February 15, 2002
Hypocrisy, liberalism, and considering the source

I'd like to do a little followup on my post from yesterday in which I discussed David Horowitz's survey which claims to prove that Ivy League professors are more liberal than most Americans. I'll start by explaining why this claim doesn't impress me.

Suppose you come across the following sentence in an op-ed piece: "This move is an attempt by President Bush to appease the extreme right wing of the Republican Party." How likely are you to accept the word of the author that the president has done something bad?

Well, if you are on the right-hand side of the political spectrum and those words were written by someone like Molly Ivins or Michael Kinsley, I'll bet the answer is "not bloody likely". You expect someone like that to view most things that President Bush does in a negative light, and thus to portray them negatively in their words. Their idea of what "extreme right wing" means is probably not the same as yours, and they're more likely to consider something that "appeases" them to be bad than you are.

Now suppose the writer is Robert Novak or Bill Kristol. You're more likely to sit up and pay attention, right? You know these guys don't consider "right wing" to be dirty words, and you know they don't make cheap jokes about President Bush's intelligence or legitimacy. In short, they're credible, and if they have something negative to say about Bush or the Republicans, it's worth your time to listen to them.

If that makes sense to you, then you understand why those of us on the left-hand side of the equation, upon hearing of Horowitz's latest crusade, react by saying "Wow, David Horowitz thinks liberals are bad. Film at 11." Every single column or article ever written by Horowitz can be summed up as "Liberals bad. Conservatives good. See what those nasty liberals are doing to these good conservatives? Why don't they ever realize how bad they are?" Bless my pointy little head, he's got just such a column in Salon today. It's Premium, so you may not be able to see the whole thing, but the subhead is "Liberal intellectuals who praise Bush for prosecuting the war but still insist he's stupid are the real dummies". Need I say more?

I'm not saying anything profound here, just that it's often worthwhile to consider the source. Writers like Horowitz have a vested interest in making their guys look good and the other guys look bad. It's to be expected. If he ever wants to be taken seriously by someone who isn't already in agreement with him, he's gonna need a big heaping dose of intellectual honesty.

Which brings me to my next point, about hypocrisy. Sgt. Stryker recently posted that "[h]ypocrisy isn't the sole domain of the left", followed by a couple of quotes from The Corner on National Review Online. The first complained about "New York elites" who consider most people to be "cultural retards", and the second called Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee "a trash-can diva".

Full marks to the Sarge for recognizing the hypocrisy, but a brickbat for being surprised by it. Hypocrisy is the domain of those who believe they and those who think like them are always right. It is the domain of those who only see and accept evidence that supports their position, and discard and discredit evidence which contradicts them. It has nothing to do with which direction you lean and everything to do with refusing to acknowledge that there might be something in those other directions.

In sum, to quote John Kenneth Galbraith: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." That's hypocrisy.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 15, 2002 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack