what’s the matter with liberals

The following is an excerpt from Thomas Frank’s new article in the New York Review of Books… I’m not sure, but I think he’s suggesting in it that liberals start picking fights in bars, kicking ass in the streets and calling Republicans “pussies.”

For the 2004 campaign, Kerry moved to the center, following the well-worn path of the corporate Democrats before him, downplaying any “liberal” economic positions that might cost him among the funders and affirming his support for the Iraq invasion even after the official justifications for that exercise had been utterly discredited. Kerry’s pallid strategy offered little to motivate the party’s traditional liberal and working-class base, but revulsion against Bush was assumed to be reason enough to get out and vote. And besides, such an approach was supposed to protect the Democrat from the inevitable charges of insufficient toughness.

A newcomer to American politics, after observing this strategy in action in 2004, would have been justified in believing that the Democrats were the party in power, so complacent did they seem and so unwilling were they to criticize the actual occupant of the White House. Republicans, meanwhile, were playing another game entirely. The hallmark of a “backlash conservative” is that he or she approaches politics not as a defender of the existing order or as a genteel aristocrat but as an average working person offended by the arrogance of the (liberal) upper class. The sensibility was perfectly caught during the campaign by onetime Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who explained it to The New York Times like this: “Joe Six-Pack doesn’t understand why the world and his culture are changing and why he doesn’t have a say in it.”[3] These are powerful words, the sort of phrase that could once have been a slogan of the fighting, egalitarian left. Today, though, it was conservatives who claimed to be fighting for the little guy, assailing the powerful, and shrieking in outrage at the direction in which the world is irresistibly sliding…

Residents of West Virginia and Arkansas received mailings from the Republican National Committee warning that liberals would ban the Bible if they got the chance. In numerous other states, voters were energized by ballot initiatives proposing constitutional amendments reacting to the illusory threat of gay marriage, an institution that was already illegal almost everywhere, but that conservative activists nonetheless decried as a mortal, immediate menace to civilization itself. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time ever and, proclaiming that “everything we hold dear is on the line” because of the threat of gay marriage, addressed gargantuan political rallies of evangelical Christians around the country…

Much has been made in the months since the election of the national security issue and the role of fear in the Republican triumph, with some using the point to demand even more hawkish Democratic candidates in the future and others to underscore the Bush administration’s scurrility in whipping up unreasonable public alarm since September 11. It is important to remember when discussing these issues, however, that much of their power arises from the same backlash cultural template that undergirds the rest of contemporary conservatism–indeed, that shooting war and culture war are of a piece in the conservative mind. What makes national security such a winner for Republicans is that is dramatizes the same negative qualities of liberalism that we see in the so-called “values” issues, only much more forcefully. War casts in sharp relief the inauthenticity of the liberals, the insincerity of their patriotism, and their intellectual distance (always trying to “understand” the terrorists’ motives) from the raw emotions felt by ordinary Americans–each quality an expression of the deracinated upper-classness that is thought to be the defining characteristic of liberalism.

The reason conservatives are always thought to be tough and liberals to be effete milquetoasts (two favorite epithets from the early days of the backlash) even when they aren’t is the same reason Americans believe the French to be a nation of sissies and the same reason the Dead End Kids found it both easy and satisfying to beat up the posh boy from the luxury apartment building: the cultural symbolism of class. If you relish chardonnay/lattes/ snowboarding, you will not fight. If you talk like a Texan, you are a two-fisted he-man who knows life’s hardships and are ready to scrap at a moment’s notice. This is the reason conservative authors and radio demagogues find it so easy to connect liberals and terrorists. It is the same reason, by extension, that old-time political nicknames like “the Fighting Liberal” make no sense to us anymore and that current foreign policy failures like North Korean nuclear proliferation do not bring lasting discredit on President Bush: in the face of such crises one is either a wimp or a hard guy, and we’ve already got a hard guy in there.

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  1. chris
    Posted April 29, 2005 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Watching Bush, and Frist, and Delay the other day (they seem to be on my TV a lot) and seeing no end to the amount of absolutely freakish double speak, I turned to my hubby and said, “Short of Bush pulling a Stephen King ‘Dead Zone’ ending we are pretty much stuck with these fuckers for a good long time”.

    Unless, of course, we change the constitution to give citizens the right to bear babies.

  2. mark
    Posted May 6, 2005 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Chris, I’m sure they drill Bush for hours a day so that he doesn’t instinctively grab a child to shield himself with every time he hears a car door slam.

  3. Demetrius
    Posted May 13, 2018 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    NYT Op-Ed: Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think You Are

    Interesting and thought-provoking.


  4. Sad
    Posted May 13, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’ve definately indentified less as a liberal from reading this blog and the comments.

  5. Sad
    Posted May 13, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Electablog however makes me want to send money to the GOP.

    But thankfully it passes.

  6. Lynne
    Posted May 13, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    That is a tough one, Demetrius. Because every single Trump voter was at least racist and sexist enough to vote for someone who was openly racist and sexist. Besides it should be obvious that inclusiveness does not win elections as evidenced by so many Republicans, who run on policies that are openly exclusive of many in our country.

    Not to mention that openly calling people out for things works. #metoo will have a lasting impact that goes deeper than a political win for instance. Ditto for all the work in promoting such values via art, media, academia, etc. The true mark of change might be Republicans adopting more inclusive values as all of these efforts to address cultural issues in our society take hold.

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