Somebody sent me a link to this piece by Emmett Rensin at Vox.
The author’s thesis is that liberals have stopped thinking and spend all their time being smug instead — but this is certainly not true of conservatives. Liberals, according to Rensin, “hate their former allies”. Conservatives, by contrast, are open-minded and persuadable. And, Rensin says, The Daily Show is a perfect example of this liberal smugness.
Well, Rensin goes wrong right there. “Smug” is not even close to the right word to describe Jon Stewart. Bill Maher is smug. Jon Stewart is, at times, almost painfully earnest. Does he make fun of people? Absolutely. But modern conservatism has so many targets that the jokes write themselves: Ben Carson and his pyramids that stored grain. Donald Trump and his claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Ted Cruz and his “Trus-Ted” slogan, when his record of public dishonesty is hard to deny. Rensin apparently thinks we are not allowed to poke fun at all this idiocy and dishonesty.
Here are some examples of liberal smug ignorance, according to Rensin: “the Founding Fathers were all secular deists”. Well, that’s clearly not so, but some were, at least during part of their life, like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. But how is this mistake worse than the conservative claim that “94 percent of the [the era of the Founders’] documents were based on the Bible” (debunked here)?
Another one: “that you’re actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder”. Perhaps the number “30” is wrong, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a significant health risk in owning a gun. And how is this mistake worse than the conservative insistence on “more guns mean less crime”? Pro-gun “researchers” such as Kleck and Lott are treated by conservatives as unimpeachable, when in fact their errors are extensively documented.
Rensin’s thesis is essentially a denigration of the importance of knowledge and facts. Who cares, Rensin says implicitly, if watching Fox News makes you less well informed? Pointing that out is just liberal smugness. Knowledge and facts are just unimportant compared to empathy and open-mindedness, which liberals today lack (while, presumably, conservatives have it in spades). Pay no attention the fact that when President Obama cited empathy as a desirable characteristic in a Supreme Court justice, conservatives jumped all over him.
Open-mindedness is a virtue — I’ll agree with that. But open-mindedness without skepticism and facts and knowledge just becomes credulity, a willingess to believe anything if it confirms your world view.
Here are just a few of the things that conservatives “know” that just ain’t so: that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet (debunked here); that Bill Clinton delayed air traffic while he was having a haircut (debunked here); that Hillary Clinton was fired from the Watergate investigation for incompetence (debunked here). Visit any conservative website, mention Al or Bill or Hillary, and you’ll only have to wait a few minutes before one of these lies is dragged out yet again. I have grad-school-educated conservative friends that proudly repeat these stories, ferchrissake.
Rensin claims that all this liberal smugness has “corrupt[ed]” them, but he gives no examples of corruption. He claims the case against conservatives is “tenuous”, but just dismisses evidence like that given above and his own article.
Rensin thinks it is somehow “smug” for atheists to point out the religious hypocrisy of Kim Davis. It is here that his argument (and I use the term generously) becomes the most unhinged. Is it really necessary to be a Christian to criticize Christians? Do you have to believe in the divinity of Jesus or be a professional theologian to point out that Kim Davis cannot find support for her actions in Christian theology? When Mike Huckabee opportunistically elbowed out Ted Cruz to be at Kim Davis’s rally, Rensin finds Huckabee genuine and admirable, instead of the pandering opportunity it clearly was.
Rensin is rhetorically dishonest. At one point he tries to refute a claim about the Ku Klux Klan by citing statistics about Stormfront.org. But these are entirely different groups.
Rensin is upset that the Daily Show is “broadcast on national television”. Has he never listened to Fox News? Or conservative radio hosts with huge audiences, like Mark Levin and Michael Savage? The vitriol and the outright lies that happen every single day in these venues make Jon Stewart look like gentle fun.
Rensin claims that only Democrats have “made a point of openly disdaining” the dispossessed. One can only make that claim by wilfully ignoring the time Donald Trump made fun of a disabled reporter, or the time a Republican congressional candidate called poor people slothful and lazy, or Mitt Romney’s comment that he could never convince 47% of the American people that “they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”.
Rensin thinks liberal smugness is going to ensure a Trump victory: “Faced with the prospect of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the smug will reach a fever pitch: six straight months of a sure thing, an opportunity to mock and scoff and ask, How could anybody vote for this guy? until a morning in November when they ask, What the fuck happened?“. Yet who is a better match for the word smug? Hillary Clinton? Bernie Sanders? Look, when even Bill Maher calls you smug, you know you’ve got smug issues.
Finally, I observe that there doesn’t seem to be any way to leave comments on Rensin’s piece. That seems pretty smug to me.