Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Liberal Lack of Persuasion

Like Genghis, I have been emerged in the world of the Right, a world that most progressives only hear about second hand. Unlike Genghis, I was not emerged in it because I was writing a polemical book on the subject but because I agreed with many of the core premises.

What was one of those core premises? An issue that is exploding in completely the wrong way in the state of Wisconsin. Public employee unions, the core base of Democratic fundraising, are caught in the ire of a Republican governor who knows just how influential they are in policy making. The right makes the power of teacher’s unions a chief crossroads issue because they know the large scale dissatisfaction with public schools on the part of parents, students and everyone except those receiving a paycheck due to the whole enterprise.

I had a column in a local Seattle newspaper several years ago and I spent nearly a year both expelling pent up anger and looking at the core of what is wrong with public education. I grew up in a very progressive area, have liberal family and friends and only knew a handful of conservatives or libertarians, none of whom were people I cared for that much. However, for purely intellectual reasons, the more I looked at the problem, the more all the answers that came out were “right wing.” This is the essential core paradox of modern American education politics, if you advocate change in how public education operates, you are a conservative. If you shout about the welfare of teachers as if that job description automatically translates to saint status and are opposed to charter schools, online schools, vouchers, tenure reform or any other solution that would better serve students and want the system to remain as it has largely been for one hundred years, you’re a progressive. It’s bizarre.

If you’ve read what I’ve just written, you could understandably write me off as someone with an axe to grind. Sure, there is a bit of that. I was bullied non stop by both staff and students at schools, having large backpacks and barbells thrown at my head. I saw incompetent and abusive staff hit kids, badmouth disabled children and bounce around from school to school, just like the infamous “Rubber Rooms” made famous by the film Waiting for Superman. That’s what the SEIU seeks to preserve and charter schools and tenure reform are what they seek to oppose. Ever wonder why so many school violence occurs? It’s not about guns, as easy as it is to blame that. It’s because bullying is routine and educational establishments are more concerned with paychecks, logistics and technocratic issues than making sure children are in a safe, encouraging environment that doesn’t resemble a downgraded prison.

If you understand that sentiment, try projecting it to other issues. On a national level, progressives appear as austere, condescending, judgmental technocrats who want the broad populace to adhere to their standards without ever taking the time to understand where the people they make demands of are coming from. Nobody likes to be talked to like they’re stupid and as long as progressives continue along that line, books like What’s the Matter With Kansas?, asking why on earth so much of America votes against its economic self-interest, will be written by folks that have two feet permanently locked in an echo chamber.

Genghis touches exactly on this when he says, “Not only do many people here ignore the larger world that simply does not buy into many liberal ideas, they don't even attempt to persuade one another, preferring to insult the very people that they need to on their side.” That reminds me all too much of a professor I had, a disciple of the 1960s Bay Area school of left wing demagoguery. I had actually met him right after working for a conservative think tank, where I had become disillusioned upon hearing the n-word regularly leveled by a co-worker, right in proximity to one of the country’s worst urban ghettoes and during a time when reports came out of Tea Partiers hurling that same epithet at members of congress.

Coming back to the Bay Area to finally finish my Bachelor’s Degree, I wanted to help out minorities. The disgust of being in such proximity to full-on racists made me feel guilty. I had seen up close that the level of flat out racist groups on the right was rising and wanted to expose it. This journalism professor saw my interest in the subject as racist itself, shouted the n-word several times at me and literally drove me to the point of swearing back and quitting his class, something I hadn’t done before. I was there, ripe for taking and conversion, and this guy was so hooked on demonizing everyone that moved that he couldn’t help but do it again. The piece that I wrote on white nationalists in the Bay Area eventually got published at Little Green Footballs. I'm actually quite proud of it. I’ll let you decide if it was racist or not.

In contrast to the Left’s technocracy and condescension, the Right talks to the personal. While the Left makes films about global warming and talks about carbon footprints and sustainability, the Right appeals to everyday people through figures like Pat Robertson, Billy Graham and Rick Warren, who largely spend their shows and sermons instructing their audience on how to live their everyday lives for their betterment.

If one reflects truly on the successful progressive movements in American history, it seems quite fitting that they talked to the personal. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. portrayed racial equality as befitting to simple, basic decency. Southern populists like Huey Long succeeded in building public works by portraying hoarders of wealth as selfish and stealing from the people. They didn't belittle those they were trying to convince or make them feel like pions.

This is really all basic psychology. You're not going to convince someone of anything by screaming at them and making them feel like dirt. That so many overeducated people seem to have lost this concept is pretty damning for those who exalt education.

Add to Technorati FavoritesShare