The Maturity Gap
The conservative movement has a lunatic fringe. Talk show host Michael Savage commands a huge audience which loves to listen to him rant about gays and foreigners while making ridiculous historical analogies. Ann Coulter often makes bizarre accusations against liberals (liberals aren’t traitors, as Coulter often charges—you can’t judge subjective intent by objective consequence). Even National Review’s John Derbyshire is more than a little eccentric—he describes himself as a “a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one,” and I have absolutely no idea what that means. So the Right is home to some rather odd and sometimes hateful people.
However, it often seems that the entire Left is composed of absolute lunatics. This isn’t true—there are many liberals who are quite thoughtful and intelligent—but it is true that most of the most prominent liberals are…a lot of adjectives come to mind (deranged, hateful, silly) but the most accurate (to my mind) is childish. The Left is wholly immature.
Take the example of Al Franken. Sadly, Franken is, despite a distinct lack of talent (outside his Saturday Night Live days) one of the Left’s leading lights—he wrote several bestsellers, hosted Air America’s flagship program, and is currently running for a Minnesota Senate seat.
Franken cemented his liberal reputation with the success of his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. This book—prepare to be totally blindsided here—was about liars. It was also about as stupid and immature as its title was—the book was filled with awful jokes and was poorly researched. Examples of Franken’s keen, finely honed satiric wit: he challenged National Review editor Rich Lowry to a fistfight (my sides!), falsely claimed that Richard Armitage knocked over Helen Thomas while bolting from a Senate hearing (these are the jokes), and called George Bush a liar simply because he disagreed with Franken’s position on tax cuts, which is more than a little irresponsible. Franken’s other books (such as his initial work, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations) are equally stupid and immature.
Or consider Keith Olbermann. Thanks to luck, persistence, and Bill O’Reilly’s inability to ignore anyone who insults him, Olbermann has become the Left’s official television voice. And he is as immature as Franken—his vocabulary may be that of a high school freshman trying to impress his English teacher, but his tone and grasp of the political situation are that of someone several years younger. I’m not sure if Olbermann is really as immature as he comes across or simply deranged, but anyone who gives speeches entitled “Go to Iraq and fight, Mr. President” with a straight face is almost certainly one or the other.
However, the most influential outlet of liberal immaturity is almost certainly the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post has set out to be the Internet’s newspaper—and is working towards that goal quite satisfactorily. It is by far the most widely read political blog—it dwarfs competitors such as RealClearPolitics or the Politico. It sets out to be a liberal combination of the Drudge Report and National Review—combining news with political analysis. And given its success, it evidently succeeds. It is exactly like NR and Drudge—except, as with many liberal enterprises, about a hundred times less adult.
Its commentary is dreadful—many of its bloggers are washed-up C-list celebrities; the rest are semi-prominent (within the Democrat party) commentators who provide nonsensical views of current events. A sample of the posts featured on the site as I write: Raymond Learsy warns of the dangers of falling oil prices, Joshua Stein writes that Batman (as seen in The Dark Knight) is no longer good, but only less bad than his enemies, just like Bush, and Lincoln Chafee (yes, that Lincoln Chafee) compares the presidential candidates’ decision to engage in a forum hosted by a church to radical Islamic extremism.
HuffPo’s news coverage is worse. Their top story for most of today—given a big red Drudge-style headline—was a piece reporting that McCain has confused Iraq and Afghanistan. (He made a reference to the “Iraq-Pakistan” border). Embarrassing, true, but hardly significant—after all, Obama has made his share of such gaffes. This is typical of HuffPo’s news coverage—oversized, absurd headlines about wholly insignificant events.
Why is so much of the Left so immature? There are some liberal publications that are quite sober and dignified—The Nation and The New Republic spring to mind—so why can’t the rest of the Left be equally decorous? There is no one reason for this, or even two reasons, but there is one reason that does seem to provide an adequate partial explanation.
Modern Liberalism has no set of guiding principles the way that conservatism does—it is a collection of interest groups (environmentalists, feminists, unions, etc). Part of that is due to the fact that liberalism isn’t a terribly coherent philosophy; part is due to the fact that since the Sixties, liberals have had a deeply rooted distrust of authority figures, which prevented the rise of a unifying figure such as a William F. Buckley or Rush Limbaugh. Liberalism is not serious because there is nothing in it to be serious about—it is not so much a political philosophy as a method for advancing the interests of its component constituencies.