We’ve all had our share of run-ins with interesting characters on Bruin Walk. The one that comes most quickly to mind is the sorely missed anti-abortion picketer from last year, whose repertoire included drop-kicking baby dolls and yelling “Jesus Christ” at the top of his lungs.
In the way stereotypes have calcified, the immediate urge is to consign him to a box labeled “right wing” or “Republican.”
The left has come to equate insanity with our ideological opponents. That’s all right. One expects a certain level of contemptuous generalization and hyperbole; it’s a sign this stuff matters to you.
But I feel there is beginning to be too much of it. It is not so much a sign of your opponents’ stupidity, but of your own intellectual cowardice, when the bulk of your arguments are counterpoised against a caricature. And this is roughly the state of the left at the moment.
Of course, there is virtue in pointing out obvious mistakes and lots of fun to be had mocking the arrantly stupid and ridiculous.
But it seems increasingly impossible to have an intelligent political conversation with liberals, without it collapsing into mockery. Sooner or later, references to “those crazy Republicans” ends discussion.
You see, it is uncannily easy to win an argument against straw men.
This is symptomatic of a larger trend within the left. There is an industry out there that tirelessly churns out this kind of drivel. People like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the fatuous Bill Maher make a career out of this facile, empty jeering.
I wonder if you could be bothered to think back to those grim days near the close of George Bush II’s presidency. However much of a low point it was for the right, it was demonstrably also a low point for the left. There was simply no rest to be had from the half-baked Bush jokes ““ knee-jerk aspersions that came prepackaged with a self-serving pat on the back.
If we allow for a minute the conceit that left and right cling faithfully to party boundaries, it will be useful to observe how the Bruin Democrats conduct themselves in their upcoming debate with the Bruin Republicans on Nov. 9.
It will be an absolute test of integrity if they can keep themselves from devolving into the sickly Jon Stewart mode of shallow mockery.
The term “clapter” is a useful one. Urban Dictionary, that instrument of all human knowledge, defines it as “a “˜joke,’ often making a political or social statement, whose purpose is to make the audience applaud and agree instead of laugh. Popular with hack comedians and their fans.”
Of course a little bit of that is welcome. After all, it is true ““ caricatures do walk among us.
For example, take the 2012 Republican Party presidential candidates’ views on homosexuality (which by the way is commanding an increasingly broad coalition of support, by the best counts, a majority). Rick Perry has compared it to alcoholism. Newt Gingrich does think it is a sin. Herman Cain also believes it is a sin and a choice and would like to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reinstated.
We can produce a similar list for other issues on which there is a basic educated stance. When Mitt Romney can set himself apart just by saying he believes in global warming and when Jon Huntsman can elicit a sigh of relief by a simple affirmation of evolution, we know we have a problem.
But here a point needs to be made. I am not mapping these judgments onto the parties.
“The Republican Party believes in evolution and taking care of the planet,” said Lydia Mazuryk, issues director for the Bruin Republicans and fourth-year history student.
If that is the case, then maybe these differences are not as fundamental as we think.
The fact is there will always be stupid people in the right, as there will always be idiots in the left. The job of the left is to hear past the noise, training its eyes on the best arguments of its opponents.
It may well be difficult to find a sophisticated right-winger. And here I use a very cheapened idea of sophistication. The late William Safire represented the right with elegance of mind and cultured ease; I have in many ways given up on that.
The best I’m really hoping for is that the Romneys thin out the Michele Bachmanns.
As the platform is crowded out by increasingly demagogic voices, we have to keep straining to hear reason. Past the ravings of Bill O’Reilly, there is an intelligent, responsible right represented by the likes of Andrew Sullivan.
There is no excuse. Even as our opponents get their house in order, we of the left must be careful not to lull ourselves into complacency. We must not let clapter be the default mode of leftist discourse.