Among the things that culminated on this Election Day was one of the most impassioned and personal political hate-fests in American history.
Last-minute examples included the revelation of Walter Cronkite’s long suspected and long denied addiction to crack cocaine and last week’s column by Loren Williams – who proved, once and for all, that he was much cuter when we thought he was a chick. These were the very latest in a long trend that has come to define modern political discourse as an oversimplified, personal attack-based, name-calling war fought in the form of a catfight.
The simplifications are the labels “liberal” and “conservative.” The name-calling goes: Conservatives are racist, sexist, stupid, absolutist and fascist. Liberals are cowardly, ignorant, arrogant, evil and treasonous. Pundits on both sides combine out-of-context quotations with narrowly and often falsely interpreted data to justify their name-calling.
Not that the name-calling is entirely inaccurate. Liberals may be right about the “absolutist” part and conservatives may be right about the “evil” part. The main purpose of these labels is to replace an honest assessment and understanding of the ideas of the opposition, thus making it much easier to get angry and feel important.
The result of this in the last eight years has been the amusing spectacle of conservatives despising the most conservative Democratic president in decades and liberals despising the most liberal president since LBJ.
So we are “polarized” like never before. The question is: Whose ultimate fault is it for making politics the team sport that it currently is?
The answer, of course, is the liberal left. It is certainly true that insane Bush-bashing is somewhat a reaction to insane Clinton-bashing. But the Clinton-bashing was a reaction to the extreme hatred and vilification of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was labeled a dumb simpleton by his enemies in the liberal elite for calling the slaughterhouse Soviet Union “evil” and for holding the basic economic belief that the less money you took from people, the more they would have. The elite pulled a combo act of being severely wrong and drastically arrogant.
But the problem goes even deeper. For a long time now, the politics of the left have been based on warfare, be it of class, race or sex. These movements were defined not by any rational argument but by the presumed bad motives of their opponents – to “oppress” women, minorities, the poor, the environment or whatever. Promoted by the media, campus speech codes, and sociology, ethnic studies and women’s studies departments, this type of mindless emotionalism pervades debate and makes civility impossible.
When somebody can’t go two minutes in an argument without foaming at the mouth and crying “corporate America!” one can’t argue with him. When a whole political culture acts like that, the only choice for dissenters is to either stay silent or go on the offensive. Equalizing the emotion is the only way to neuter the dogma.
So conservatives have fought back after finally learning that you can’t win a guerrilla war using civil tactics. Even in a catfight, it doesn’t help to be a pussy. To the extent that this retaliation has neutralized the influence of the left’s tactics, the fact that we are more openly divided is a good thing. But just because discourse is a little more even doesn’t mean it’s of any higher quality.
I for one like impassioned debate, when it is based on fundamentals rather than fundaments. And when there is an underlying attempt to convince, which is a standard that Ann Coulter’s slogan – “it’s all liberals’ fault” – hardly lives up to.
Still, nothing will be fixed until the problem is realized: It’s all the liberals’ fault, that it’s all the liberals’ fault.
Alec Mouhibian is an undeclared sophomore.