"[I]n the end the bedrock common sense of the American people will prevail," wrote conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer Friday in the Washington Post. He was crowing over Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts and the apparent about-face by Americans generally about President Obama's health care reform. He mocked liberals for believing that "the people are stupid" and accused liberals of having "disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the people."
On Sunday in the Post, political scientist Gerard Alexander asked, "Why are liberals so condescending?" He said they "insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots," and "the benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed."
As if to supply them with an example, Slate's Jacob Weisberg, wrote over the weekend that the "biggest culprit in our current predicament [is] the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large."
So who wins this argument? Krauthammer and Weisberg are both old friends and former colleagues of mine (at The New Republic) so I can be completely objective. (Joke.) I give it to Weisberg. Where is the evidence that liberals are more condescending than conservatives?
Krauthammer offers a snippet from a New York Times columnist saying that people are "suspicious of complexity," an unnamed Time Magazine blogger who said we're "a nation of dodos," and a nine-year-old New York Times obituary in which a philosopher is credited with offering a "philosophical justification" for conservative ideas. The condescension, I guess, is in the notion that conservative ideas need a philosophical justification. Alexander's examples of condescension are mostly more like simple disagreement. He says that liberals "disregard the policy demands" of conservatives.
Poor babies. If believing that you are right and that people who disagree with you are wrong amounts to condescension, then we are all condescending. Of course, on any given issue, liberals tend to think that they are right. So do conservatives. It's a free country, and people can believe whatever they want. If evidence or reason persuades them that some opinion they hold is wrong, they are free to change it. So at any given moment, we all believe that our own beliefs are correct and anyone who disagrees with us has some explaining to do. Furthermore, if I believe that evidence and reason support my own views, then I also must believe that they do not support the views of those who disagree with me.
So the question naturally arises: how can someone hold a different view than mine on any given issue? Maybe he or she is right and I am wrong--an unhappy possibility that neither liberals nor conservatives keep excessively in mind. But there is no evidence or reason to suppose that liberals are more oblivious to evidence or argument challenging their opinions than conservatives. When was the last time the Wall Street Journal editorial page admitted to doubts about the value of tax cuts? Even if I decide that my current views are wrong, I will change them, and the question of how anyone can disagree with me arises once again.