“Cross a liberal on duty, and he becomes a man of hurtling irrationality.”
So wrote William F. Buckley in Up From Liberalism. Way back in 1959. Dealing with the left of the Eisenhower era, Buckley reached for Webster’s to define what he saw as the “liberal mania,” defining mania as “…characterized by disorderly speech and thinking, by impulsive movements, and by excessive emotion.”
It’s a pretty dead-on observation that is even more relevant in 2008 than it was all those decades ago. Think of the following recent events, none connected — yet all connected by the tell-tale signs of Buckley’s “liberal mania.”
* Former President Bill Clinton agrees to sit down for an interview with veteran newsman Chris Wallace. Wallace, now at Fox after a long career that included stints at NBC and ABC, is nothing if not the consummate professional journalist. Boring in on Clinton’s answers in a deeply normal fashion, suddenly Wallace is confronted with a red-faced eruption of Clintonian anger and the famous wagging finger that was used in the “I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman” episode.
* Senator Barack Obama belatedly admits that yes, indeed, he has sat still in the pews of Trinity United Church of Christ while his pastor Jeremiah Wright spewed considerable hatred and sheer racism. While professing — now — that he disagreed, it is clear that the thought he should personally take steps to remove his minister, something within his power as a UCC member, simply never occurred to him.
* Three State Department employees resign their posts five years ago at the beginning of the Iraq War. Writing recently of their decision, Ann Wright (no relation to Jeremiah), John Brown and Brady Kiesling boast that “we were professional, non-partisan diplomats bound by our oath of loyalty to the US Constitution.” They then proceed to attack the president as using “tricks of totalitarian manipulation,” his appointees as “ambitious, ignorant political appointees.”
* President Susan B. Thistlethwaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary writes a blistering attack on former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro for Ferraro’s recent comments that Barack Obama was “lucky” he wasn’t a white guy running for president, just as she was lucky she was not a white guy Congressman back in 1984. Ferraro’s point was that her gender and Obama’s race helped them achieve success. Along the way, Thistlethwaite rages about Ferraro’s “staggering ignorance of U.S. history and current culture.” She also accuses Ferraro of the sin of “willful ignorance” of the number of young African-American men in jail or prison, finally proposing that there be a Museum of Slavery to educate Americans as to exactly how we got to where we are racially.
* Rush Limbaugh, invited to do some football commentary on ESPN, observes of the black Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, that perhaps McNabb is in fact not as good as advertised and that McNabb’s laudatory press clippings may be the result of liberal sports writers wanting a black quarterback to succeed. Limbaugh is fired by ESPN for his remarks.
WHAT ALL FIVE OF THESE examples have in common (and there would be an interminable list of others) is that they are the very embodiment of what Buckley termed the “liberal mania.” The very image of the “hurtling irrationality” displayed by liberals on duty. They are emotional (Clinton and Thistlethwaite), impulsive movements (the diplomats resignations and the firing of Limbaugh) and certainly characterized by disorderly speech and thinking — Obama’s pastor and Obama’s late response.
All of these people — Clinton the ex-president, Obama the would-be president and his pastor Wright, Wright, Brown and Kiesling the resigned diplomats, Thistlethwaite the seminary president and the ESPN executives — exist in an intellectual bubble. They spend their time talking to, agreeing with and being agreed with by other liberals. Their personal one-on-one exposure to ideas that challenge their world-view is protected by their existence in the bubble, a bubble that is at once a shield from the reality of “the other” as it is a warm and comfortable intellectual bath of reassuring moral superiority.
Thus Clinton’s shock and anger when he ventures forth from the respectful cocoon of the ever-adoring left-wing mainstream media. How dare he be treated in such fashion! He turns beet red, he angrily wags the famous finger that denied an affair with Monica Lewinsky, he hisses about a fancied “smirk” on Wallace’s face. All this because he is afforded precisely the same kind of utterly professional treatment that Wallace viewers have seen dished to the likes of a Rumsfeld or Rice, both of whom (and many more) handle the probing questions with graceful aplomb.
Thus Senator Obama’s blissful Sunday morning ignorance as he, his wife and daughters listen to the visceral anti-Americanism, racism and paranoia of Jeremiah Wright. Everybody else in this bubble-church shares the same view, as was captured repeatedly on the now famous tapes of Wright being thunderously applauded by his cheering congregation. Hey, no problem here. It’s an entire church of liberals on duty.
