If there is a Pulitzer Prize for most sanctimonious piece of journalism, this piece by Sally Kohn in the Washington Post should win and the prize should thereafter be retired. She starts off with how liberals–actually, President Obama–have been pushed around by conservatives lately. She concludes that the problem is that liberals are just basically good tolerant people, while conservatives are mean. Liberals, she argues, need to stop being tolerant of conservatives.
The real problem isn’t a liberal weakness. It’s something liberals have proudly seen as a strength — our deep-seated dedication to tolerance. In any given fight, tolerance is benevolent, while intolerance gets in the good punches. Tolerance plays by the rules, while intolerance fights dirty. The result is round after round of knockouts against liberals who think they’re high and mighty for being open-minded but who, politically and ideologically, are simply suckers.
Social science research has long dissected the differences between liberals and conservatives. Liberals supposedly have better sex, but conservatives are happier. Liberals are more creative; conservatives more trustworthy. And, since the 1930s, political psychologists have argued that liberals are more tolerant. Specifically, those who hold liberal political views are more likely to be open-minded, flexible and interested in new ideas and experiences, while those who hold conservative political views are more likely to be closed-minded, conformist and resistant to change. As recently as 2008, New York University political psychologist John Jost and his colleagues confirmed statistically significant personality differences connected to political leanings. Brain-imaging studies have even suggested that conservative brains are hard-wired for fear, while the part of the brain that tolerates uncertainty is bigger in liberal heads.
Dissecting Obama’s negotiation strategy in the budget fight, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, “It looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has criticized Obama for similarly failing to take a strong position on energy policy. But perhaps the president is only playing out the psychological tendencies of his base.
In the weeks leading up to the budget showdown, the Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of Republicans wanted their elected representatives to “stand by their principles,” even if it meant causing the federal government to shut down. Among those who identified as tea party supporters, that figure was 68 percent. Conversely, 69 percent of Democrats wanted their representatives to avoid a shutdown, even if it meant compromising on principles. With supporters like that, who needs Rand Paul?
Political tolerance is supposed to be essential to the great democratic experiment that is the United States. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his first inaugural address, those who might wish to dissolve the newly established union should be left “undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
But some errors, by their nature, undermine reason.
Writing in 1945, philosopher Karl Popper called this the “paradox of tolerance” — that unlimited tolerance leads to the disappearance of tolerance altogether. To put the current political climate in Popper’s terms, if liberals are not willing to defend against the rigid demands of their political opponents, who are emboldened by their own unwavering opinions, their full range of open-minded positions will be destroyed. Liberals are neutered by their own tolerance.
OK, I’m pretty sure those brain studies have been shown to be bogus. But at any rate, her very assumptions are surely way off. For example, liberals nearly ALWAYS get their way. And liberals are almost NEVER tolerant of conservatives!