Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Let me explain with what is probably a familiar occurrence for many conservatives. You are at a party among friends, and to keep them as friends, you promise yourself you will not discuss religion or politics. You know you risk discussing such topics with the wrong person, and the next thing you know his eyes will be bulging out of his head in anger, and his glass of wine (French, of course, because a domestic macro-brewed beer is entirely out of the question) will be on the brink of shattering as his grip tightens with each successive comment you make.

But without your coaxing, you find that a liberal guest actually casually engages you in conversation, and slowly turns it to the realm of politics. Despite your expectations, you have come across the occasional well-informed, intelligent, and reasonable liberal. You figure you are on safe ground because your counter party, although clearly liberal, does not start with the assumption that you have a swastika tattooed in a discrete spot, and a tendency to wear a white hood on certain nights. These are encouraging signs that your conversation will be about the pleasurable give and take of intellectual argument.

But then a few questions posed to you reveal your understanding of the conversation to be woefully inaccurate. While you grapple with the intellectual arguments of your adversary, you find his questions and comments slowly straying from the rules of rational debate into the realm of feelings. Not his, but yours.

Now you know there is something different about this conversation - it is not at all unusual to have cornered your conversational game with irrefutable facts and unassailable logic, only to have him rationalize his position on the basis of his feelings about this and that. It is then that you know you have won; because the thrill is in the hunt and not the kill, you let him go. You gently pull the hook out of his mouth by indulging his feelings - “yes, I can see how you might feel that way, etc. etc.” But this discussion of your feelings is unusual.

You almost do not notice the subtle shift in his questions and comments. The adrenaline of the conversation has you anticipating his next argument, and planning your counter argument. You see it as a chess match of sorts - no place to discuss feelings. How could they be relevant? You dismiss the first few questions aimed at taking you off the clean intellectual track and into the muddy domain of feelings, but the frequency of the efforts to drag you there increases. And although you want to walk away from the conversation saying to yourself that liberals aren’t all that bad, instead you walk away with the feeling that there was a hidden level to the conversation.

Maybe there was one moment that stuck with you after the conversation that, in retrospect, made the purpose of the conversation clear to you. Perhaps you just explained that Cinton’s sexual peccadilloes were in fact a public matter because they came to light due to their relevance in a civil trial, and that his lies under oath deserve strict punishment because they serve to deny the plaintiff her civil rights, and because others who have lied in the same circumstances have spent time in jail as a consequence. In a nation of laws, no one should be above the law, etc. etc. You think you made some very good points. You even effectively used the term “civil rights” in making your point - how can a liberal argue with that?

And then he challenged you by suggesting half mockingly that your revealed hatred for Clinton is wholly disproportionate to what is merited despite what he agrees with you to be true about him. This puzzled you because you made no comment to the effect that you hate Clinton (you certainly do, but that is beside the point). He was looking to get a rise out of you, rather than an explanation. He wanted you to let the cat of bag - scream from the mountaintops that you hold an irrational hatred for Bill Clinton. And because it is irrational, the logical psychological question that followed is whether or not your hatred is really for Bill Clinton, or are you merely projecting an underlying hatred onto Bill Clinton? And now it hits you. He wants to know how long you have felt this way about your father!

You have just been “couched” by an armchair liberal psychologist, or ALP for short. In your mind, you pictured him at his podium and you at one opposite his, engaged in a mini Lincoln-Douglas debate. In his, you are laid prostrate on the couch and you should be paying him $300 an hour for psychotherapy. The ALP has long ago dismissed the possibility that his own political beliefs are incorrect, and yet he knows that there are reasonable and intelligent people on the other side of the political spectrum. People who cannot appreciate the smarmy humor of Bill Maher, the deep political insights of , the face for radio that is Al Franken’s, or the sophistication and beauty of post-modern art. And this saddens the ALP. Because there is no possibility that he is wrong intellectually, the holding of opposite political leanings by people whose intellect he respects must be the result of some psychological imbalance. So he sets out to test his theories on you.


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