A Recovering Liberal’s Perspective

By Jeff Hopkins ‘12

Despite what the title may imply, I’d like to begin by saying that, no, I’m not a liberal. I’m really a moderate, but considering how many people these days say that without any concern for what it means, I’ll forgive your skepticism. So why am I writing on what conservatism means to liberals? Because while I’m not a liberal now, I most certainly was until about a year ago, credentials that I believe better qualify me to describe how liberals view conservatism than the usual knuckle-dragging, woman-hating, minority-oppressing homophobes around these parts. 

On the surface, it’s not a particularly hard question.  For most liberals, their views on conservatism are indistinguishable from their views on the Republican Party, especially its most zealous elements. I know, it’s a simplistic answer, but it’s an important point to make.  Any conflation bias that can cause a person’s view of Friedrich Hayek to be held hostage to their views on Sarah Palin shouldn’t be ignored.

But it is obfuscation nonetheless; fine, I’ll get to the heart of the matter, and describe how liberals view Republicans.  The short answer: As a bunch of middle class (and above) white people trying to get keep as much of the pie (both economically and culturally) as they can. 

I should point out that this past statement, and perhaps this whole piece, is unfair in a lot of ways.  Anyone writing to criticize — always welcome! — would begin by pointing out that this article reduces one group of people to a monolith only for the purpose of complaining about how they view another group as monolithic.  In certain cases, such as the subprime mortgage crisis and the fight over financial reform it birthed, such a perspective isn’t that far from the truth.

What is of importance is the way this point has helped destroy the possibility of using our current political discourse to solve our current political debate.  For a certain segment of the population, any idea is dead on arrival as soon as it is tagged with the “conservative” label.  For people in this group, the “conservative” solution to an issue like the economy or immigration is not really a solution at all.  It’s only a means for controlling wealth or ostracizing a certain group of people.  That conservatives may honestly believe their positions is never considered. 

When coupled with its sister assumptions on the Right — those who presuppose that the Left is determined to turn America into West Sweden (best-case scenario) or the Fourth Reich (average case scenario) — the result is to put politics in its current (how best to put this?) cesspool-like state.  Neither side – I cannot emphasize this enough – is innocent in all this.  Their contributions are equally counterproductive.  Ultimately, if everyone is under the belief that their opponents are not trying to solve the nation’s problems but rather to destroy its central tenants, it becomes very hard to solve problems. 

That there are numerous people in the country who refuse to accept that the truth often lies outside their ideological lines is a pretty obvious point. But it bears repeating considering just how toxic an effect it has had in just the past two years — especially considering how many times President Obama mentioned his desire to enter into a “post-partisan” age during the 2008 election.  But then again, perhaps we all should have seen this coming.  As Salmon Rushdie once said, “Fundamentalism isn’t about religion.  It’s about power.”  If you swap religious fundamentalism for political, the last two years seem a perfect exemplar of this idea.  Post-partisonship doesn’t just represent a change in political ideology, but in political power structures.  As such, one would expect the most zealous elements on the right and left to use whatever tactics were necessary to maintain their disproportionate sway. 

By now, I assume most everyone can explain how this is happening on the Right, because of just how absurd it’s all become.  But the restricting effect of the far Left has been touched on far less.  I imagine some in the readership would like to see this as the result of a wide-reaching bias in the media, but I don’t really subscribe to such conspiracy theories.

For me, the tendency to focus on those who influence the far Right more than their counterparts on the far Left is easily explained: all the Tea Partiers, Mama Grizzlies, and Fox News-ers are simply more fun to talk about.  Keith Olbermann may be just as much of a pointless blowhard as Glenn Beck, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever break down and cry during his show (although if he did, that would be a pretty hilarious thing to watch).  Bernie Sanders may be just as unhelpful in bringing about a constructive debate of national issues, but he’s unlikely to utter a gem such as, when asked about the veracity of evolution, “Well then why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?”  

Of course, this doesn’t mean the influence of the far Left is any less detrimental or pervasive.  This should be the point where I describe all the time I spent watching MSNBC over the past week; alas, I was preoccupied over the past seven days with working on my senior thesis covering the discography of the Starland Vocal Group. 

So instead I, like we young whipper-snappers are inclined to these days, went to the inter-webs and pulled up the preeminent far Left website, The Huffington Post (some readers might question whether in fact the Daily Kos gets more daily visits, but I would respond to these imaginary readers by pointing out that I don’t really care which is more popular).  Looking at just some of the opinion articles on the front page, one quickly gets a glimpse of many of the views hardcore liberals take for granted. 

In one article RJ Eskow, a senior fellow for the Campaign for the America’s Future, highlights the link between major banks and payday lenders that tend to cater to lower-class minorities.  I think it’s fair to say that many payday services are in fact something of a scam; if they are being supported by major banks, that is a subject worth discussing.  But Eskow’s point is quickly undermined with the piece’s title:  “Payday Lenders: How Wall Street’s ‘Undercover Brothers’ Exploit Minorities.”  The whole thing fits into the Far Left narrative.  The story isn’t that certain banks are supporting services that charge exorbitant interest rates to their customers, many of whom turn out to be minorities.  It’s that the entire financial industry is working to fleece and undermine the black community. 

There’s no doubt that if all the claims Eskow is making are true, those behind the payday services are acting out of ignoble impulses primary among them greed.  But to suggest that they are a part of a covert project to spurn the advancement of African-Americans is to take the fatal leap into paranoia. 

Les Leopold continues the conspiracy talk with his article, “Wall Street Bringing Class War to America?”  I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you who want to go read the article, but Leopold’s answer is, um, yes (darn, I blew it for everyone).   Leopold breaks the article into sections whose titles supposedly explain the process by which we got to a point where Wall Street and Main Street (whatever those words really mean) have to face off in an economic Armageddon.  Among them, I found two to be especially interesting: “Beginning in the mid-1970s the twin policies of financial deregulation and tax cuts for the super-rich laid the groundwork for the rise of financial industry billionaires,” and, “On their long way up, financial industry billionaires grabbed our economy by the cojones– and they’re not letting go.”  In Leopold’s mind the deregulation of the economy in the 1980s wasn’t so much people honestly trying to fix the economic problems at that time, but a coordinated effort by the financial industry to turn the US into a plutocracy.  Again, a theory that comes off as nothing but ludicrous paranoia.

But the title of the silliest view on that front page goes to Michael Moore, and his article, “Five Ways the Democrats Can Avoid a Catastrophe and Pull Off the Mother of All Upsets.”  Moore’s number-two solution ties into the other two articles:  “Indict the Criminals,” he states, “Announce that the Justice Department will seek indictments against both those who caused the economic collapse and those who became war profiteers. Call it for what it is: organized crime. Use the RICO statutes. Use the basic laws that make fraud of any kind a crime. Get in the face of those who stole the billions, make them pay for it — and the people will love you.”  Ignoring the political wisdom of indicating all of the major players on Wall Street, Moore is speaking, if covertly, the far Left line. Those who started the economic collapse aren’t incompetent idiots, they’re modern-day mobsters.  All this shouldn’t be interpreted as an indictment of Moore as a public intellectual, but rather to show how he, like many other well-meaning and intelligent people on the far Left, can have their perspectives warped because they make some completely blind assumptions. 

In a perfect world these viewpoints, and their counterparts on the Right, wouldn’t be important.  But considering how much politicians have come to depend on the fringe elements of their parties for votes and funds, they need to be dealt with. If conservatives want their ideas to continue to hold, they will need to not only know to handle the overzealous elements of their camps, but how to approach the similar figures on the Left.