Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

The politics of my childhood

When I was a child, my first working definition of the difference between liberals and conservatives (developed, I believe, sometime during the Ford administration) was that a liberal was someone who could see the world from another's viewpoint, and a conservative could only see the world from their own viewpoint.

Almost thirty years after Gerald Ford left office, I'm not sure that I was all that wrong. Look at the level of discourse from wildly popular media figures such as Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, blogging from Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds, or books such Michael Savage's Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter, and many more titles just like them, some of them bestsellers. (No, I'm not dignifying any of those folks with a link.)

Sure there's harsh voices on the left, and out-of-control Political Correctness is a stereotypically leftie-liberal phenomenon. But that shrill, prickly prescriptivism is a only one thread in liberal-progressive politics and culture. The shrill, prickly prescriptivism on the right is the dominant meme right now, and has been since at least sometime during the Clinton administation. Absolutist dualism and moral condemnation of anyone who stands in opposition is a nearly-universal feature of the public voice of contemporary conservatism, from the White House to Congress to the conservative press and pundits to politicized religious leaders.

And frankly, while the GOP has managed a lockstep public message all these years -- in effect, living Reagan's famous eleventh commandment -- liberals in general and Democrats in particular seem to place a higher value on consensus than on agreement. In other words, seeing the world from another's viewpoint.

Time, it seems, has brought truth to the gross simplifications of my childhood.

Edited slightly for clarity.
Tags: personal, politics

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