When the Rebuttals Prove Your Point

by Conor Friedersdorf

In the last couple days, Julian Sanchez and I wrote posts arguing that a vocal group on the right are engaging in what Mr. Sanchez terms "the politics of ressentiment." Its a term I am still mulling over, and perhaps there are some differences in what we're saying, but on this we agree: these folks say their behavior is grounded in conservatism, but "the farce currently performing under that marquee is an inferiority complex in political philosophy drag."

It is noteworthy that both of us used the words "inferiority complex" in our posts -- that is to say, our argument isn't that these people are in fact inferior. Indeed, explicit in our posts is the assumption that their "complex" is irrational. "Mark Levin, a man intelligent enough that he needn't have an inferiority complex," I wrote, "for some reason adopts the rhetorical style of the classic insecure bully -- juvenile name calling, constant self-aggrandizement, vituperative outbursts." Nor would I ever question the intelligence of Laura Ingraham, who knows better than to mock the use of Dijon mustard, or Rush Limbaugh, an obviously intelligent man whose cultural affects -- fancy cars, pricey restaurants, expensive cigars, sprawling mansion on the coast -- hardly permit my opponents to argue that I jam motivated by contempt for the stereotypical lifestyle of regular non-elite Americans.

So it's interesting that, as if to prove our point about inferiority complexes, the folks who objected to our post responded as though we asserted the inferiority of these conservatives and their audiences, rather than merely laying out the particular way their politics are wrongheaded.

This confused post by Mike Farmer, who tellingly but absurdly assumes that Julian Sanchez is a "moderate" and that Rod Dreher disdains social conservatives, contains this excerpt:

Social conservatives are a dying breed, so why the sudden hand-wringing over this irrelevant and dwindling political faction? Perhaps it's the new polls showing the popularity of the Tea Party over Republicans or Democrats, and the Tea Party is not even a political party. This has to be disturbing to people who view the Tea Party as southern, conservatives hicks. The moderates are dying of embarrassment. They don't want to be associated with this movement so they are pulling out every cliche and stereotype they can dust off and use as a weapon.
Now, the angle is that the Tea Party crowd in envious of the moderates' superior intellect and have to make monsters out of these intellectual giants in order to muster to courage to even approach this superior class of people. The hicks in the TP movement are insecure and frightened by ideas they don't understand, so they hold on to their simplistic culture and religious ideas, clinging to their guns and religion.

Who said anything about moderates being a "superior class of people," or "intellectual giants"? Who called anyone a hick, or even invoked stereotypes that amount to the same thing? Who called the culture of the conservative base "simplistic" or denigrated their religion? All these supposed insults are conjured out of thin air.

It isn't surprising that a writer as clever as Robert Stacy McCain didn't make the same mistake as obviously, but he made it nonetheless:

Shorter Sanchez: "Hey, let's change the subject and talk about what a bunch of yahoos those Republicans are!"

Of course, Mr. Sanchez's post didn't assert that Republicans are yahoos, it argued that they're mistaken in obsessing over the possibility that somewhere, someone at Harvard is calling them a yahoo. These are very different things.

Mr. McCain goes on:

He despises all provincialisms -- except his own, and certainly the provincialism of Alaska's former governor is not of the Sanchezian sort.

Sanchez is entitled to his class prejudices, but we are not required to share them, no matter how much he ridicules us --- really, Julian, our "secret shame"? -- with criticism that treats political disagreement as a form of neurosis.

Notice that it is Mr. McCain here who not only asserts that Sarah Palin is provincial, but assumes the qualities she possess -- the ones Mr. Sanchez is supposed to despise -- are shared by "us." Mr. McCain lives near Washington DC. Occasionally you'll find him attending the same social gatherings as Mr. Sanchez. Even if we grant that it is understandable for him to assume that Mr. Sanchez dislikes Sarah Palin's uncommon Alaskan subculture of moose hunting and oil exploration, what on earth would possess him to imagine that Mr. Sanchez sees the conservative base, and even Mr. McCain himself, as part of that same "class" subculture? In fact, any coherent "us" here cannot refer to class or provincialism, it can only refer to styles of politics, a perfectly unobjectionable attribute to criticize.

Also noteworthy is a man who complains about treating political disagreement as a form of neurosis, yet himself writes about "Palin Derangement Syndrome," and has on many occasions psychoanalyzed what motivates Ross Douthat to write. I am not interested in dinging him for inconsistency so much as making this observation: when a writer forcefully expresses disagreement with Sarah Palin or Robert Stacy McCain, it is cast as a result of their elitism and disdain for regular Americans -- evidence that they feel contempt for political opponents who they regard as stupid -- but if you actually survey the Internet, you'll see that it is far more frequent to see so-called moderates like Mr. Douthat, Rod Dreher, David Frum, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker and others attacked due to what is called their elitist class, or having their cultural attributes mocked, or having their intelligence questioned.

Anyone still unconvinced by the "politics of ressentiment" thesis can find numerous examples beyond those already offered -- there are a few in this piece, where I demonstrate the harm this tendency does to young professionals on the right, and speaking of Big Hollywood, here is an excerpt sent by a Dish reader from a post prompted by the fact that Sesame Street made fun of Fox News:

...the difference now is that a Saul Alinsky-trained, William Ayers-influenced, Annenberg Challenge Board Member is now our President, and his influence, tactics and worldview (not to mention the power of your federal tax dollars through NPR, PBS and the NEA) now influence our culture at such an accelerated rate that the frog is no longer on a slow simmer but at a rapid boil.

Irony is a wonderful thing.  Just as the Left elected the perfect Propagandist-in-Chief, their opposition (you and me) got wise, agile and pretty entertaining. With every lame attempt to turn our kids against us, we now call them on it and point out how ham-fisted, clumsy and square they are. The Left’s worst nightmare came true:  The conservatives are the hip ones.

“Sesame Street” can awkwardly slam FoxNews from the comfort of their stodgy old PBS studios… Meanwhile, we have the cool kids on our side: Dennis Miller, Greg Gutfeld, Andrew Breitbart and yes, even Glenn Beck. And our cool kids are pointing out just how boring, lame, predictable and lazy the other side has become.  No longer will middle-America sit back and feel powerless as these snobs pass judgment on what we find to be informative and entertaining.

We no longer  NEED their approval.

We're the cool kids now. We no longer "NEED" their approval.

Guess what?

You never did.