It’s interesting to watch how conservatives and liberals treat each other. How they categorize one another. I’ve tried to distinguish between the two – since it seems they each have different methods of dehumanizing the other side. I’ve boiled it down to the title of this post: caricatures and demons.
Conservatives demonize liberals, and liberals caricaturize conservatives. And perhaps I’m picking at nits with this, but there does seem to be a difference between the two.
In popular conservative myth, liberals “hate America” and long for some neo-Stalinist socialism. Liberals are painted as weak and yet entirely capable of running a massive state/media coup of the nation in order to redistribute wealth and impose draconian regulations and taxation on honest, hard-working Americans. And the motivation for this? Dread “multi-culturalism” and America hatred for hatred’s sake.
Liberals, on the other hand, act as though the loudest and most verbose of their critics in fact represent not only the conservative movement, but the very philosophy upon which conservatism draws. Certainly the phrase “conservatism is dead” is second only to its younger cousin “rock is dead” in frequency of use. And second, only because “rock is dead” makes for a far better t-shirt. This supposition is drawn, often as not, from a caricaturization of the movement or philosophy based mainly on its chest-thumping class of pundits. If Rush Limbaugh is a conservative, after all, then certainly this is how all conservatives must be – ergo, conservatism is dead. (Man cannot live on Rush alone, after all!)
Then again, the caricaturization runs deeper. The very lines which conservatives have drawn for themselves seem only to add fuel to the fire. If you’re a conservative you must either be a redneck evangelical anti-intellectual, or a WASPish elite. Either way you’re either a bigot or a greedy, manipulative SOB.
Indeed, in liberal circles, mentioning that you are a conservative can draw a great deal of ire, and communicates far more than what you may have intended. If I self-identify as a conservative, others identify me as everything they’ve imagined conservatives to be – loud, hawkish, boorish, etc.
Then again, perhaps this is better than being thought of as an America-hating pinko demon. Of course, if you happen to also be an anti-war conservative, well now you’re unpatriotic, America-hating and caricaturized as a cold, rich bastard (or “WEC” bible-thumper).
And this is how we spin our political “dialogue.” This is the failure of cable news, which takes these memes and runs with them, inflates them, saturates them in the fertilizer of incessant speculation and the crowing of “experts” and “strategists”. I’m not a critic of the mainstream media generally, but I do wish we could get beyond these shallow themes if not as a culture, then at least as a class of people who are at least purportedly devoted to conversation, to seeking out the truth or at least the best take on the truth. But, as Yglesias notes, “cable news’ hyper-agitated style starts to infect everyone’s frame of mind, making it extremely difficult for everyone to forget that the networks have huge incentives to massively and systematically overstate the significance of everything that happens.”
The fictions we create, the myths we weave, start to become reality if we believe them enough. In America, it seems that this under-girds our national outrage – that we’ve taken the myths and lies we’ve told about each other and convinced ourselves of their reality. At the heart of it all is cable news and to a lesser extent, talk radio – both as exemplar of the worst of our opponents enemies, but also as excuse, as evidence that our outrage and scorn are founded in real things, in substantial things, in outrageous things and outrageous people. People who hate America or who want to destroy it; people who are nothing more than shallow bigots hell-bent on turning this country into a theocracy – or worse.
And isn’t it comforting to know that the others are something less than human?