Thursday, December 15, 2005


What Liberal Establishment?

One interesting challenge we liberals face in getting our message out comes from two fundamental realities about the "establishment" -- the mainstream media, the beltway chattering classes, etc.:

(1) When it comes to individual positions on the issues of the day, modulo their positions on a few social issues (and even on many social issues, when the consequences of ideas are made explicit or even when the issue finally hits close to home, most people usually overcome what lingering prejudices and are more liberal than they or others would imagine them to be), the "establishment" positions tend to be on the conservative side of the range of "mainstream" positions

(2) The establishment, however, perceives themselves (and others perceive them) as being on the liberal side of the mainstream

Point #1 by itself should neither surprise nor concern us. While at various points in history, the establishment can and must take the lead in ensuring necessary social and political progress occurs for the masses (and the argument that just because the majority doesn't want to expand rights rights should not be expanded by the establishment taking the lead in social progress goes against the very idea of a Constitutional republic), the establishment is obviously going to, at least out of self-interest, support the status quo in which they are the established -- i.e. they are going to be conservative. Thus, we as liberals should hope that the middle of the mainstream is typically more liberal than the establishment. Also, there is something to be said for establishment conservativism: if a society is working well, then, even as some folks are trying to figure out how to make it work better for more people, some people need to have an interest in making sure that at least things that ain't broke aren't fixed so as to maintain the social structures that are working so well.

Point #2 alone also is not that much of a problem. So what if the "Man" thinks himself to be on the side of progress? Even if this delusion is the result of right-wingers trying to play the refs so that the hopelessly objective and middle of the road will give the right a too fair hearing lest they be perceived as too far to the left, this plan can backfire and the "Man" might actually buy into his progressiveness in a constructive way and actually do something to promote progress.

The problem comes in the malignant interaction between the perception and the reality. Except perhaps (and that is a very definite perhaps) on a few, hot botton social issues, the establishment is really more conservative than the mainstream. But they -- whether because they wish they were good, liberal folks (and there ain't nothin' wrong with striving to be open-minded, etc.) or because the right's ref working has convinced them they are more liberal than they are -- really do perceive themselves as liberals. And because they tell everyone they are liberal (often in not so many words, but the message is clear) and, as independent minded as we all like to think we are, we humans are social animals who look to group-think and figures of authority to help define who we are in relation to others, everybody perceives what the media says as what liberals say. Thus, even if people, when challenged to think through issues as individuals, are more liberal than the establishment, even when doing the private act of voting, people are afraid to be as liberal in terms of candidate selection, etc., as they really are on the issues because, the human desire to be "crazy" and "wild" excepted, they want to be "mainstream" ... so if the media, etc., clearly stand one way, people will tend to automatically shift to the right of that since they believe the media to represent the liberal side.

I know this sort of thing has been said many times in many ways before ... and now with the "liberal" NPR thinking it is being fair and balanced in its use of think-tanks for information about the issues of the day (with which I have no problem per se -- that's what think tanks are for ... to think about these things) when it has numbers it publicizes showing it to be biased to the right in its choice of sources, it will be said again. But the question is, given how perception and reality are clashing, what can we liberals do to change the mass delusion from which this country suffers? How do we break this cognative dissonance that the right has been working so hard to establish?

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