Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Myth of the Angry Conservative

On today's show Rush picked up on a theme that awakened something that has been in the back of my mind for a while. He spoke for a bit about anger - in this case Democratic anger. And how it was suddenly surprising the left that there was not enough of this to win the election for Kerry. Had some words about the role of anger in politics in general. Blah, blah, usual Rush optimism stuff. And that's what clicked the other thing in my mind.

Do you realize that the vast majority of the populace (i.e. those who do not listen to Rush Limbaugh) think he's an angry, fire-breathin' sort of man? They think his show is full of angry shouting and name calling, and little else. Us Rush-fans have sort of just grown used to this attitude, and learned not to even bring up the name "Limbaugh" in liberal company, because of the sneering, visceral attitude it provokes among the left - and a substantial number of those not politically-aligned.

But isn't it bizarre how this popular image is pretty much the opposite of reality? For those of us who actually know what we're talking about, if we had to pick a few adjectives to describe Rush and his show, we'd come up with things like: funny, cheerful, optimistic, partisan (that one is certainly fair, and sort of comes with the genre). But angry?

Where the heck does that come from? And how would he maintain it even if he tried? The man basically invented the modern political talk radio format, achieved fame and fortune beyond the dreams of most men, and watched as his favored political point of view was swept into power. What's to be angry about?

And indeed, he's not. Why then such a widespread public opinion to the contrary?

That takes us directly into the assumptions of those who have invented Rush's anger in their own minds. If you scratch the surface there, you'll quickly discover why Rush in particular, and conservatives in general, are so widely assumed to be full of anger and hate, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It drives to the heart of the leftist worldview. Let's avoid getting too mired in specifics or entertaining conspiratorial theories. There is no single point of view to adequately characterize "the left." But there is a common thread running through most leftist views. It can be summed up in two words: victims and compassion.

Leftists assume the world is full of victims, and that the primary goal of politics is to help them because that's what compassion requires.

Not so bad in itself, especially in the case of real victims. But here's where the worldview runs aground. Any challenge to the legitimacy of victim-hood in a particular case casts doubt upon the sincerity of the questioner's compassion. And if one isn't compassionate... doesn't that mean he doesn't CARE about the victims? Such a person would be - by definition - mean-spirited, heartless, callous, insensitive, etc. And aren't those the words leftists typically apply when they characterize the right?

So how do we get to angry from there? Well, remember, we're not actually thinking about someone who is heartless. We're thinking about someone who thinks someone else is heartless. So what might make that fellow leap to the conclusion that his heartless political counterpart had become angry?

Well think about this mindset for a moment. You're out there trying to help people - out of your own compassion. And suddenly you find yourself opposed regularly and spiritedly by some guy. And not just in one case - in pretty much every major thing you want to do to help those victims. Now why would someone do that? Why would someone be soooo heartless, he would seem to oppose your helpfulness every single time? Reason can't even attempt to explain it. The answer must be in something else. Something emotional. He must be angry. That's it. He's lashing out in anger, and that explains everything! His heartlessness explains why he doesn't help, but only anger can explain the energy he puts into opposition.

This is the leftist "Ah-ha!" moment about Limbaugh in specific and the right in general. This is why they don't need to listen to Limbaugh, or seriously consider our arguments to know that they reject them.

And this is also why they keep losing political power (a trend that will continue this November). Because no matter how well they have their fantasy opponents figured out, they neglect to take an honest look at the real thing.

It has been commonly noted among pundits on the right that the modern left is ruled by emotion rather than reason. And in general, I think this is true. But an underappreciated aspect of this is that emotional people are more likely to ascribe emotion than reason to their opponents as well. And they do, to a staggering degree.

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