Liberals are more intolerant than conservatives
The very fact that I feel compelled to make this disclosure from the outset says something powerful. It says that I fear the consequences of writing this piece because, while not state-censored, the views I am about to express are strongly disfavored.
March on I must, though. I think there is a major problem in elite circles like this university, and it is a problem of intolerance. No, I’m not talking about intolerance toward the usual suspects — gays, minorities or women. I’m talking about an equally invidious but far more socially acceptable type of discrimination — against conservatives.
Conservatives and their sometimes-brethren, libertarians, have been driven underground in the top centers of learning, coastal capitals and the media. My very unscientific observation is that there are nary a dozen to be found here at Princeton. Of course, many haven’t come out of the closet yet, fearing social retribution. That’s because wherever they go, conservatives are vilified. Representative Gabrielle Giffords gets shot by a lunatic off his rocker this January; liberals blame the climate of hate created by Republicans, drawing a line between a random act of violence and the Arizona immigration law. (Never mind that Giffords personally had no nexus to Arizona SB 1070, that state’s odious anti-illegal immigrant law, which is currently under judicial review.) But out came a one-way torrent of vitriol. Just a few weeks later, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received death threats for challenging public sector unions, but the media barely made a peep. Mind you, his only transgression was modestly chipping away at benefits bestowed on cosseted public workers. Liberals wept — not for Walker, but for the tragic plight of thumb-twiddling DMV workers and teachers banished to the rubber room.
Another example of liberal intolerance is that directed at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Long a punching bag for our friends on the left, he most recently earned their displeasure for penning the majority opinion in Connick v. Thompson. Joined by four other justices, he denied a plaintiff millions in damages for prosecutor misconduct. The reasoning was plausible — or at least nothing out of the ordinary for a decidedly conservative court. Still, one tendentious analyst had no problem calling out Thomas for writing “one of the meanest opinions ever.” Other commenters on Slate magazine and elsewhere in the media picked up on cue and continued to excoriate Thomas’ credentials, idiosyncratic views and reticence during oral argument. And, yes, his race. Thomas does think differently from anyone else on the court and often sides with certain other justices. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong about his legal philosophy. What really offends liberals are his politics (and his politics, given his race), but they obfuscate with ad hominem attacks. Sadly, these do harm to the credibility of their positions. For those of us who are still open to persuasion, it’s kind of hard to entertain arguments that begin with “The other guy is a terrible human being.” When did we become so averse to differences in opinion?
A little closer to home, now. I’m in a class taught by a former political figure who is a Republican (gasp). After class last week, a classmate remarked to me that the instructor is “way too nice to be conservative.” I was taken aback, but I knew what he meant. Somehow, in the milieu of Princeton, there is a presumption that conservatives are anomic bloodsuckers and liberals saintly seraphs.
I do not have a theory explaining the ascent of liberal philosophy among the intelligentsia in the media and at elite universities. I do think the culture of intolerance persists in part because of the rise of political correctness. The term “political correctness” itself implies that there is a set of political values that are correct. An increasing PC consciousness hasn’t been all bad, but it has allowed liberals to propagate preferred viewpoints while driving others underground, ironically under the cloak of greater tolerance. This is precisely the chilling effect the court’s liberal lion Justice William Brennan warned against. Brennan was of course talking about law, and I talk about social norms. But they both can have the same chilling effects.
In closing, I can’t say for sure that conservatives are more tolerant on average than liberals. That certainly has been my experience. What is certain is that liberals hold themselves out as being more tolerant, while pharisaically denying a minority in their midst the ability to express dissenting viewpoints without fear of reprisal. This fact is deeply troubling. In the name of tolerance, I think we should look within and see if this is really the kind of liberal democracy we want.
Ashok Ayyar is a first-year graduate student in the Wilson School from New York, N.Y. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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