The Right's Condescension Phobia

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JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 25, 2010

The Right's Condescension Phobia

Earlier I noted of the health care summit that the Republicans in attendance seem to be divided between those who have no data at their disposal and those who have incorrect data. It is therefore difficult for President Obama, who obviously has a deep command of the issue, to engage with those Republicans without somewhat projecting condescension.

John Podhoretz shoots back:

Here’s how. By not being condescending. That’s how.

Let me try to explain this in a way that Podhoretz hopefully will not deem condescending. Suppose he was engaged in a panel discussion about, say, this history of neoconservatism with a bunch of left-wingers. And suppose that these left-wingers insisted on either repeating slogans about shedding American blood for Israel or, for the few who tried to delve into the topic, made errors like calling William F. Buckley a neoconservative. Could Podhoretz get through the discussion without condescension? I have my doubts. This, I would argue, was equivalent to Obama's task at the health care summit today.

The right-wing obsession with being condescended to is something I have trouble understanding. One of the perks of my job is that I spend a lot of time speaking to extremely intelligent people who educate me about subjects they know a lot more than I do. I never feel condescended to. If I'm delving into a subject I've never studied in any depth, I often ask them to treat me like an ignoramus. What is wrong with people attempting to explain things in simple terms? Anger at condescending liberals seems to burn deep within the hearts of conservatives in ways that I fail to understand.

I can really only remember feeling condescended to one time in my life. It was a conversation involving one of the dumbest people I've ever met -- a person whose stupidity was legion, the subject of widespread jokes for years. When that person treated me like I was a slow-witted child, I got a little steamed. But I don't get the right-wing's chronic anger when highly intelligent people like Al Gore and Barack Obama try to speak to the average American about complex issues while assuming, correctly, that the audience may not have much information about the subject at hand.

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posted in: jonathan chait, barack obama, john podhoretz, william f. buckley

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