No Country for Old Liberals

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

According to liberals, they are tolerant, open-minded, sensitive to complexity and nuance, and wary of simplistic explanations. So why is a column by the liberal Michael Hirsh, in the liberal newsweekly Newsweek, so intolerant, close-minded, simplistic and bigoted?

Hirsh’s piece sounds the alarm over the fact that “Southernism” has taken over the “national dialogue” and has “transformed the sensibility of the country, . . .setting the agenda for our political, social and religious mores.”  What alerted Hirsh to this “Southernization of our national politics” was a piece in The New York Times about the elimination from the American Idol television show of a contestant who in her last performance sang “Jesus Christ Superstar.” According to Hirsh, this song was once the symbol of the triumph of “the new and the openness to innovation” over “nativism and yahooism,” but now its performance cost the contestant a chance at the talent show finals because of its “blasphemy.”

To Hirsh, this incident is proof of the “coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue.” The consequences are “ ‘lapel-pin politics’ that elevates the shallowest sort of faux jingoism over who’s got a better plan for Iraq and Afghanistan,” and the resurgence of “creationism into our political dialogue (in the form of ’intelligent design).’” Indeed, so powerful is this “Southernization” that uber-liberal Hillary Clinton “panders shamelessly to Roman Catholics,” who find in “anti-abortionism” common cause with “Southern Protestant evangelicals.” Nor is Obama immune to the power of the Southern sensibility, one so potent that the Senator from Illinois was too frightened to explain his relations with Jeremiah Wright and the former terrorist Bill Ayers by pointing out that for an “inner-city organizer in Chicago,” these men “were natural allies in a situation like that.” Of course, this same malign Southern sensibility causes us to “routinely demonize organizations like the United Nations,” and its “Southern-frontier warrior culture” has eclipsed “the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition,” thus compromising our foreign policy. Of course, George Bush is the worst example of this malign process.

This indictment is a farrago of ignorance, hypocrisy, and partisan special-pleading. What is Hirsh’s “better plan” for Iraq, the withdrawal of American forces, as both Clinton and Obama are proposing? The consequences of that failure of nerve would be devastating: the complete degeneration of Iraq into a Darwinian jungle of civil war, the resurgence of al Qaeda, and the further loss of respect in the eyes of the jihadists who are gambling on America being just such a “weak horse,” as bin Laden famously said. As for intelligent design, Hirsh’s equation of it with creationism merely repeats the ignorant received wisdom repeated by the philosophically challenged liberal media. Then there’s the paranoia about a trans-denominational cabal of Christian theocrats itching to burn homosexuals and abortion doctors, one of the liberal secularist’s most cherished myths, clung to despite the obvious triumph of secularism in our popular culture and a public square nearly stripped clean of the religious speech protected by the First Amendment. As for his advice to Obama about his association with a bigot like Wright or a quondam terrorist like Ayers: just imagine a white Southern politician explaining his association with a Klansman or an abortion-clinic bomber by saying he’s a “natural ally.” The dudgeon of liberals like Hirsh would reach the stratosphere. Of course, our self-loathing liberal must extol the United Nations, an utterly corrupt mechanism useful only for autocratic and tyrannical regimes pursuing their interests at the expense of ours. Most astonishing is the encomium to the foreign-policy realism that, before George Bush, liberals denounced for ignoring oppression and genocide because such crimes didn’t directly affect our national interests.

This tissue of generalizations, bigoted clichés, and bad history embodies the modern liberal sensibility that has found in Barack Obama its champion. Notice too the liberal media echo chamber in action. The Times story Hirsh alludes to was a speculative piece based on a handful of posts on the American Idolwebsite. In other words, anecdotal evidence was used to gratify the reporter’s preconception that singing “Jesus Christ Superstar” cost the contestant votes because of Americans’ religious superstitions. No other empirical evidence is presented to buttress this conclusion based on a handful of remarks out of millions of voters. But Hirsh accepts this biased interpretation as a fact, and then uses that “fact” as evidence of his preconceived notion about the malicious effect of “Southernism” on our politics.

Then there’s the potted history laughable in its gross generalizations and cavalier disregard of the complexity of historical change. Southerners, you see, are descended from Scots-Irish immigrants who first oppressed Catholics in Ireland, then immigrated to America where they settled on the frontier and fought Indians. There they developed a “rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores” that used to be “balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest.” Recent immigration to the South and Southwest by other Americans has now increased this sensibility at the expense of the old Northeastern one.

How’s that for nuance and complexity? Reduce one dimension of the South’s complex history and demography to a bundle of tired slurs and stereotypes, and then bestow this crude caricature with a power so fearsome that it can infect Americans who move to the South from elsewhere. This isn’t rational analysis, it’s sheer anti-Southern bigotry used for decades to gratify the snobbery and elitism of Northerners, with their clichés about big-bellied Southern sheriffs, psychopathic Klansmen, inbred families, and moonshine-brewing yokels. As such it derives from the same narrow-minded elitism Obama displayed in his “guns and church” speech before the Pennsylvania primary: anyone who loves his country, goes to church, and believes in moral absolutes is a “nativist” and “yahoo” with a “coarse sensibility.” Worse, rather than deferring to their smarter, more tolerant Eastern betters, these uppity yahoos have seized the political momentum and now are inflicting their “rather savage and unsophisticated mores” on the rest of the country.

Hirsh’s silly piece illustrates once again that liberals don’t dislike bigotry or intolerance on principle; they base their distaste instead on who the victim happens to be and whose political ox is being gored. They aren’t opposed to simplistic ideas lacking nuance; they always exempt their own from this stricture. They aren’t in favor of keeping an open mind and hearing all sides; they just claim those goods for their own opinions, and deny them to those of others. In other words, they’re flawed human like the rest of us — which is why we conservatives don’t want to give them all the state power they constantly lust for.

©2008 Bruce S. Thornton

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