Methinks the Other Party Thinks You're an Idiot

I read and shared an article the other day that I found pretty inspiring. It was Vox's "The Smug Style in American Liberalism."  I appreciate it so much because it's so rare that you get an honest internal criticism meant to help one group be better (rather than a scathing critique of the other, meant to score points). I've seen a lot of liberal friends I know respond really positively to it, and I'm really proud of everyone.

(Mother Jones, in fewer words, counters that liberals are condescending, instead.)

Another friend started a conversation with me where he said he read the article and liked it, but he thought "smug" applied pretty well to both edges of the political spectrum. I thought about it and I think he may be right. 

Let's work through an overly-simplified narrative:

A liberal might say that poor people that vote against them are foolishly voting against their own interests (their economic well-being); rich people that vote against them are only voting for their own limited interests (keeping their advantage at the expense of anyone else); anyone that votes for them is voting "on principle" to promote economic justice.

A conservative might say that poor people that vote against them are only voting for their limited interests (getting free stuff); rich people that vote against them are voting against their interests (the freedom to run their business and keep it healthy); anyone that votes for them is voting "on principle" to grow a healthy economy.

So that narrative, if it has any validity, would suggest that each side thinks it's the only position of any noble principle, and that the other side is so bankrupt that those voting for it are either voting selfishly, or dumb enough to be voting against their own interest.

Could it perhaps be the case that some poor people that vote Republican are doing so "on principle" because they think their economic plan is best for everyone? Perhaps they even don't believe in overly-progressive taxes on principle? Could it be the case that some rich people that vote Democratic are doing so "on principle" because they believe it's the right thing to do, the Christian thing to do, or even the healthiest thing for the economy?

So I think there is a good chance that smugness and condescension happen across the political spectrum. I'm probably biased here, but I suspect they are part of the same Wedging forces that lead to polarization and general antipathy: we have collapsed into such tiny bubbles, and are exposed so often only to the ridiculous people on one side of the spectrum, that we cannot fathom how a smart, reasonable, well-intentioned person could disagree with us. It's getting beyond our collective capacity as a public.

So perhaps we're all becoming the idiots.

--Erik

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Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.