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Liberal Arrogance


There’s something that worries me about the crowd with which I’m affiliated both theologically and politically, and that’s arrogance. Three exhibits in my argument.

Exhibit A: Jon Stewart

I loved the Daily Show as much as anyone, and I mourn its passing (I have no faith in Trevor Noah keeping the brand going, though I’d like to be proven wrong; also, parenthetically, I found the final show of Stewart’s tenure to be terribly disappointing). While everyone else is throwing bouquets to Stewart, there was at least one well-aimed brickbat, from Gerard Alexander in the NY Times.

Alexander points to the internal narrative of liberalism that conservatives are knuckle-dragging idiots, rife with intolerance. The problem is that statistics don’t bear that out. Surveys show progressives to be just as intolerant, and Stewart squandered his opportunity to pop that balloon.

He could have made the liberals in his audience more open to dialogue across the great left/right divide by asking them to examine themselves more carefully and to admit that both ideological camps contain fools. Instead, he was a cultural entrepreneur who provided those viewers with the validation they wanted.

I’ll miss Stewart, and I look forward to what he does next, but I do wish that he’d pointed his arrows and Obama, Hillary, and others in that camp more often, for it turns out that they’re just as corrupt and beholden to corporate interests as any Republican shill.

Exhibit B: Planned Parenthood

I’m no fan of abortion, but I fiercely believe that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body. Motherhood is voluntary. And if a woman makes the choice to copulate—or, far worse, is forced to have sex—she also has the choice about whether or not to have a child. I don’t hold to some weird metaphysic that there’s a soul injected as soon as the sperm hits the egg. Like so much else that modern science has taught us, it’s not that simple. What I do know is that the pregnant woman have agency over their own bodies.

Nevertheless, the recently released videos in which Planned Parenthood doctors refer to aborted fetuses as “crunchy” have rightly provoked disgust. PP and the doctors have done nothing illegal in what’s been revealed, but it’s unsettling and disconcerting. And I blame it on arrogance.

What I wish is that doctors who perform abortions and the staff who support them would be unswervingly sensitive in their treatment of the subject. I get that’s difficult—I’ve got a brother who’s a surgeon, and I’ve known many doctors, and a certain gallows humor comes with the territory. But the sensitivity of the topic of abortion and the stigma that is pasted on so many women who choose to have abortions means that PP docs don’t get to enjoy that sense of humor. Every clergyperson who’s taken a shocking and vulnerable confession from a parishioner knows this: shut up and keep it to yourself—or tell your own therapist or confessor only—for some lines cannot be crossed.

Exhibit C: Hillary Clinton

Like so many, I am somewhat disappointed by aspects of Obama’s presidency. It seems that his antipathy for the political game has hindered his ability to get some of his agenda items checked off. But I’m still impressed and inspired by what he’s accomplished.

Reports from inside the Hillary campaign, however, have none of the hope and promise of Obama’s 2008 insurgency. Instead, staffers report that the campaign is a humorless Bataan Death March toward the inevitable nomination and, probably, presidency.

And the email scandal is the headline of this Exhibit. Again, it seems that very few classified emails were in the mix and the security damage was miniscule. But Republicans are not making hay out of this simply because it’s a chink in Hillary’s armor. They’re playing it up because it was arrogant and stupid, and that may be in the DNA of a Hillary presidency. Who thinks they’re above the law and can write their own rules? Most of us do not.


The truth is, I’m not really a true liberal. I’m more of a centrist. Nevertheless, conservatives in both politics and theology keep driving themselves so far right that I usually default to liberal positions. But the arrogance I find in that camp is truly troubling. When you cannot understand what a person would find objectionable about referring to a fetus as “crunchy,” then you have forsaken commonsense, and you cannot possibly empathize with those on the other side of the ideological spectrum as you.

Progressives claim to be open-minded and tolerant. If we are indeed that, we should discipline ourselves to be sensitive to those who oppose abortion; we should attempt to understand why taking down the Confederate flag strikes at the very core of someone’s familial identity. I’m not saying we back down from our own convictions, just that we honestly attempt to understand those who do not share them. Really, it’s not that hard.

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  • surfnetter77

    What appears to have happened, Tony, is that we are so far down the line from the struggle for religious freedom that we in the 21st Century have lost sight of the fact that it in the 17th and 18th Centuries it was all about what individuals were allowed to believe and express on what God’s opinion was on any given subject. And of a necessity we now have divinized our own opinions.

