetheless, whatever gripes I have with Sen. Obama on environmental issues and Afghanistan, I still believe he represents a brighter future for America. We haven’t seen this promise in a presidential candidate since Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy.
When I go into the booth on Nov. 4, I’ll vote for Barack Obama with a swelling of gratitude in my heart for how he and the Democrats have fought back over the last four years -- and for this better moment in American history and race relations.
The mere opportunity to vote in a presidential election for a major-party candidate who is as inspiring as Sen. Obama – especially at such a dark time for the country I love -- brings tears to my eyes.
So why do I worry so much about liberal fundamentalism?
Because I don’t want the newly invigorated, 21st Century version of liberalism – which is so finely represented by Sen. Obama– to cement itself into uncritical orthodoxy.
I believe Obama and the Democrats will soon win a great victory, precisely because they’re adapted liberalism to meet today’s challenges. They’ve shaken off the worst of the old shibboleths, and they continue to refine an ideology that again, at last, speaks to the majority of Americans.
To replace that with a new orthodoxy -- a self-righteous sense that we’re right and everybody to our political right is wrong -- is the best way I know to lose all we’ve gained, and all we’ve learned over the past eight, very dark years.

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