But it is certainly quite easy to be a political liberal these days—being a conservative is a much more difficult task. Allow me to elucidate the truth that contemporary political liberalism plays to our fallen natures quite well.
One of the key features of contemporary liberalism is the denial of accountability. Many years ago, I wrote this piece (which I reproduced here under “Other Writings from My Brain” in 2006, but which had its genesis in 2001) entitled The Essence of Liberalism. We by nature don’t want to be held accountable. Government programs almost invariably fail tests of effectiveness and common sense, but they persist because liberals succeed in playing to emotions rather than to thinking (to that in a moment). Scrutinize the cost/benefit analysis of most government programs, and the result is almost always the same, but close scrutiny of such is not a hallmark of liberalism; in fact, the opposite is true. In fact, Socialist Security does not work in any meaningful sense of the term (well, unless you think Ponzi schemes “work”, which I suppose they do for awhile), despite its popularity, but liberals succeed in convincing people that it’s a legitimate program worthy of our continued support. But it’s easy being liberal, because nobody by nature likes to have the heat and light of accountability turned upon them.
Another key feature is that contemporary liberalism eschews deep thinking in favor of deep feeling. This is not to say that all liberals are idiots (they are certainly not), nor that all conservatives are deep thinkers (many conservatives lead with their feelings as much as any liberal does). But this said, liberalism almost universally elevates feeling over thinking; it is “sentimentality over substance.” It will rally the troops around causes that seem worthwhile on the surface, the rationale of which withers away, however, upon closer and deeper examination. Ironically, conservatism is ultimately more compassionate than liberalism will ever be; well do I remember George Will rightly excoriating George W. Bush for the employment of his trademark phrase “compassionate conservatism”, Will noting that Bush seemed to think that those two juxtaposed words were something other than a redundancy, when in fact they are not.
One need look no further than this humble blog, it seems to me, to see this illustrated. Generally speaking—and I acknowledge that this is a small and unrepresentative sample of the whole of liberaldom—when conservatives have attempted to offer rational arguments, these have been met in kind by liberals who employ ad hominem attacks, red herrings, and emotion-based argumentation.
Again, it bears being said that there are strains of conservatism which attempt to do the same thing—and this impulse ought to be regularly confronted by true conservatives who understand that the facts are on our side, and that to settle for emotional ploys and surface thinking—even in the service of ends which can be empirically proven to be true—serve to hinder, and not help, the cause.
Liberalism appeals to the utopian impulsive in all of us—but in so doing, it acts upon a world and a humanity of its imagination rather than upon the real world in which we live. Liberalism misunderstands human nature at nearly every turn. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in the preface to Superfreakonomics, their follow-up to the wildly-successful Freakonomics, have this to say:
“If pressed, you could boil (the premise of Freakonomics) down to four words: people respond to incentives. If you wanted to get more expansive, you might say this: People respond to incentives, although not necessarily in ways that are predictable or manifest. Therefore, one of the most powerful laws in the universe is the law of unintended consequences. This applies to schoolteachers and Realtors and crack dealers as well as expectant mothers, sumo wrestlers, bagel salesmen, and the Ku Klux Klan.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if the world actually was the way liberals imagine it to be? Wouldn’t it be great if people really were born good, and that liberal programs and government regulation could effect in them a change for the better? Wouldn’t it be great if there weren’t really evil in the world and inside the hearts of people? Wouldn’t it be great if by nature we responded to these things instead of incentives to help ourselves? Maybe…but we don’t, yet liberals, who fundamentally misunderstand human nature, keep building ideas on wishful thinking rather than on the real world. But don’t we all wish the world were different? It’s easy to be liberal because it’s fun to wish.
Finally, it’s easy being a contemporary liberal because liberalism is continually finding new ways of thinking and acting. Put another way, liberalism is a progressive disease. Lacking any consistent measuring stick for its policies, liberalism is involved in the continual search for the new and the novel, whereas while conservatism might introduce new ideas (the FairTax comes to mind), those ideas are grounded in principles that are ages-old. We see this in both economic policy and social policy. Ideas we once would have considered borderline crazy (“gay marriage” comes to mind, as well as the ludicrous idea that animals have “rights”, to name a couple) are accepted, then aggressively promoted, by liberals, and the sky is really the limit (or, better put, the imaginations of liberals determined to make a “better world”, a liberal utopia). And who doesn’t like the new and the novel?
It may not be easy being green, but it really is easy being liberal, because to be a conservative is to fight against lazy thinking, accountability-shunning, emotionalism, and all sorts of other things which appeal to our baser natures but which in the end will be the death of us.