A certain pet peeve of my mine has come to the fore a lot lately. Over at the blog Art of the Possible, poster Alix quotes the following from Makani Themba-Nixon:
If anyone doubts that racism is alive and well in American politics, the fact that more than 55 million people voted for McCain in spite of his negative, racist and politically vacuous campaign; his lack of charisma and terrible media performance; his scary choice of running mate and inconsistent positions on virtually every issue of importance; and in spite of his obvious ineptitude for the bread and butter issues facing the majority of electorate should be proof enough. Being White and male gave him the handicap (in golf terms) that got him 50 million plus votes “just because.”I agree that racism remains a real factor in America, but the fact that some people have the temerity to vote against Barack Obama is not very good proof of that. Much as I dislike McCain, Themba-Nixon's solipsistic inability to grasp the possibility that significant numbers of people might actually vote for him for reasons other than raw wickedness strikes me as a textbook example of the utter lack of empathy that does so much to distort liberal/leftist political analysis and commentary. Themba-Nixon thinks McCain was a bad candidate, and apparently can’t conceive that anyone could sincerely disagree, so it must be racism.
This sort of thing seems to be much more common on the left than on the right. (Right-wingers can be quite nasty too, but their venom tends to have a different feel to it; they often hate liberals, but do not generally seem bewildered by them.) I think part of the reason is differences in the underlying philosophies, which is a post in itself. In large part, however, I think the difference is the product of external conditions. Due to the composition of academia and the American media, liberals in intellectual or opinion-shaping careers are far more likely than their conservative counterparts to operate in an environment where their fundamental beliefs rarely encounter serious challenge. When combined with the center-left/good-government slant of the mainstream media and public education, it’s not hard for large (and influential) segments of the population to go through life with very little experience of anything that seriously challenges their ideology. (Which is why I laugh when any earnest mainstream center-left pundit laments the danger of political “echo chambers” created by all the fragmented communities of the Internet. The fact that some of them seem to actually be sincere just makes it funnier.)
In that sort of environment, it’s easy for liberal premises to come to seem not only true, but so obviously true that people who reject them seem incomprehensible, motivated by sheer perversity. Whenever their many faults, conservatives are forced by circumstance to be constantly aware that not everyone considers the truth of conservativism to be self-evident.
This is not a specifically liberal problem, or a specifically political one; it can crop up whenever there is a similar imbalance between two groups in numbers and/or representation among opinion-shapers. For instance: Extroverts, in my experience, often seem to find the preferences or even the existence of introverts incomprehensible, whereas introverts seldom find extroverts similarly baffling. (Just annoying. I kid, I kid. Mostly.) We don’t have inherently greater insight; it’s just that introverts don’t reside in an environment where most people are like them and the media and popular culture continuously and reflexively treats their nature and preferences as normative. Without sufficient stimulation, the ability to understand people who aren’t like you often atrophies.
At least in this area, libertarians have a certain advantage. Our tiny numbers and rejection of many of the implicit assumptions that underlie almost all mainstream political discourse make it impossible to forget that not all people agree with us, and it’s much harder to imagine everyone who disagrees with you as a monstrous devil when you’re surrounded by and interacting with those people all the time.
Admittedly, the superior insight gained through obscurity and impotence is a fairly small silver lining in a very dark cloud. You have to take what you can get, and do what you can with it. I've previously written on a somewhat similar topic at this post and this post.