Through Polarized Lenses

There’s a new book out by Jeffrey Bell, The Case for Polarized Politics, which makes the shocking argument that campaigning on “divisive” “social issues” can in fact be a winning campaign strategy for conservative politicians. (I learned of the book thanks to a review by Phil Lawler on CatholicCulture.org.) As I have not, as of yet, read the book, I will not discuss it further in this rant. But today I will rant on an old and more basic pet peeve of mine: the common and long-standing practice by those of the Left of denouncing everyone and everything to their right as “polarizing” or “divisive.”

Whenever somebody says something or takes a stance that’s in anyways at odds with liberal politically-correct orthodox opinion, you can always count on somebody on the left condemning it as “polarizing” or “divisive” – whether it’s Republican congressmen who vote against any one of Obama’s schemes, conservative talk-radio hosts, or anyone else not fully on board with the whole lefty program. Apparently we need to just shut up and gather together holding hands and singing Kumbaya in unified solidarity behind Dear Leader.

For instance, I recall a few years ago, while looking up local independent country singer Austin Cunningham’s song “Guns and Religion,” reading a post on a Texas music blog which denounced the tune as “divisive garbage” which should not receive airplay. I mean, how dare a musician sing a song with anything but a leftwing message! Of course songs with lefty protest undertones, for example, criticizing Bush or the Iraq War (actually not uncommon in the Texas indie music scene), are generally praised by the likes of that hipster music blogger as courageous truth-telling. But if you put out a little number singing the praises of guns and religion while knocking Dear Leader, you’d better shut up, lest your dissent stir up “division” amongst the hoi polloi.

When you strip away the attempts at high-minded rhetoric, this line of attack translates to simply, “Agree with us or shut the hell up!” Not exactly in keeping with lefties’ self-image as rational, tolerant, open-minded folks immune from the constraints of authoritarian thought. In fact, I can’t think of a stupider or lazier line of critique than condemning a point of view simply on the grounds of it being opposed to one’s own.

And this whole “divisive/polarizing” line does appear to be the almost exclusive property of the Left. I’ve certainly heard folks on the right accuse folks on the left of many things, but being “polarizing” or “divisive” is not among them. If you hear someone bitching about “polarization” or “divisiveness,” it’s a sure bet that person’s of a left-leaning persuasion. When I attack a liberal’s or leftist’s ideas or arguments, it’s because I find them wrong-headed, destructive, morally repulsive, or simply stupid, but never just because I find them “divisive” or “polarizing” (which would simply be saying that they disagree with me or other conservatives, which should go without saying).

Does it ever occur to left-wingers that many of their own favorite views and agendas are in fact “divisive” and “polarizing” to those of us who don’t share their worldview? Does it ever occur to them that there are in fact other points of view besides their own? Besides the utter lazy stupidity of the “polarizing” line of attack, I believe its prevalence in liberal rhetoric is revealing of the mindset of much of the current left.

For all its precious talk of “tolerance” and “diversity,” the Left is consistently intolerant of any diversity of opinion from its own viewpoints. For the Left, its own is the only legitimate point of view, and opposing points of view must be relentlessly silenced or marginalized.  This can be seen in the ruthless suppression of politically-incorrect ideas in much of the left-dominated worlds of academic and media institutions. (The great Mark Steyn refers to these folks as “Conformicrats” and the “Comformocracy.”) Any dissent from the notion that man-made global warming is heading us towards environmental apocalypse–or that massive government taxing, spending, and regulation is needed to save us–is dismissed as “propaganda” or “anti-science” (even if it comes from solid research at ivy-league universities), and the powers that be will ensure that the results of such studies go unpublished. Likewise with any suggestion that anything could be behind the creation and evolution of the universe and life on earth beyond blind, mindless chance (despite some very compelling evidence to the contrary from serious scientific researchers).  It can also be seen in the eagerness of many liberals to seek out any excuse to get right-leaning talk show hosts yanked off the air.  Any arguments in favor of a return to standards of “traditional morality”are denounced off-hand as “bigotry and “hate.” And any opposition to any aspects of statist “liberalism” and the notion that yet more government spending is the solution to all our ills is brushed aside as being driven by “racism” or other ugly motives, or is simply beyond the pale of educated opinion. Or, if that doesn’t stick, you can always just denounce it as “divisive.”

In countless online debates on any number of subjects I’ve read or been involved in, it seems that while conservative actually engage in reasoned argumentation, the “arguments” of those on the left consist overwhelmingly of labeling (“stupid,” bigoted,” “homophobic,” “Islamophobic,” etc., etc.), name-calling, and personal insults and ad-hominem attacks (all the while praising their own superior intelligence and open-mindedness).  There are few people more narrowly conformist and doctrinaire than the “tolerant” “free-thinking” “liberal.”

Formal censorship is in fact unnecessary when you can create a general culture of opinion in which any deviation from the party line is instantly dismissed and disregarded as simply unthinkable. Somewhere in the depths of Hell, Uncle Joe Stalin and Chairman Mao are beaming proudly.

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