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November 05, 2004

Assume the position

Many commentators are confused about how liberals see religious conservatives. Will Wilkinson and Grant McCracken argue that we patronizingly dismiss our adversaries in the Culture Wars as ignorant and/or mentally ill.

Grant writes:

This is a problem with a large part of the Democrat base. They will not accept that the opposition has a position. They prefer to think of ideology as symptomatology. [...] The Democrats, so deeply feeling, so prepared to feel someone’s pain, have failed at this simply anthropological task: know the other as they know themselves. Or at least well enough to take them on.

Assume that your opponent has a position, they scold. Don't write people off as sick dupes just because they don't agree with you. This seems like good advice to me. But allow me to suggest a corollary: some arguments are predicated on superstition, ignorance, and/or bigotry. If your interlocutor is advancing such views, you owe it to him to take him at his word. Act accordingly.

The basic idea is that liberals don't give fundamentalist arguments the respect they deserve. According to Will and Grant most liberals don't even realize that fundamentalists have reasons for embracing certain ideals family life, public justification, bioethics, etc.

This claim is just false. Most liberals are familiar with the arguments of the religious right. Fundamentalists are very explicit about what they believe and why. We hear them every day. Their values are fixtures our public discourse. Just turn on CNN to hear James Dobson of Focus on the Family explain why gays will destroy the earth. Listen to the president when he tells us why stem cell research erodes the Culture of Life. If conservative ideals of family life are foreign to you, you've obviously never seen a classic sitcom or a Disney movie. Just try to take a subway ride in New York without hearing at least one version of the Good News from an itinerant street preacher.

I'm so tired of the conservative victim posse. They can't take criticism. I know their arguments. I've been arguing with fundamentalists since I was nine years old. I've gone toe to toe with believers from all walks of life--everyone from Christian socialists and natural law theorists to evangelical Lutherans from the Canadian heartland. You'd better believe I take them at their word. I call evil by its name, partly because they taught me to.

Knock off the special pleading about how the effete snobs hate you. It gets old.


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If I may..."Amen!"


News Flash! We won, you lost!

We are not complaining that effete snobs hate us and I'm sure that Will and Grant's advice was offered in good faith as constructive criticism. I don't know why they bothered, however. The hard left in this country doesn't seem to want to hear anything that might burst their little bubble.
I think that if Tuesday's election results tell us anything, it's that middle America doesn't give a hoot what you think of us.
Personally, I'm too busy gloating to care.
This election has completed the transformation of American politics that began in 1980. You are now the minority party.
Once you come to grips with that you'll be in a much better position to assess where you stand and where you're going.


"The basic idea is that liberals don't give fundamentalist arguments the respect they deserve. According to Will and Grant most liberals don't even realize that fundamentalists have reasons for embracing certain ideals family life, public justification, bioethics, etc."

I agree that this claim is false and always has been. It plays this weird role in politics, much like claims in the 1970s and 1980s that anti-war protestors wouls spit on returning soldiers (anyone ever see pictures of this?). It works more to mobilize their base--in that, is that what they think of us, those smug east coast, socialistic types!--way. (PS--what I would do to have these people be a least Christian Socialists or even Christian Democrats these days.)

But we do think that these people have distorted views, and by our lights they do (I think I have good reasons for thinking their frameworks are distorted), which is why it's hard to even agree on the standards and premises for evaluation. But while it'd be great not to have to do so, we have to engage some of them (not millenarian fundamentalists) just given the numbers on these things. And while I have been arguing that we engage many on the other side, the moral values/religous vote is still only 20%.

Steve, if you're "too busy gloating to care", why do you bother posting here?

This seems right on, thanks for noting it:

"Most liberals are familiar with the arguments of the religious right."

The problem is, of course, that part of being 'liberal' is that one adheres to the ideals (among others) that views that people hold ought to be investigated, and not dismissed outright. And an inherent problem with THAT is that we only have so much time. For instance, it might be fun and rewarding on some level to respond to Steve's points, point by point, but where does one start with somebody who says, "Personally, I'm too busy gloating to care."? (Not that I wouldn't be gloating if Kerry had won, to some degree; but I would also be caring about how 'the other side' was dealing with it...)

And, of course, conservatives are far more dimissive and condescending toward liberal values than vice versa. (Witness the guy above, lecturing people about the feelings of poor trod-upon conservatives while crowing about a 3-point win by a wartime incumbent president.)

I was going to respond to you individually, but then I decided that I really can't be bothered.
In twenty years George W. Bush will be considered one of our greatest presidents and you guys will still be sitting around trying to figure out why you're losing election after election.
And that's the way I like it.

