Perverted, God-Hating Frenchies vs. Inbred, Sex-Obsessed Yokels
Why can't liberals and conservatives get along? Because they fundamentally misunderstand each other.
BY: Steven Waldman
I was waiting to go on a conservative talk radio show and heard the host say that John Kerry and his supporters "have no God" because they don't stand up to evil. He went on to claim that "even the mention of God terrifies them." As for religious people who go to church regularly but vote Democratic, he said, "I see them as sort of phonies."
Then I came on, and his question to me was, "Why do secular people think we're all a bunch of intolerant people?"
I've heard similarly clueless statements from liberals who simultaneously talk about the need for fairness then compare the Bush administration to the Taliban or the Nazis.
I'm not going to attempt to bring peace to the land right now but thought it might be worthwhile to sketch the top ways that liberals misunderstand well-meaning religious conservatives, and vice versa.
TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS #1
They're Just As Moral As Conservatives
We've seen a wave of commentary suggesting that George W. Bush's re-election was a victory of people who cared about morality over those who didn't. "As a class, liberals no longer are merely the vigorous opponents of the Right; they are spiteful enemies of civilization's core decency and traditions," writes Mike Thompson, in Human Events Online. Columnist Ben Giles spelled out liberal depravity with greater specificity. "I'm sure the Kerry cabal has a lot to say regarding...conducting an orgy, the preeminent natural herb for curbing the side effects of herpes, how to pick out the right stripper and midget for a ménage à trois, how to redistribute someone else's wealth to pimps, whores and welfare brats, how to rid one's nation of Judeo-Christian ethics..."
The idea that this was a victory for people who care about morality over those who don't is galling to liberals because, for many of them, the number one issue in this election was Iraq -- and their opposition to the incumbent administration was almost entirely grounded in moral concerns. It's not like liberals objected because their own family members were dying. Rather, they believe that launching any war unless absolutely justified is profoundly immoral, a position also articulated by the Pope. One can disagree, but I would love the opportunity to watch Anne Coulter tell the Pope his opposition to the war isn't based on morality. Liberals also believe that a morally indefensible policy was sold dishonestly - a gross moral breach compounded by another.
Conservatives ask why the opposition to Bush seems hateful. The answer: liberals believe that what Bush did is worse than what other presidents, Democratic or Republican, have done because it involves the unnecessary and therefore immoral shedding of human blood.
TRUTH ABOUT CONSERVATIVES #1
They're Just As Smart As Liberals
Liberals tend to view people who take the Bible very seriously as yokels opposed to science, knowledge and thinking. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said the Bush administration is about "replacing science with religion, and facts with faith. We're entering another dark age, more creationist than cutting edge." Novelist Jane Smiley declared the election a triumph for the forces of "ignorance." Privately, liberals friends have told me that Bush voters are "morons," "idiots" and "peanut heads." The idea that red state voters chose Bush because they're ignorant or uneducated is bigoted, not to mention inaccurate. The least educated voters, people with no high school diploma favored Kerry 50%-49%.
Conversely, most people who are highly educated are quite religious too: 72% percent of people with post-graduate degrees believed in miracles and 78% percent believe in the survival of the soul after death. Liberals can't mock religious people as dumb when they disagree with them but hail their wisdom when they're liberals like Jimmy Carter. This intellectual snobbery is a major reason why religious conservatives distrust liberal elites.
TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS #2
Most Are Religious
A conventional wisdom has developed that almost all religious people voted for Bush and most people who voted for Kerry were secular or anti-Christian. The Republican Party sent out brochures in West Virginia and Kentucky saying liberals wanted to ban the Bible, Dr. James Dobson recently called a liberal senator a "Gods' people hater" and Republican convention keynoter Zell Miller's said of columnist Maureen Dowd, "You can see horns just sprouting up through that Technicolor hair."
However, not only are liberals not, by and large, Satanic or anti-Bible, they're mostly quite religious. Voters who went to church monthly split 50%-49% for Bush and Kerry. Those who go to church "occasionally" went for Kerry 53%-47%, while people who attend church weekly went for Bush 58%-41%. More important, 61% of Democrats pray daily, 59% are "certain" there's life after death, and most believe in God. The spiritual lives of Democrats are, statistically speaking, somewhat less based in houses of worship than those of Republicans but they are believers nonetheless.
When Democrats hear conservatives accuse them of being anti-religion it sounds like what they're really saying is that Democrats don't practice the right kind of religion -- that they are, as my talk radio friend put it, "a bunch of phonies." This is a direct attack on the nature of liberals' relationship with God or spirituality.
TRUTH ABOUT CONSERVATIVES #2
They Don't Want a Religious Dictatorship
Liberal columnist E.R. Shipp said conservatives wanted a "Christian Jihad." The Village Voice declared Bush had a "mandate for theocracy." Others have compared the current administration to the Taliban. This is profoundly insulting to most conservative Republicans in the same way it is insulting to liberals when they are called Communists or defenders of terrorism. Yes, religious conservatives want a greater role in public life -- perhaps more than liberals want or the Constitution allows -- but President Bush's faith based initiative is highly pluralistic and he has spoken out for religious tolerance. Equating him or his supporters with regimes that execute dissidents or blow up buildings is heinous.
TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS #3
They Believe History Is On the Side of Tolerance
Conservatives contend that liberals believe in moral relativism, and, to be sure, there is a tendency for liberals to avoid accusing people of moral wrongdoing. Conservatives say this proves liberals are immoral or amoral. In fact, what's happened is that liberals have elevated "tolerance" as the value that trumps many others, an essential and ethical way of coping with life in an increasingly diverse nation. Most liberals who support gay partnership rights are not themselves homosexual but believe in the right of people to determine their own lives. Conservatives appropriately argue that it's OK to be intolerant of some things -- even liberals wouldn't tolerate, say, murder. But that means the debate is really over how to weigh one value (tolerance) over another value (traditional family) -- not over whether one side cares about values and the other doesn't.
There's something else that needs to be said. Liberals believe that historically red state conservatives were on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle (first as conservative Democrats and then as Republicans) and that they opposed much of the campaign for equal rights for women that enabled Condoleezza Rice to be National Security Advisor and Sandra Day O'Connor to be on the Supreme Court. So when conservatives oppose gay rights, liberals see history repeating itself. To grossly caricature both sides, liberals may have been wrong about the Soviet Union but conservatives were wrong about civil rights and women's rights. Liberals look at gay marriage opponents and say, to paraphrase Reagan, there they go again.
TRUTH ABOUT CONSERVATIVES #3
The Pro-Life Position Is Born of Compassion
Liberals tend to think that right to life activists are motivated by a desire to control women's bodies or sex lives, and to impose a religious doctrine. Whether you agree with it or not, the heart of the pro-life position is the belief that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is murder. Liberals who don't share that the foundational assumption have a hard time understanding the passion of pro-life voters. Yet they easily admire the radical abolitionists of the 1860s -- who were as "rabid" and doctrinaire in their opposition to slavery as pro-lifers are today. Liberals should ask themselves, if they honestly believed that life began at conception, wouldn't they do exactly what the pro-life forces do?
Liberals sometimes claim that the anti-abortion movement is actually a religious movement aspiring to impose a particular theology. In fact, the anti-abortion side has tended in recent years to make secular arguments. They offer pictures of fetuses at different gestational ages, not Bible verses. You can say it's ghoulish but that approach - having values shaped by religion but making arguments in non-religious terms - is exactly the way faith should be inserted into the public debates.
TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS #4
Most Support Separation of Church and State to Protect Religion
There is indeed an outspoken group of secular liberals who oppose any manifestation of religion in the public sphere because they are suspicious of religion in general, and their views are Constitutionally protected. But most liberals (and many conservatives) fret about the separation of church and state because they want to protect the free expression of religious views. Conservatives might scoff at this as an over-reaction, and perhaps it is, but for most liberals it's a view born out of a love of religious freedom.
TRUTH ABOUT CONSERVATIVES #4
They Feel Under Assault
With conservatives controlling the House, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court -- and Christians accounting for 83% of the population -- it's hard for liberals to understand how conservative Christians can feel persecuted or under attack. But religious conservatives look at this way: they have clear beliefs about what is right or wrong. They think homosexuality is wrong, for instance. They turn on the TV and see it treated as morally okeedoke, and there's nothing they can do about it. They may have the numbers but they nonetheless feel powerless against a popular culture that doesn't seem to share their values, and in the face of aggressive judges who impose their will over the objections of state legislatures.
TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS #5
Family Values Are Revered
Telling someone they are against "family values" is not far from telling them they're bad parents. Most liberal parents (like most conservatives) spend most of their days thinking not about politics but about how to raise good kids. It's probably not worthwhile to try to figure out who is better at it but these statistics ought to at least pour cold water on conservative self righteousness on this point: of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates, ten of them voted for Bush. Of the 10 states with the lowest divorce rates, 9 of them voted for Kerry. And the state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation? Massachusetts.
TRUTH ABOUT CONSERVATIVES #5
They Believe American Culture Has Become An Insult to God
Liberals look at the fervor of the anti-gay marriage movement and wonder: why do they care so much? Are they just obsessed with sex? What that fails to understand is that for many religious conservatives the stakes could not possibly be higher. They believe that in condoning legalized abortion or gay unions or even out of wedlock heterosexual sex, America is messing with morality as outlined in the Bible and so attacking God. As anyone who takes the Old Testament seriously knows, the consequences of that could not be more enormous.
On both sides, discourse now moves swiftly from disagreement into demonizing, from contrast to caricature. The worst motives are always assumed. Both camps have polemicists who win popularity, ratings, and book sales by devising ever more clever ways of ripping the eyelids off their opponents. We all know the visceral satisfactions of hanging out with our home-team blogs and watching the TV or radio stations that fit our worldview. Our politicians and pundits happily supply us with the voodoo dolls and the pins. But we'd be smarter not to use them.
I'm not saying the conflicting values aren't profound and important. But I am saying that if we choose to find the legitimate underpinnings of our ideological opponents' arguments, we can. It may not be as much fun, but it is more patriotic.