There’s long been a sense (or, in some camps, understanding) that the progressive movement suffers from continual bouts of smugness.
Liberals have often dismissed this criticism as something akin to conservative kvetching. Nevertheless, they were forced to look in the proverbial mirror once more in, of all places, one of America’s foremost liberal publications.
Gerard Alexander, a right-leaning political science professor at the University of Virginia, wrote an intriguing New York Times op-ed on May 13 entitled Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think. While his piece was certainly firm, it was written in a congenial, matter-of-fact manner that could force many progressives to do some seriously soul searching.
Consider his opening two paragraphs:
“I know many liberals, and two of them really are my best friends. Liberals make good movies and television shows. Their idealism has been an inspiration for me and many others. Many liberals are very smart. But they are not as smart, or as persuasive, as they think.
“And a backlash against liberals – a backlash that most liberals don’t seem to realize they’re causing – is going to get President Trump re-elected.”
You have to dig deeper into the liberal mindset.
This ideological group has a near-vice grip in specific areas, including higher education, media and Hollywood. It has helped create several powerful soapboxes from which to preach their message. Yet it’s also made liberals “feel more powerful than they are” since they “often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.”
Hence, the typical language and tactics of liberals is working against them.
Donald Trump is an example of this. Liberals have used every smug, self-righteous excuse in the book to explain his rise to power, from supposed Russian election meddling to racism and bigotry against Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president. Even the defeated 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, suggested her gender was a factor.
But it would be wise if liberals could “act as if they’re not so certain – and maybe actually not be so certain,” Alexander wrote, “that bigotry motivates people who disagree with them on issues like immigration.” Moreover, “without sacrificing their principles, liberals can come across as more respectful of others. Self-righteousness is rarely attractive, and even more rarely rewarded.”
Think about it. People don’t want to lectured to when it comes to supporting and/or rejecting policies. It’s possible to favour ideas like small government, low taxes, traditional marriage, capital punishment, a border wall, military funding, policing and the war on terror without being depicted as bigoted, racist, intolerant, elitist and out-of-touch with reality.
When liberals paint the nearly 63 million Americans who voted for Trump with the same brushstroke, it doesn’t help enhance their political message. If anything, it emboldens conservatives, right-leaning independents and radical centrists to support the president in his re-election bid. That’s why his poll numbers have gone up recently.
Canada is experiencing something similar.
Liberals are trying to paint right-leaning provincial politicians like Ontario’s Doug Ford and Alberta’s Jason Kenney as either intolerant, out-of-touch or Trump-like. Many average voters, however, see through this farcical strategy and understand their reasonable and logical political messages loud and clear.
Heck, the liberals are even turning off the NDP in Ontario as of late with a father-knows-best/mother-knows-best attitude. It may be a form of posturing to save their political hides before next month’s election, but social democrats dislike smugness just as much as conservatives do.
Will American and Canadian liberals wake up to reality and start to change their political tactics before it’s too late?
The answer is painfully obvious but there’s no point in being smug about it.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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