Politics & Policy

The Sore-Loser Party

Understanding Smiley, Dowd, Raines, Krugman, Maher, Sarandon, et al.


The first resort of a sore loser is to gripe about how the game itself was unfair, how the other team doesn’t play nice, how the very act of winning is all the proof necessary that the other side will “do anything” to win. The second resort is to simply make junk up about the other guy that makes you feel better about yourself.

“The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry,” writes Jane Smiley, a woman who couldn’t catch a clue if you used one as a pestle and her brain pan as the mortar. Smiley’s now-famous hissyfit places a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the Republican base is “ignorant” while the Democratic one is enlightened. A similar point was made by the British Daily Mirror, one of whose headlines asked, “How Can 59,054,087 People Be So DUMB?”

One might ask if the Democrats really want to place so much emphasis on “ignorance” of the base as a defining difference between the parties. By all means let’s break out the number-two pencils and pit the homeschoolers, tractor drivers, and Sunday-school teachers against the voters who wouldn’t have shown up at the polls lest they miss a chance to meet P-Diddy.

There are other complaints as well. Take the two leading liberal columnists at the New York Times, Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman. As we all know, one’s a whining self-parody of a hysterical liberal who lets feminine emotion and fear defeat reason and fact in almost every column. The other used to date Michael Douglas. But both of them have been writing a string of columns insisting that the Bushies ran a campaign of “divisiveness,” “primitivism,” and “fear.” To be fair, and to everyone’s surprise, Krugman’s post-drubbing column wasn’t a whine-fest so much as a cri de coeur about how his whininess was justified all along. The column read like a quickly dashed-off buck-up memo about how Democrats should keep fighting. Conveniently Krugman is now going into hiding for a few months to work on an economics textbook. (Nothing like telling the troops to tough it out in the trenches as you head to the bunker.) Thank goodness Dowd has picked up the slack. Her columns of late aren’t the clever highbrow snarks they once were; once she knew how to sweeten the bile. Now her op-ed page real estate hits your desk like a bucket of vomit with some Body Shop potpourri sprinkled across the surface.

For all their screeching about the politics of fear and division, neither has taken any time to explain how the Democrats’ insistence that young people will be drafted, that blacks are being systematically denied the right to vote, and that your disabled relatives won’t be able to walk again if Bush is reelected constitute the sort of sunny, upbeat, inclusive politics of hope they favor.

The most hysterical part about Dowd’s column Sunday (as in hysterically funny, not hysterical in the sense of Krugman explaining why the latest employment numbers are so high) was when she defended William Jennings Bryan’s defense of creationism in the Scopes trial, on the basis that Bryan believed Darwinian theory bolstered capitalism. She might have a fraction of a sliver of a historical point (Herbert Spencer: Ptooey!). But to make this argument, she’s basically conceding that her problem isn’t with creationism per se–normally considered a codeword for the sort of “right-wing ignorance” the Smiley crowd despises–but rather that her problem is with creationism when creationism helps the Right. Now that’s a principled position!

But that brings us back to this whole “ignorance” thing. What Smiley, Dowd, & Co. object to is not ignorance qua ignorance, but what the Marxists called false consciousness (indeed, Smiley even talks like a character out of a Tom Wolfe novel with her glib references to “big capitalists” and right-wing “greed”). Gary Wills’s question sums up the attitude nicely: “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?”

Hating the “Haters”

For example, Saturday night, my wife forced me to watch Bill Maher’s HBO show because we’d heard that Andrew Sullivan tore Noam Chomsky apart. That’s not actually what happened. Maher actually did a one-on-one interview with Chomsky. It was more like Maher was granted an audience with Chomsky. Maher’s style was only slightly less deferential than our own Kathryn Lopez’s would be with the pope. Which only makes sense, since Chomsky is something akin to the Black Pope of America-Hatred. Sullivan did a fine job ridiculing Maher about all that, but ultimately the show wasn’t worth its price in agita. I had to listen to Susan Sarandon–Hollywood’s Patron Saint of Sore Losers–explain that maybe Kerry really did win and that some grassy-knoll Republicans absconded with the election.

But even worse was Maher’s mindless righteousness about his own atheism. For years Maher has been auditioning for his Profile in Courage award by saying “brave” things about the unreality of Jesus and the silliness of religion. Every mention of religion causes a dirty smile and joyful sneer to spawn across his face. The other night he was pounding the table with great satisfaction for having the courage to be a “rational” person and hence an unbeliever–and of course the audience was applauding like so many toy monkeys.

There’s no time here to dismantle fully the edifice of condescension and ignorance constructed by Maher and Smiley (I put Dowd in a different category). But what offends them so much about religion is that it is a source of authority outside–and prior to–politics. What has offended the Left since Marx, and American liberalism since Dewey, is the notion that moral authority should be derived from anyplace other than the state or “the people” (conveniently defined as citizens who vote liberal). Voting on values not sanctified by secular priests is how they define “ignorance.” This was the real goal of Hillary Clinton’s “politics of meaning”–to replace traditional religion with a secular one that derived its authority not from ancient texts and “superstitions” but from the good intentions of an activist state and its anointed priests. Shortly before the election, Howell Raines fretted that the worst outcome of a Bush victory would be the resurgence of “theologically based cultural norms”–without even acknowledging the fact that “theologically based cultural norms” gave us everything from the printing press and the newspaper to the First Amendment he claims to be such a defender of.

What Maher, Raines, and Smiley fail to grasp is that all morality is based upon transcendence–or it is merely based on utilitarianism of one kind or another, and therefore it is not morality so much as, at best, an enlightened expediency or will-to-power. It is no more rational to vote based on a desire to do “good” than it is to vote based on a desire to do God’s will. Indeed, for millions of people this is a distinction without a difference–as it was for so many of the abolitionists progressives and civil-rights leaders today’s liberals love to invoke but never actually learn about.

Love, in fact, is just as silly and superstitious a concept as God (and for those who believe God is Love, this too is a distinction without a difference). Chesterton’s observation that the purely rational man will not marry is just as correct today, because science has done far more damage to the ideal of love than it has done to the notion of an awesome God beyond our ken. Genes, hormones, instincts, evolution: These are the cause for the effect of love in the purely rational man’s textbook. But Maher would get few applause lines from his audience of sophisticated yokels if he mocked love as a silly superstition. This is, in part, because the crowd he plays to likes the idea of love while it dislikes the idea of God; and in part because these people feel love, so they think it exists. But such is the extent of their solipsism and narcissism that they not only reject the existence of God but go so far as to mock those who do not, simply because they don’t feel Him themselves. And, alas, in elite America, feelings are the only recognized foundation of metaphysics.

I didn’t intend to get off on the tangent of religion. I’m not particularly religious myself, after all. Nevertheless, I think the great irony of this election is that for all the talk of how the bigoted Right won, the Left’s loss has sparked far more bigotry. Their clever trick is to defend their hatred of the religious by calling it a hatred of bigotry itself–a rationalization no liberal would tolerate from any other kind of bigot.

Anyway, I should wrap this up. Look, I understand that the entire Popular Front of the Left lost–and big–last week. I understand they thought they were going to win. I understand that many of them believed all of the nonsense about Bush’s being a fascist crusader and I understand that some actually believed P. Diddy’s axiom that you should vote (Democratic) or die. (Although it should be self-evident that a man who chooses the name P. Diddy is not a man to take very seriously. Last time I checked, Henry Kissinger never contemplated calling himself “Special K.”)

But for those of you who think your grief and disappointment justify your pious nastiness and blame-shifting for your own failures: Do keep in mind that it is precisely such self-indulgence and arrogance that costs you elections.


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