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What are liberals so afraid of?

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted January 17, 2011

The outpouring of hatred triggered by the Arizona shooting is different from the usual animosity from liberal ranks. This time, there's a definite admixture of fear. There are some liberals who have tried to take the high road; in so doing, they ignored "excesses" on their own side. But the ones who are belting out do show they're scared of something. Which leads to the question, what are they so afraid of? Rush Limbaugh, the "harmless little fuzzball?" Glenn Beck? The Tea Party, home of the protests where the protesters pick up their own trash? Sarah Palin, at her nastiest when she kidded with her kids about Michelle Obama's no-junk-food campaign?

The obvious answer, given which party won last year's Congressional elections, is "they're afraid of losing power." That answer doesn't fit the way they act when they are out of power. Back when the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, liberals weren't afraid; their hatreds were admixed with anger. President Bush was called all sorts of bad names. There was even a teenager who outright threatened to kill George W. Bush back in 2004. Did liberals tone it down in consequence, or did they keep on doing their thing? Obviously, the latter. Did they turn the doctrine of collective guilt on themselves? No; they just kept on with their own vitriol. Threats, even of his life, continued all through the rest of Bush's Presidency - including threats that were not part of protests. Liberals did not tone it down as a result, and that climate hasn't changed. Death threats against Sarah Plain have spiked.

I could point to the partiality, which is having definitely uncivil consequences, but I want to point to the lack of fear.

They could have been made afraid by the violence perpetrated by the psychotic Jared Lee Loughner. Six dead and fourteen wounded in a quiet meeting-place is going to strike fear in any normal person. A Safeway is far from being an urban trouble zone. The random character of the bloodshed – whose cause was Loughner's mental illness – does add to the fear. This cause is plausible, but not accurate. Had liberals feared the insane going postal, they would have clamoured for a "less insane" (stricter, better-funded) commitment policy in the state of Arizona like this mental-health professional is hinting at.They could have even blamed the Arizona Republicans for being too lenient on violent psychotics, or the authorities for not using the commitment tools in place. In the wake of the massacre, they didn't.

Their fear could be latent guilt about their own vitriolic flourishes. That's dubious, because guilt-ridden liberal tend to moralize – i.e., pass the buck. There's been little guilt-mongering in their hysterical outbursts. The poor nine-year-old girl who got killed has not been turned into a bloody shirt.

No, none of these fit. Below are some possibilities that do:

  1. Fear of a Newfound Populism. Back in the days when most conservatives frowned on populism, the term meant "demanding something from the government." Back then, it was fairly easy to be a liberal. Throw the demanders some government money, or a new law, or a combination of both. Like a stockbroker with a well-oiled sales pitch, a liberal politician knew what to do when tempers rose amongst ordinary people. Theirs was the system that managed, and it usually managed to work. Liberal pundits found it easy to egg on the process.

But look at how the rules have changed since the Tea Party got rolling. There is now a large populist movement that is aimed at the government itself. More and more people are seeing the government as just another interest group. Liberals are hearing that their well-oiled management technique doesn't solve problems, it is the problem. The rules of the game that they mastered are changing right out from under them; what used to be a sandy beach for them is now quicksand. That's why the first reaction to the Tea Party was to dismiss it as a front group for large corporations. Myths like that are resorted when reality doesn't make sense anymore. Now that the "corporate front" myth is largely threadbare, there's a lot of latent fear that merely needed a spark to burst into the open. The Arizona bloodbath is that spark.

Needless to say, Sarah Palin has become the face of the new populism – hence, the fear and loathing directed at her.

  1. Fear that Conservatives Are Right About President Obama. I'm not referring to conservatives contending that Obama's a hardcore socialist, or some conservatives' suspicion that he wasn't born in the United States, or other claims that are easy to peg as partisan. I mean the claim, aired back in '08, that Obama was little more than an empty suit. A magician of rhetoric, falling to pieces when something needed to be done. A snake-oil salesman, who used slick rhetoric to gain power. Someone whose goal was merely to win the Presidency.

Look at how many Obama bumper stickers have been scratched off by now-disappointed former supporters. Their disgruntlement may abate in the wake of President Obama's widely-acclaimed speech at the victims' memorial, but it won't disappear.

This point doesn't really explain the fear, but it does explain some of the anger. To an extent, liberals are displacing their own frustration with President Obama onto conservatives.

  1. Fear of Losing Influence. Losing power is easy to take if there's a safe haven in some other arena to dust oneself off and get back into the fray. For liberals, this arena's been dominance of the culture including the mainstream media. It's no secret that these areas have been dominated by liberals for a long time. This dominance has proven to be a confidence-booster for liberals, which explains their relatively fearless anger when out of power. Observe that when these havens are shaken, like during the McCarthy years, they act afraid. As a side note, the plain fear of McCarthy's crusade makes for a noteworthy contrast to their anger over so-called "private power." Only the "public power" of Tail-Gunner Joe has truly scared them.

No successor to the Tail-Gunner is in sight. Sarah Palin shows no inclination at all to start such a crusade; nor do her Republican rivals. The likelihood of another McCarthy episode is not the cause of liberal fear; the new populism is. The mainstream media is not just liberal, it's also widely discredited. One of the liberals' well-used pull horses is going out to pasture. Consequently, they can't count on what they used to see as a safe retreat.

Especially since conservatism has grown a genuine counter-culture, once that acts more as shield then sword. The most obvious themeis "liberals can't be trusted," which is defensive in character. The old conservative Achilles heels are becoming armoured. To take a single example, look at the debunking of the global-warming myth: gone are the days when conservative would meekly defer to what's called "science" or seek refuge by becoming genuinely anti-scientific. 

Those old killer punches aren't working like they used to. No wonder liberals are feeling so vulnerable.

  1. Fear of Jared Lee Loughner As A Symbol. Needless to say, the murder of Judge Roll does not fit their narrative. Nor, despite natural sympathy, does the murder of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. On the other hand, a bullet through Rep. Giffords' brain does fit their format. The insistence of the Tea Party movement that government is part of the problem – and lots of evidence that they mean it – means liberals are now vulnerable to a lot of buck they can't pass. To put it bluntly, the Tea Party is well on its way to nailing them. Hence the hysterical contention that Laughner is a Tea Party sympathizer. Their fears substitute for facts, which tell a completely different story. Note that if their real fears squared with what they say, they would have greeted the news of his proven insanity with relief.

Of all these fears, I say the first and third are most potent. Once the Laughner-caused bloodbath fades into mourning and executed justice, expect the older scare stories to resurface: the ones that claim, say, that conservative Republicans will bring "creationism" to the classroom, or a "theocracy," or chaos through "right wing insurgency." The root of these scare stories is the fear amongst liberals that conservatives from a conservatism truly dominant would be as opportunistic as they themselves have been when they were on top.

By outlining those fears, I don't mean to ridicule them. The fear in liberals' hearts is a human fear, exhibited by a formerly dominant subculture that's clearly on the way to losing its dominance. A threatened ruling class, to put it another way.

In closing, a parenthetical note. In The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter pointed out that a reliable sign of a collapsing government is coercion – not in the formal sense, but in the tyrant's sense. The same rule applies to dominant groups that are losing their dominance. Threatened ruling classes, once pushed beyond fear, do become vicious. Thankfully, though, the real "ruling class" in America is the sovereign people. Any potent viciousness from liberals may not surface. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is currently watching the gold market. He can be reached at danielmryan@primus.ca.


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