  • L.Coleman

    I watched John Stewart and he called out liberals too. Anything that was stupid was called out. Can he help it if most of the conservative things were stupid. He was the closed thing to fair and balanced that we had

  • Very well stated sir.

  • Follow up post = what to do/how to fix this. 🙂

  • David Worley

    In a ethereal sense I agree with you Tony but in a practical, on the ground, sense it is really difficult to take seriously GOP or libertarian political positions (I include most well-meaning Evangelicals here too). The political discourse from the right is so hyperbolic and in denial of the obvious realities that I find it illegitimate.

    So, yes, liberals ‘should’ be more respectful. But, practically, contemporary conservatives are so far off base (by like a factor of 10) it really is not a fair comparison. It’s sort of like saying ‘both liberals and conservatives are responsible for the political/theological divide;’ well ‘yes,’ but in no way equally. Conservatives circa 1992-2015 get 10 ‘crazy points;’ liberals 1.

    Call me arrogant.

  • David Worley

    The problem with the conservative abortion position is that you do not take the systemic (sociological) elements of pregnancy/child rearing into account. Only, in typical conservative fashion, the individualistic and narrow view.

    How about taking the lead (for a generation) in making sure that underprivileged kids get great schools, food, and a place in society and then maybe the right will have a shred of standing to lecture women on what they do with their own bodies. It is total and utter hypocrisy and really boils down to good old fashioned oppression. Conservatives are more concerned with exporting their moral views rather than actually dealing with the complicated realities for people on the ground. Abortion is one of those realities.

  • Wilbur Holz

    This is why I like reading your thoughts Tony. I also find myself best described as a centrist and those extremists on either side are very troubling. That is what is most troubling to me about politics and society these days, there is so much pushing away and attacking “across the aisle” in so many venues rather than seeking common ground and recognizing that the other’s position may have a great deal of truth to it.

  • Robert Conner

    If you’re offended by Jon Stewart, you’re really going to hate Lucian of Samosata. Not to mention Porphyry of Tyre.


  • gapaul

    Okay, I’ll bite. When does biology teach us the soul becomes “injected?” (I think his point was, it doesn’t.) And what will science show us that will overturn RvW?

  • gapaul

    Okay, I think I understand, you’re upset because your church doesn’t want to remind people to vote. Given that you sit right in the middle of the Bible belt, gotta say, I like your church’s position. It will take a generation to undo the damage of uniting the “brands” of “Republican” and “Christian” in your neck of the woods. So the less said about politics in church, the better maybe. There are plenty of places to put your yard signs, and to wear your buttons and “get out the vote.” Churches can’t legally advocate for a particular candidate anyway, why do they need to announce “voting day?”

  • Jackson Van Maanen

    This was a really beautiful blog to read, Tony. I love your conclusion with the marriage of conviction with humility.

    Humility and sensitivity are key to stopping the screaming match and starting a constructive discussion. Though written in a Middle-Eastern context, I can’t help but think of the following poem.

    From the place where we are right
    Flowers will never grow
    In the spring.

    The place where we are right
    Is hard and trampled
    Like a yard.

    But doubts and loves
    Dig up the world
    Like a mole, a plow.
    And a whisper will be heard in the place
    Where the ruined
    House once stood.

    by Yehuda Amichai

  • Stephen Abbott

    Tony, this is a thoughtful and insightful post on a thoughtful and insightful blog that I’ve just started reading. I am a theological liberal and social moderate who also loved Stewart when he, in the first few seasons of his show, skewered everyone somewhat equally. It’s too bad he became a validator of the Left’s worldview, as you so correctly nailed him. Despite the whines that he “attacked liberals, too” there was a 98% to 2% “balance” and the conservatives all hated him in the end, while a few liberals were somewhat disgruntled that this 2% existed at all.

  • Stephen Abbott

    You really can’t see the bias in what you just wrote, can you? And that was the problem with Stewart.

  • Glad to have you as a reader, Stephen. Sounds like we share a lot in common!

  • Joey Quillen

    To many conservatives, liberal arrogance is the notion that a group of people who share a similar socio-political ideology deem it acceptable to foist that ideology on those who don’t want it. And when that ideology is rejected outright, the left concludes that conservatives are simpletons who aren’t capable of grasping the supposed validity of that ideology. Then it becomes the self-imposed mission of the left to supplant any conservative culture they encounter with that of liberal culture, all the while thinking that they’re doing something noble in the eyes of their peers and party lumineries .

    It doesn’t get any more arrogant than that.