The Magazine

Mugged by Mythology

Liberals believe the darnedest things.

Sep 12, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 48 • By JEFF BERGNER
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Sometimes talking with liberals is perplexing. You never know what claim they will make next or what name they will call you. Take David Axelrod’s response to Standard & Poor’s recent credit action: He calls it the “Tea Party downgrade.” Amazingly, he blames the United States’ loss of its AAA bond rating on the one group that has sounded the alarm about our fiscal crisis. How did the president’s leading adviser come up with a label so detached from reality? 

Obama Caricature

GARY LOCKE

Comforting as it would be to dismiss this as a one-off comment, Axelrod’s words spring from the mental universe of liberalism. It is a vast sphere of assumptions that are found nowhere else. In an effort to promote the civility of debate that is so much in demand these days, here is a compendium of the myths underlying some of the strange things liberals say.

Myth #1: Conservatives are outside the American mainstream. Conser-vatives can’t be mainstream because it is liberals who speak for the American people. The fact that 41 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative and only 21 percent as liberal doesn’t matter—liberals are the guardians of the genuine interests of the American people. In the liberal imagination, the political spectrum consists of left, center, right, and far right. The most conservative senators—the Jim DeMints and Rand Pauls—are far right. But notice the absence of far left. In 2007, the most liberal of all 100 senators was Barack Obama, yet you will comb the mainstream media in vain to find a single reference to him or anyone else in American politics as far left. Liberals simply define the center as somewhere near where they are and consign vast swaths of the electorate to a place outside polite society called the far right.

Myth #2: Conservatives represent special interests. If liberals represent the American people, whom do conservatives represent? They are in bed with “special interests.” Listening to liberals, you would never guess that the titans of Wall Street regularly fill the coffers of Democratic candidates, or that the pharmaceutical industry couldn’t wait to cut a special deal on Obamacare, or that well-paid public-sector union leaders regularly extract generous salaries and benefits from their Democratic allies, or that the education unions put their own interests ahead of American youth, or that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bask in the protection of Democrats in Congress, or that many so-called leaders of minority communities actually have few real followers but rely on liberal policies and laws for the status they claim. In fact, liberalism is one nonstop orgy of special pleading and identity politics. 

Myth #3: The Republican party is moving to the right. When things go wrong for liberals, as they did in last November’s elections, and politics seems especially divisive, it is never because liberals have moved out of the mainstream. There’s only one possible explanation: Republicans must be moving to the right. But in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, Republicans stood for lower taxes, less federal spending, smaller deficits, less government regulation, a strong defense, free trade, limits on abortion, and First and Second Amendment rights. Sound familiar? This is the platform of today’s Republicans. The Democratic party, however, has careened far to the left. Who in 1980 could have imagined today’s federal budget of $3.6 trillion, 25 percent of GDP? Or today’s deficit of $1.3 trillion, up from just $161 billion in 2007? Or today’s national debt of $15 trillion? Or today’s defense spending below 4 percent of GDP? Or government control of health care and automobile companies and banks? Or marriage itself redefined? Who’s kidding whom here?

Myth #4: The Tea Party is dangerous and extreme. How then to account for the erroneous belief that Republicans have moved to the right? Why, the Tea Party! It would be hard to conjure up a more ridiculous candidate for a sinister force than this generally well-mannered and pacific political movement. Indeed, there’s a good argument that by focusing on the fiscal catastrophe staring America in the face rather than on social issues, the Tea Party has actually dampened political divisiveness. One more thing. Against baseless charges of racism, Tea Party defenders have done themselves no favor by responding, “Well, yes, there are fringe elements in all groups.” At the Tea Party rallies I have witnessed, there were not a few racists in evidence, but no racists. The relatively few minorities who spoke or attended were more than welcome; they were very much appreciated. Tea Party members wish there were more.

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