How liberal and conservative self-flattery promotes polarization
One of the most impressive achievements of liberalism is the perpetuation of the myth of liberal rebelliousness. One of my favorite things to do when speaking on college campuses is to point out to students how conformist they are. (College students are a lot like that mob in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who chant in unison, “We’re all individuals!”) I point out to the students that their professors are liberal. Their school administrators are liberal. Hollywood and the music and publishing industries are all overwhelmingly liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. “But,” I ask them, “you think you’re sticking it to the Man by agreeing with them?”
Meanwhile, lots of my friends on the right often seem to take it for granted that there’s a vast silent majority of Americans pitted against a small cabal of elitist pinheads and would-be social engineers. As a conservative, I believe there are a lot of pinhead social engineers (see: Bloomberg, Michael). But I also understand — or at least try to — that there are millions of Americans who see these people as leaders who speak for them and address their needs.
Ironically, both the conservative false confidence in consensus and the liberal false confidence in uniqueness have a similar downside: smugness. Evidence for this is about as hard to find as hay in a haystack. Liberals often talk as if only the backward masses disagree with them, and conservatives often assume that only overeducated weirdos and radicals could object to their agenda. Hence Barack Obama’s infamous explanation for why rural Pennsylvanians didn’t support him: They were too busy “clinging” to their God and guns. Tellingly, conservatives took that line as a badge of honor.