Main image Bill Maher

The myth of the smug liberal

Lima Charlie Political Correspondent Jose Robledo takes on the myth of the smug Liberal, the first of a 3 part series. Part 2 tackles the myth of the angry Conservative. Part 3 examines the frightening deterioration of political discourse in America.

In a recent interview, Jake Tapper asked Samantha Bee on CNN’s State of the Union how she felt being the face of the liberal problem, essentially asking: how does it feel to be the reason Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election?

Tapper was referencing a recent New York Times article where conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, squarely framed Samantha Bee as embodying the “the rapid colonization of new cultural territory by an ascendant social liberalism.” Generally speaking, Douthat is claiming that the Left, while winning the culture wars as evidenced by an alleged media dominance, the surge in LGBTQA+ acceptance, etc., and relishing in those victories, has turned progressives into smug liberals. It’s that smugness, Douthat and others claim, that has created strong counter-liberal-culture that not only rejects liberal ideas, but is willing to accept bad candidates, currently President Trump, to represent their ire against the constant smarter-than-thou attitudes of ‘costal elites.’

There’s quite a bit to unpack in those assertions. First, it’s important to know that Douthat is not the first person to make mention of ‘liberal smugness.’ Just after the election of President Trump, D.C. conservative veteran Rob Hoffman, was published in Politico making the case for how the Left created Trump, or better said, how the Left created the environment for Trump to win the election. It was based on a similar thesis: The Right has had enough of the liberal smugness that makes it seem as though if you’re not Liberal, “you’re probably racist, xenophobic, sexist, bigoted or all of the above.”

Then you have Dave Rubin, once a regular liberal commentator, now doing Prager U. videos on YouTube explaining why he no longer identifies as a progressive liberal. He references statistics revealing how intolerant Liberal college campuses are and how students can now walk out on lectures over trigger warnings.

Rubin, like others, paint the Left these days simply as smug bullies. According to Rubin, if someone or a group finds your language offensive, you’re branded a misogynist, bigot, homophobe, or transphobe, and are shunned by the more “civilized” Leftist society. White men are especially noted for their privileged status, giving the impression that they above everyone else have not earned whatever they have achieved, rather it is the outcome of the historical preference for white male dominance.

Right leaning pundits and commentators have latched on to this idea. The Right has adopted the term ‘oppression olympics,’ oddly enough a term coined by the Left as response towards White trans-women overshadowing the plights of Black/Brown Muslim lesbians. The exemplary case here being how Caitlyn Jenner managed to highjack the conversation of trans-rights over the large number of minority women who have endured and still endure much harsher treatments from society.

In this term, ‘oppression olympics,’ the Right has found a quick and snide way to describe a certain one-upmanship among minority groups who, according to the Right, compete with each other to claim most victimized status. The Right appropriately won’t accept this dynamic as a political reality framing the Leftist ideology as a race to the bottom. Caught in a cycle of infighting, arguing over who is the oppressor and who is the victim; the Left often come off as their own worst enemy.

Caitlyn Jenner accepting the Arthur Ashe award for courage (AP/Chris Pizzello, 2015)

David French, senior writer at the National Review, further expanded on Douthat’s idea of “cultural supremacy” and said, “Liberal dogma is rapidly becoming a secular religion.” His assertion comes from his observations regarding the political discussion surrounding the science of climate change. He holds as an example how Bret Stephens was tarred and feathered for his piece in the New York Times regarding the uncertainty behind climate change models and how those who point at the uncertainty behind the science are mocked. French highlights that in spite of Stephens being an anti-Trump conservative, he was still lambasted for not only questioning the certainty the Left has over climate change, but also how the Left smugly claims moral superiority over anyone who thinks otherwise.

Rubin, Douthat, and French are not alone in thinking that the Left’s smugness is problematic in the entirety of the political spectrum. There are several on the Left who have joined the growing voices decrying liberal smugness.

Sam Harris, a vocal critic of religion, supporter of raising taxes on the very wealthy, and the decriminalizing of drugs and same-sex marriage, has joined the American Right in decrying how the Left makes excuses for Islam and Islamic terrorism. In a podcast with noted conservative Douglas Murray, Harris supported former conservative presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s ideas to “accept only Christians” versus Muslim refugees during the Syrian refugee crisis, saying the position is not at all xenophobic. Harris’s rationale was stated in its entirety for the sake of full context:

“Is it crazy to express, as Ted Cruz did, a preference for Christians over Muslims in this process? Of course not. What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security. We know that some percentage of Muslims will be jihadists inevitably. [….] So it is not mere bigotry or mere xenophobia to express that preference. I hope you understand that I am expressing no sympathy at all with Ted Cruz’s politics or with Ted Cruz. But it is totally unhelpful to treat him — though he actually is a religious maniac — like a bigot on this point. This is a quite reasonable concern to voice.”

In making these claims, Harris has pointed out that other Liberals can’t sever their feelings for inclusion and tolerance from the very real threat that not only religion, but Islam specifically, poses to civil society. To him, it is in this inability to separate the two that leaves Liberals confused, upset, and irrationally lash out against him.

