Friday, October 5, 2007


As I read conservative blogs and essays, I am reminded of the oddly humorous advertising campaign for HSBC Bank in New York from the early summer. They featured alternating photos of two objects meant to convey opposite sentiments, for example, a bulldog and a tiny chihuahua with a bow around its neck. One photo of the bulldog was superimposed with the word "love." The next photo, of the chihuahua, would have the word "loathe." The next pair would be reversed, with "loathe" over the bulldog and "love" over the chihuahua. The message was something to the effect of, whatever your preferences, our bank has something for you.

Most of the conservative commentary recently convinces me that they operate much more simply, and emotionally, than most people on the left, without the complex workings of logic. They see things that trigger either "love" or "loathe," and so it goes, back and forth, gut reactions that are developed out into world views, even theories. . .

Discussion of candidates, for example, is no more than insults of perceived personal characteristics. Policy is stereotyped: "socialized medicine," with no actual discussion of what socialism is, or why somehow "socialized police forces" are absolutely OK while government intervention in medicine is not. The key is, "socialism" equals LOATHE, the same way "military" equals LOVE. It is absolute and all the time, to the point that I get the feeling the nation is held to exist for the good of the troops, and not the other way around. If they are really "service men and service women," why, then, are we citizens supposed to serve them with total loyalty? Why if we critique war policy are we branded by the Patriot PC Police as hating the troops? Do they not realize that personal hatreds mean very little in the realm of rational policy discussion? We are concerned for the future of the country -- not some imagined "affront" to the tender feelings of people paid to defend us.

The problem with love/loathe/love/loathe is that this attitude gradually insulates its bearer from reality. One becomes lulled by habit into tuning out whatever is tagged as "loathe," and tuning in to "love." Of course this intellectual laziness infects leftists as well as rightists, with this major exception: while conservative causes appeal chiefly to emotions of love, loyalty, betrayal, and hatred, the left uses these emotions only as secondary to rational goals: medical coverage for all, etc etc. The anti-intellectualism of much of the Right -- which saw its triumph in the "know-it-all" label for Gore in 2000, while Bush's know-nothing swagger was painted as the attitude of a regular guy.

But I'll tell you one thing: nothing would bore me more on a road trip, or drinking a 6-pack -- the two scenarios which the media settled on as the key to the heart of the ordinary person in the election -- than someone with no interest in knowing more about the world. Can you imagine how long the miles would stretch with Bush?

"So, you been to China, I hear."


"What do you remember most about it?"

"The hotel. Good broccoli beef."

But lesser intellectualism does not mean these guys have more soul. That is a false equivalence. Intellect and soul are not a zero sum equation. For proof, look at Lincoln -- at his writings, at photographs of his face.

A road trip with Bush would bore me to tears. But this is not to say I would "loathe" him.

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