Hi Steve,

I would like to congratulate you on having the foresight to be part of the majority. Well done sir! I know it's very important to hold view which are popular, and I can tell that you are much more self-confident following this ringing national endorsement of your moral compass.

Anyways, as a liberal I am quite interested in honestly engaging in dialogue with you in regards to your charming worldview. I was (contritely) wondering if maybe you would answer a question displaying your reasoning, so that I might better understand its obvious rightness. (Please restrict your answer to one of the choices listed; popularity proves that these are the only possible answers.)

1. What, in your opinion, will George W. Bush be remembered for in 20 years?

(a) Destroying the framework of international terror through strategic, humanitarian nation-building efforts.

(b) Destroying the framework of American democracy through fascist populism.

I hope you can be bothered to help democracy by answering this question.


I've volunteered my time for a few campaigns over the years including this one and opened up my wallet for causes I believe in for even longer, both when it was popular and when it was unpopular. Hell, I volunteered for the Dole campaign. How's that for fighting for a lost cause?
Having put my money where my mouth is for all these years I feel perfectly justified in celebrating our victory.
Having said that Scott, you wouldn't know a fascist if one jumped out the toilet and bit you on the ass.
In fact, know nothings like you are the reason why the democrats are probably doomed to lose national elections for another generation.
They will continue to lose until people like you are purged from their ranks.
Thank you for being a perfect illustration of my point.

I'm happy to admit that large groups of democratic voters don't listen to conservative argumnents. But it cuts both ways. People who strongly disagree have a hard time talking to each other in a reasonable manner, that's human nature.

As a New Yorker here is what I have heard from conservatives regarding my political position:
I'm an elite, out-of-touch stuffed shirt who doesn't care about the middle class, who wants the terrorists to win, who hates America, and is not even American in any real sense of the word. I have no morals or values and refuse to respect the morals or values of others. I am godless and I eat puppies.

Conservatives may not be accusing democrats of being ignorant, but they certainly accuse us of "not being American" and lacking any moral compass whatsoever.

There's this idea that's been running around, that somehow the closer you are the geographic center of the country, the more American you are. If one does not agree with what those in the midwest think, then one does not agree with America.

Sorry, I'm from the city of immigrants, you can't get much more American than that. Yet apparently I am "elite" and "out of touch". Had this election swung the other way, I really wouldn't have expected accusations that conservatives are "don't understand America".

My favorite rhetorical strategy is "liberal elites suppress conservative voices"--followed by completely illogical, ad-hominem, assertions-without-evidence "arguments" that go on and on until finally you get fed up with it and cut it off, which just "proves" that you're pro-censorship.

the radical right assertion (i call it radical right because i no longer feel that the term 'conservative' accurately reflects the nature of the current republican party as represented in this recent election) that liberals do not accept that "the opposition has a position" is an a sense a coy strategic twist on Jean-Francois Lyotard's notion of terrorism, as applied to language games: the exclusion or threat of exclusion from the game.

Take for example, the current argument against homosexual marriage. the argument is simply that marriage can not be homosexual because by its nature marriage is not homosexual. the door to discussion is closed. the language of equal protection is excluded from the argument. This position in the debate of gay marriage necessitates that liberals first must argue against marriage having a nature that is defined by the judo-christian beliefs the rights beliefs define the absolute meaning of marriage. and to deny the nature of marriage, is to deny that the right has a position. for if marriage is not defined by religious values, then religion can no longer be a presupposition to this conversation. and since the christian beliefs of the right are that religion is primary in all things, we deny them their position. so in actuality, to require religious primacy, is a position which denies legitimacy to all other position

it follows from this that right and left can not truly engage in collective discussion because the language of equal protection is necessarily excluded from the game by the right’s definition of marriage.

the radical right will undoubtedly say that my assertion here, that the right employ a from of linguistic terrisom, is in fact reversed because in fact liberals don't allow for the inclusion of the language of religion and nature. but they are incorrect. for their language and resultant ownership of 'marriage' and its debate, have existed long before liberals tried to join in the conversation. and it is they, the radical right, who seek to exclude homosexuals from the practice and debate. necessitated by our belief in equal protection, liberals can make no move to deny the rights of the radical right, nor can we deny them the practice of marriage or exclude them for the discussion. liberals are simply asking that the language of marriage include the term homosexual, a term that the right tells is denied for conversation because of the nature of the game. The liberal move is not to exclude religious tenants but rather to alter the meaning of the word marriage so that it might include both sides of the conversation.

So the right, very strategically, blame liberals for the exclusionary position they themselves have drawn.

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