His remarks came to a head when Harris joined Bill Maher on Maher’s show. Maher voiced how Liberals need to stand up for liberal values, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to leave a religion without fear of violence, equality for women, equality for minorities including homosexuals, yet don’t stand up for these same values when the need to criticize Islam arises. Harris nodded in approval. Maher alluded to liberal smugness as the reason why the incongruity isn’t resolved. That in being smug about their position, other Liberals can all at once claim authority over what is proper to criticize, but remain blind to their own hypocrisy as they call out conservative efforts to suppress criticism of traditional structures.

Bill Maher, comedian and political commentator, recently became the talk of the conservative sphere when remarking on the cancelation of Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley after protests from students.  He said, “Berkeley used to be the cradle of free speech, and now it’s just the cradle for fucking babies.” Maher on many occasions has said that he and many other comedians don’t do the college circuit anymore because, liberal college students only want to hear “exactly what Liberals want to hear, and they want to shutter [Conservative ideas].”

Bill Maher invited Caitlin Flanagan on his show to speak on the suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses. In a 2015 article, Flanagan argued that in college campuses, “young people have decided that some subjects—among them rape and race—are so serious that they shouldn’t be fodder for comics,” and that the PC police has all but banned the speech of people who disagree with them. She claims that other Liberals making a living off of making light of their sacred subjects of race, class, gender, and many other political minefields are unacceptable and must be shutdown. In a smug and condescending way, Liberals have made themselves the judges of what is proper and cultured and disparage anything that hurts these sensibilities.

An interesting aside here is that liberal students claim that it is their student activities fees paid to the college which are the honorariums paid to invited speakers. Since it is ultimately their money, they are voting with their money whom they would like to hear speak. This is a traditionally conservative position to take—voting with your money. Let the free market of ideas demonstrate which are the ones to be heard and which shall disappear. Yet, it still draws criticism from the Right and the Left doesn’t see the irony.

Caitlin Flanagan, a writer for The Atlantic and self proclaimed Liberal, argued how the left-leaning late night show circuit made it possible for the Trump presidency. Her humanizing anecdote regarding an incident when Samantha Bee’s show ridiculed a young boy for having ‘Nazi hair’ at the Western Conservative Summit, when in fact he was just a hopeful God-loving child with stage 3 cancer feels like a sharp sting. She says:

“I’ve thought about that a lot—but I’ve also thought a good deal about the boy on Samantha Bee’s program. I thought about the moment her producer approached the child’s mother to sign a release so that the woman’s young son could be humiliated on television. Was it a satisfying moment, or was it accompanied by a small glint of recognition that embarrassing children is a crappy way to make a living? I thought about the boy waiting eagerly to see himself on television, feeling a surge of pride that he’d talked about church and Bible study. And I thought about the moment when he realized that it had all been a trick—that the grown-up who had seemed so nice had only wanted to hurt him.”

“My God, I thought. What have we become?”

Bee, probably wasn’t thinking of that point when she flippantly dismissed Tapper’s question of whether she’s a smug Liberal or that if there’s a smug Liberal problem.

Samantha Bee apologized to the child and his family. Her show donated money to the child’s GoFundMe account. Yet, as helpful as it is to acknowledge the mistake and attempt to make amends, the whole episode does reek of a patronizing condescension.

Bee, reminiscent of Stewart disciples, such as Noah, Oliver, and others in the late night show circuit, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and Stephen Colbert have gleefully taken the worst and most glaring of the Right and mockingly tear it down and for the Left to enjoy. These jokes come back in the morning talk circuit and all the while people who espouse those ideas, those beliefs, seethe with anger because they are being disregarded and mocked. Douthat characterizes the whole enterprise as a series of “hectoring monologues,” where comedians are “less comics than propagandists — liberal ‘explanatory journalists’ with laugh lines.”

Vanity Fair, 2016

It makes sense that there are media outlets to cater solely to them. If there is anything we’ve learned about economics is that where there’s an unmet mainstream demand, there’s bound to be an alternative supply.

Some would argue that wrongheaded points of view are only worthy of mockery, and to position them with any level of respect is placing them in the same vein of validity as those who are obviously correct. In other words, to talk about bad ideas with any respect is to elevate them to an unmerited position.

Yet, who gets to be the judge of what is correct or what has merit? This is the fight that is played out across all media, social and otherwise, every second of every day to the detriment of all.

The Right resents having to endure challenges and changes to their family values, American values, and work ethics. This an important point because it is in how these values were traditionally framed is how we as a nation and western civilization came to be exceptional, as how the Right sees it. Even so it’s more important to recognize that the Right resents being mocked for holding on to these values. The Right would say, ‘they are lampooning not only what we believe to be right, but also what has made us great, where my family comes from and me. They are making fun of our way of life.’

So, why then with all this evidence, is Liberal smugness a myth? Before exploring that, it’s important to look at the myth of the angry Conservative.

[To be continued in Part 2]

Jose Robledo, Political Correspondent, Lima Charlie News

Jose Robledo is a former Army Staff Sergeant still Army Infantry Officer. After completing two combat tours, to Afghanistan and Iraq, he studied Political Economy at Columbia University, where he successfully led the student initiative to bring back ROTC to the campus.

Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.

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