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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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