The Current Crisis

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Liberals are going to have to overcome their prejudices.

By 11.10.04

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WASHINGTON -- One of the reasons I can say with the utmost confidence that the liberal Democrats are going to be out in the cold for a very long time has to do with a sociological observation. Almost no liberal Democrat knows a conservative Republican of whom he is not contemptuous. To be sure, liberals in their think tanks, their universities, their corporate offices or government bureaucracies encounter the occasional conservative. Doubtless over at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard many of the resident liberals knew that amiable moderate conservative former, Senator Al Simpson. Many probably even liked him. Mr. Simpson is not easy to dislike. But did they respect his political values? The thing for a liberal is impossible.

In fact, did the liberals at the Kennedy School even recognize the amiable old senator's political values? As I say, Al is a "moderate conservative." If memory serves, he was pro-choice. He was not a ferocious tax cutter or very vigilant proponent of limited government. Yet loosely defined the Al Simpson I knew was conservative, which means that the liberals who knew him probably suspected him to be down deep a bigot and stupid.

Liberals believe that even the most amiable conservative is predisposed towards old-fashioned prejudice against all their approved minorities: gays, blacks, poor people, feminists, the disabled. Moreover American liberals have been convinced for generations that John Stuart Mill was right on the money when he adjudged conservatives as being members of "the stupid party," notwithstanding that Mill was talking about a different country and a different kind of conservative. To American liberals almost all conservatives are a little stupid, even conservative presidents. The only exception to this rule is a conservative who is obviously intelligent, for instance Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger. These rare conservatives of intellect, every liberal knows, are immoral and usually in the pay of evil powers, for instance, in the pay of the corporations.

The liberal Democrats' contempt for those who just won the November 2 elections explains their amazing anger. Couple their contempt with their ignorance -- often studied ignorance -- of the people who just beat them, and you will understand why I say liberals are, politically speaking, finished.

In all the soul searching I have read since the election only one Democrat has demonstrated the insight to move on with the rebuilding of his party. That is Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who told a New York Times reporter that "We need to be a party that stands for more than the sum of our resentments. In the heartland, where I am from, there are doubts. Too often, we're caricatured as a bicoastal cultural elite that is condescending at best and contemptuous at worst to the values that Americans hold in their daily lives."

Yes, the good senator said "condescending" and "contemptuous." He also talks as though the citizenry in the heartland has legitimate values. Those are basically the values of moral accountability, hard work, personal freedom, limited government, equality before the law, and then you can throw in many of the so-called liberal values: tolerance, compassion, some sort of egalitarianism. Those values are not unique to liberals, though liberals think they are.

It is when one gets off into "gay marriage," affirmative action, the campaign against religion and in favor of whatever it is that liberals now say they want to do with the United Nations, that liberals lose touch with the American people. Of liberalism it can be said that when it does take up a good principle or fine value it eventually takes it to an extreme that is at first preposterous then repellent.

What will Senator Bayh and his more sensible Democrats have to do to make the Democratic Party competitive with the Republicans? First they will have to recognize the legitimacy of the Republicans. They will have to identify the legitimacy of the Republicans' values. Then the Democrats will have to adopt those values with their own twist, be it populist or statist or whatever. But first I suggest that the well-intentioned Democrat take a Republican to dinner. Try to comprehend that your dinner companion is neither a bigot nor a dolt.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.