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Liberals Playing to Type

Nov 21, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 10 • By YUVAL LEVIN
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This populist posture, however, is easily undermined by perhaps the most prominent liberal type of our own time—the cultural elitist, whom Obama did not really have to recall from retirement at all. This was the type so thoroughly embodied by John Kerry in 2004. It was the type that Obama exhibited when he shared his opinion of the religious and cultural attachments of western Pennsylvanians in 2008. And it has shown itself again and again in the president’s unguarded moments since—perhaps most notably when he asserted from the White House podium that a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, acted “stupidly” when he arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct in 2009. In that moment of profound irresponsibility, Obama reminded Americans of what has so often unnerved them about modern liberals, from the riotous counterculture of the 1960s through today’s NPR snobs.

Indeed, the cultural stereotypes of the left have long been more powerful, and more harmful to liberals, than even the political and economic stereotypes. And now, as the fourth year of the Obama administration approaches, we find ourselves confronted with the reincarnation of perhaps the most damaging liberal type of all: the snarky, pseudo-alienated, disheveled young protester. There is much to complain about regarding Wall Street and its cozy relationship with the government, but the Occupy Wall Street protesters do not seem to have a clear idea of what that complaint might be, or what should be done about it. They seem increasingly to give vent, instead, to a vague unfocused ennui, unaware that their bizarre reenactment of their professors’ wistful exaggerations of the 1960s threatens to offend a great many Americans whose cultural memories extend further back than the invention of the iPod.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has gradually turned ugly in recent weeks, the Democrats who had earlier associated themselves with the protests have no doubt begun to recognize the peril in which they have put themselves and their party by even tacitly encouraging the resurrection of this most disagreeable liberal type. They have yet to fully grasp, however, just how much damage the simultaneous reemergence of so many harmful and unpleasant aspects of the modern left may yet do to the Democrats in 2012.

A Gallup poll published this month showed that only 21 percent of Americans consider themselves liberals. The rest of the country might well put up with liberals in power now and then, but not if the left insists on constantly reminding us why, to coin a phrase, we are the 79 percent.

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