Liberalism’s Pessimistic Elites
Among the liberal establishment, there is gloom, selfishness, and demographic cynicism.


The liberal establishment has already rendered its verdict on the 2010 election: Voters are angry because they aren’t very smart.

“We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on,” Sen. John Kerry says, “so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening.” Vice President Joe Biden argues that the Obama administration’s accomplishments are “just too hard to explain” to voters who are presumably too dim to understand them. Maureen Dowd writes in theNew York Times that Sarah Palin “has made ignorance fashionable,”while Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post discovers that the “dirty little secret” of American politics “is that most Americans don’t really know what they think about the issues that so animate the political conversation in Washington, and what they think they know about them is often wrong.”

The notion that voters are less than rational has been endorsed by President Obama himself, who earlier this month said that part of the reason “our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.”

The pessimism of the liberal establishment about the capacity of voters to cast intelligent ballots in next week’s election is matched only by their doubt about the capacity of citizens to make intelligent choices in their own daily lives. The two pessimisms are closely related and go far toward explaining why liberal elites continue to cherish a vision of rule by beneficent experts not unlike that of the nine ranks of philosophical mandarins in old China, each distinguished by its characteristic button.

The belief that the common man is an idiot is the perennial cri de coeur of mandarinism. If most people are fools on whom “facts and science and argument” have little effect, it makes sense to deprive them (as discreetly as possible) of as much liberty of action and electoral leverage as practicable. It makes sense to enact laws that limit their freedom of choice and “nudge” them into making the approved decisions. It makes sense to outsource regulatory and purse-string power to administrative czars and quasi-independent bodies, to stimulus and bailout sages, to all those boards and commissions of experts which, being insulated from the power of voters to hire and fire their representatives, have proved to be less accountable to democracy than elected lawmakers and magistrates.

Yet the policies that make sense to the credentialed elites of mandarin-world are being questioned as never before by voters who appear to have had enough of them.

A recent Rasmussen survey found that 65 percent of voters “say they prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes” to “one with more services and higher taxes.” (By contrast, 70 percent of what Rasmussen calls the “political class” want “more services and higher taxes.” Another Rasmussen poll finds that most likely voters believe that “their representative in Congress does not deserve reelection if he or she voted for the national health care law, the auto bailouts or the $787-billion economic stimulus plan.”