Ditto as well with the diplomats Wright, Brown and Kiesling. The three even go so far as to say — with a straight face — that they are “non-partisan.” Really! And doubtless, all three liberals on duty believe this to be so. Confronted with the reality of another world-view they follow precisely Buckley’s description of those possessed of the liberal mania. Said WFB: “A second marked characteristic of the liberal-in-debate-with-the-conservative is the tacit premise that debate is ridiculous because there is nothing whatever to debate about.” Thus, Wright, Brown and Kiesling simply assert as fact that the Iraq War is a “fiasco.” Period. Case closed. Everyone they know agrees.
Then there’s Thistlethwaite the seminary president. Writing furiously of Ferraro’s alleged “willful ignorance” on race, demanding a Museum of Slavery, she herself willfully ignores throughout her screed a central if always overlooked fact by liberals. Who, exactly, would be depicted as supporters of slavery in her proposed museum? How about segregation? What political party was supported by the Ku Klux Klan? Reading Thistlethwaite is like looking at those old photos of the Stalin-era Soviet Union where the inconvenient party leader was simply air-brushed out of the photo. What political party is responsible for the conditions that have all these young African-American males in prison? Why, Thistlethwaite’s own, of course. It is her own party, her own philosophy, her own liberal mainline church, her own studiously “willful ignorance” of history that keeps her from even acknowledging in passing what a serious Museum of Slavery should be showing the American public. Again, one suspects that seminary classrooms and cocktail parties in Chicago do not involve this kind of discussion because, well, who would ever want to admit to the long-running and deeply felt political family history of racism? It’s someone else who must have gotten us here, and there’s no one in the room to dispute the good liberal president of seminary. Or even think to bring up the subject. In the words of Buckley, “there is nothing whatever to debate about.”
Finally there is ESPN and its hysterical reaction to a breach of their bubble by no less than El Rushbo himself. Horrors! No one they know speaks this way! Bubble breach alert! Bubble breach alert! Fire Limbaugh!
THE PROBLEM FOR ALL of these people, whether they are dealing with Chris Wallace, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, an elected President and his legitimately appointed political surrogates in the State Department, or in Thistlethwaite’s case the candor of a respected member of her own party, they are forced — forced — to deal with life outside the bubble. To confront the reality of those not swept up in the liberal mania.
The reaction is, literally, anger or hot letters of resignation or, in Limbaugh’s case, demands for same. It is never, ever a dawning reality that there is quite another world-view out there held by thoughtful and honest people who simply disagree in good faith. The liberal mania insists that what they know is equivalent to a revealed truth. Again, Buckley: “…it is usually necessary (for the liberal) to berate the person who brought the matter up.”
Exactly. And the considerable experience of conservatives since 1959 suggests that’s putting it mildly.
This is doubtless a revelation to Geraldine Limbaugh…ah…Ferraro. When Rush Limbaugh made essentially the same point Ms. Ferraro did about Barack Obama, except in a sports context, he was pilloried by a sports network that instantly revealed itself as infected with a serious case of liberal mania. If one waits long enough, goes the Chinese proverb, one will see the body of your enemy float by. In Limbaugh’s case the body in question would be any prominent American liberal, and to doubtless her own surprise that body turns out to belong to Ms. Ferraro.
Ms. Ferraro is no more a racist than Rush Limbaugh. But in a casual aside she made the mistake of doing what Limbaugh has educated a good bit of the American conservative movement to do quite deliberately — and what he did on ESPN: challenge the liberal conventional wisdom. Think outside the left’s bubble. Don’t get swept up by the liberal mania, whether in politics, sports or anywhere else. In doing so (presumably accidentally) a clearly startled and now quite furious Ferraro has found herself targeted as if she were a Klansman by no less than Obama himself, who, suddenly stripped of his cover by his minister, appears quite adept at playing the meanest of the old fashioned politics. One would hope that Ferraro, newly and thusly mugged, would both continue to hold her ground and realize the racial game that has been afoot in her party for some two centuries, first with whites and, since the 1960s, with blacks, Obama included. The game is even played at ESPN.
Much has been made of the importance of this election, and surely when it comes to Iraq or health care or judges or the economy it is. But there is something else at work here in this election, and perhaps Obama is right to open up a genuine conversation on race. It is time, past time, for the bursting of the liberal bubble, to see if it is indeed possible to halt the “hurtling irrationality” Buckley identified so long ago. To coax outside into the warm sunshine of honest debate those liberals on duty holding on desperately to an increasingly frightened, timid, stereotypical, reflexively mean-spirited and condescending philosophy.
The liberal mania.
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