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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Good Jonah Goldberg @JonahNRO column this AM: Myths to Ditch in 2014

The Beltway consensus seems to be that 2013 was a bad year for the same reason nearly every other recent year was bad: polarization and partisanship. Personally, I can think of plenty of more important things to worry about than partisanship. Democracy is about disagreements, and partisanship is often a sign of healthy disagreement.

But polarization is a bit different. It speaks not just to a lack of basic agreement about what kind of society we should live in, but a breakdown in understanding and respect among Americans. There’s a lot of them-vs.-us talk these days on the left and the right. And while I’d never want to live in a country where we all join hands and sing “Kumbaya,” maybe a bit more understanding wouldn’t be all bad.

So I have small suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for both the Right and the Left in 2014. For liberals, maybe you should try to accept the fact that you’re not the non-conformists you think you are. And for conservatives, perhaps you should consider that you’re not necessarily the irrefutable voice of “normal” Americans.
Both the conservative false confidence in consensus and the liberal false confidence in uniqueness have a similar downside: smugness. Evidence for this is about as hard to find as hay in a haystack. Liberals often talk as if only the backward masses disagree with them, and conservatives often assume that only overeducated weirdos and radicals could object to their agenda. Hence Barack Obama’s infamous explanation for why rural Pennsylvanians didn’t support him: They were too busy “clinging” to their God and guns. Tellingly, conservatives took that line as a badge of honor.

Smugness is also the chief source of political problems for both the Left and the Right.

Conservatives have become far too insular, too often rejecting the need to persuade those who don’t already agree with them, arguing instead that ever bloodier doses of red meat will grow the coalition. Liberals have become far too content with the myth of their uniqueness and the pretense that they are brave polymath iconoclasts who know what’s best for you better than you do.

Maybe, just maybe, if both sides resolved not to take their most flattering myths for granted, America would be just a bit less polarized.

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