Three Observations About the Left and Civility

Even as I chuckled at Ian’s post about Democratic hysterics over the farm bill, I realized that the leftist response is no laughing matter. I have three thoughts:

First, excepting an exceedingly cynical minority, leftists use this rhetoric because they really, truly believe it. They truly believe we don’t care about kids. They truly believe we conservatives want people — especially minorities — to live in poverty if it means preserving our perceived wealth and privilege. In part they believe this because they tend to live in more concentrated monocultures than conservatives, and are more used to talking about us than talking to us.

Second, as intensely as they believe we are evil, they believe in their own ideological virtue. Thus, they often take a critique of their ideas in the same way that others take personal insults — as direct frontal assaults on their character. This makes civil disagreement difficult and causes dialogue to degenerate quickly to an exercise in public shaming.

Third, conservatives are sick to death of this nonsense. It’s tearing our nation apart — one tweet and Facebook post at a time. At the dawn of the modern era of political correctness, my conservative friends (especially my conservative Christian friends) tended to respond with shock and consternation when facing accusations of racisim, sexism, homophobia, etc. “No, no, I’m really a nice guy!” Now, the response is either derisive or — more likely for the less political among us — sullen, seething silence. This is not how great constitutional democracies are nurtured and maintained.

I don’t mean to say that conservatives are immune from these failings — and I’ve certainly seen an unhealthy amount of the same tactics from some on the right — but there is simply no comparison between conservatives and liberals in the level of tolerance for dissent or in the assumption of the worst of motives for disagreements. Depending on the issue, from the Supreme Court to the academy to a disagreement between “friends” on social media, the unshakeable assumption is that a person who isn’t in favor of our bloated, poverty-perpetuating welfare state or isn’t an enthusiastic participatant in the sexual revolution is merely a cruel, vicious, greedy, self-seeking bigot.

And that brings to mind this golden oldie from Jon Stewart . . . enjoy:


  • Esther O’Reilly

    Spot. On.

  • Susan_G1

    Gosh, I think you’ve got it way wrong, and I think you’ve just contributed to the nonsense.

  • Christi

    Excellent, as always. And the Jon Stewart clip is priceless!!

  • Andrew Dowling

    “but there is simply no comparison between conservatives and liberals in
    the level of tolerance for dissent or in the assumption of the worst of
    motives for disagreements.”
    LOL says the party of Glen Beck/Sarah Palin Obama wants to brainwash your kids/turn the country into a communist dictatorship with his “czars”/is not even legitimate he was born in Kenya etc. Tolerance for dissent? Says the party primary-ing any incumbent who dares makes compromise or strays from the party line. RINOs they are shouted as being.

    This is a post fitting for redstate .com and not Patheos.

  • Pamela Patterson Lake

    No, this is not spot on at all. This is nothing but a straw-man argument.

  • wscandje

    In my experience both the right and left are about equal “in the level of (in)tolerance for dissent or in the assumption of the worst of motives for disagreements.”

  • Ray Hooker

    There are some interesting comments.. but the idea that the liberals are only one really intolerant is a bit nieve. Just try contradicting the party line and asking questions. You may have a long pedigree as a conservative voter, but now you are liberal. You are demeaned and ignored. Just look at any conservative commentator who begins to question the standard line… “Oh yeah well even though he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute, he was really a closet liberal..” It is so common today. So I agree conservatives motives are questioned unfairly, but don’t think that there is much room for debate in the ranks.

  • Jay Blossom

    It’s remarkable how the other side could make almost exactly the same claims! Every one of the three points could be turned exactly on its head. One of them I don’t even understand — liberals live in monocultures? I don’t even know what that could possibly mean.

    And your last line — it’s just mean-spirited as well as untrue.

    • TheodoreSeeber


  • Jay Blossom

    Maybe you should start my modeling civility yourself.

  • Dorine Houston

    I’m a conservative, like you, and get your pain at being verbally assaulted by some of the extremists on the left. However, I also feel the pain of the left-wingers when some of my more extremely conservative friends call them unwarranted names. I truly think most on both the left and the right mean well and love their country, wanting the best for it. The disagreement is over what policies are in the country’s best interest. A healthy, vibrant and functioning democracy requires the speaking out *and* the respectful listening of both sides. The real problem is one-sidedness. When a culture fails to debate civilly and reach genuine compromises, the winners create their own problems. Conservatives fall into the traps of fascism. Liberals fall into the traps of communism. *Both* are seriously problematic. Keeping them in the balanced tension of authentic open democratic repubicanism is much harder work, but is the only way to have a truly healthy culture. Let’s quit our finger-pointing on both sides and truly listen to the fears, concerns and aspitations of the other.

  • Noah Smith

    Are people really “liberal” or “conservative”? I would’ve thought most people are a mixture of both.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I’m a liberal on fiscal issues and a conservative on sexual issues. But I’m against libertines on both sides.