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On talking to conservatives

Have you ever noticed that dogmatic conservatives always act like it must be the first time you’ve ever heard their ideas? It’s as though they believe that they’re so inherently convincing that the only reason anyone wouldn’t believe them is that they simply haven’t heard the good news yet. Then when you — a reasonably well-informed person who’s heard of conservative ideas before and become well-acquainted with the deadening sameness of all the arguments — respond skeptically, it’s because you’re close-minded. If you point out that they have very dogmatic beliefs, they note that you, too, had opinions before this conversation started, so you’re just as bad as them. (This is a particularly annoying version of the trial logic in everyday life conundrum I pointed out a few years ago.)

It’s like playing against a chess master in reverse: they always have a move to counter you, but they all tend toward putting themselves in checkmate, at which point they declare victory because you obviously don’t have any moves left.


June 8, 2009 - Posted by | boredom


  1. I assume that “dogmatic” is doing the work here, rather than “conservative”. (There might be an argument from conservativsm to dogmatism, but it’s still the dogmatism that’s objected to.)

    E.g. sometimes it seems nearly impossible to try to disabuse a dogmatic liberal of what Kevin Carson calls vulgar liberalism. I grant that some of this difficulty might come from the lib’s previous experience in dealing with cons–“Oh yeah, sure, the government is evil… I know where this ends up: war, cutting welfare for the poor and not the wealthy, etc.”

    (There is also a strain of dogmatic independent who will maintain that libs and cons, or Ds and Rs, are both bad, but then will resist any attempt to investigate in which ways one group is worse. For them “a pox on both parties” is the destination, not the origin, of political critique. I personally dislike these types the most (I’d include glibertarians here), because they give non-dog inds a bad name.)

    I think it would benefit all non-dogmatic liberals to wallow in dogmatic liberalism and seek out non-dogmatic conservatives, if only in that it might help them be less jaded. Also, ime, it can be great fun.

    One of my past times is to spend a few hours in the comment threads at DKos, Think Progress, etc. and also Hot Air, Red State, LGF, etc. It’s hilarious and nearly unbelievable how many perfectly parallel arguments are made on both sides (many are terrible, but many are sound (cons think that the Repubs have sold them out and are largely just using them… I think that is correct (though obvs I think the solution isn’t greater fealty to Limbaugh, et al., but rather a rejection of fealty, trust, loyalty, etc. in the political sphere)).

    Comment by Currence | June 8, 2009

  2. (Actually, I don’t know if I’d put glibertarians in the dogmatic independent category. Ignore that line if you can think of a good reason to.)

    Comment by Currence | June 8, 2009

  3. I’d say there’s more of the “conservative” doing the work here than you’d admit, Currence–the modern conservative movement largely rests on dogmatic adherence to a few key tenets, particularly the idea that taxes are always and forever a bad thing and must be lowered in any and all circumstances. I guess it’s theoretically possible to separate the two, but even “moderate” conservatives tend to not give an inch on the tax thing.

    I don’t really see an equivalent on the other side, certainly not in the post you linked to. The Daily Kos posters’ point seems to be that government is the best (and perhaps only) check we have on corporate power. Carson’s counterargument seems to be that government often isn’t a very good check on said power, but that doesn’t really disprove the argument.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | June 8, 2009

  4. Now that I think about it, the “liberal media bias” bullshit might be part of why conservatives assume no one is hearing the conservative message. We’ve all been brainwashed, and they’re here to save us!

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 8, 2009

  5. Yes to the “this idea is doubtless totally new to you” thing (which to be fair, young lefties often share) and the “liberal media bias” bullshit. Also the tendency to just fall back on talking points rather than presenting any kind of actual reasoning or thought. Infuriating.

    Comment by bitchphd | June 8, 2009

  6. Liberals have their own set of tired dogmas, especially on foreign policy, liberal internationalism, etc. And the kinds of conversations liberals have with leftists are often tedious and irritating in the same way that conversations between conservatives and liberals are. I learned long ago to stop talking politics with conservatives, and I eventually learned to stop talking politics with liberals. Life is just a lot less obnoxious that way.

    Comment by strasmangelo jones | June 8, 2009

  7. Michael,

    Carson’s [left-libertarian] point isn’t just that government isn’t a very good check on corporate power, it’s that corporate power is itself a product of the state. Corporations only have the power they do because of an edifice of law and regulation that acts to shore up and sustain that power.

    Comment by Matt McGrattan | June 9, 2009

  8. …but then will resist any attempt to investigate in which ways one group is worse

    I’ll say: liberals are worse. They are worse because they now practice identity politics much more than conservatives, and the original purpose of identity politics (to fight oppression) has long been forgotten; now it’s identity politics for the sake of identity politics.

    Conservatives are much more class-conscious, and that’s less worse – even though they are on the wrong side.

    Comment by abb1 | June 9, 2009

  9. It’s the libertarians who talk to me like I’ve never heard their ideas before, like they’ve been handed some wisdom that they just have to share. The conservatives I know are much more cynical than their evangelizing cousins: your lily-livered socialism works *on paper* (whatever that means), of course, and is such a nice idea but people just don’t work that way; people are just naturally greedy and exploitative and violent and one day you’ll grow up and start listening to Rush Limbaugh like the rest of us adults.

    Comment by John | June 9, 2009

  10. Matt,

    I understand that–I -agree- with that, for what it’s worth. I just don’t think it negates the original point–yes, corporate power in large part stems from laws and regulations created by the state. That still leaves gov’t as the most effective check on corporate power. How much of a check that is in reality is going to vary, and corporations will attempt to influence the process every step of the way.

    Now, one -could- make the argument that governments simply can’t act as effective mediators because of this, I guess, but I don’t find that argument very convincing–labor power -also- grows out of the laws and regulations concerning collective bargaining and strikes and so on. But so what? I just don’t find Carson’s point to be as devastating as he thinks it to be, especially given that most liberals (under any definition on the term you want to use) would readily agree with him.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | June 9, 2009

  11. They are worse because they now practice identity politics much more than conservatives, and the original purpose of identity politics (to fight oppression) has long been forgotten; now it’s identity politics for the sake of identity politics.


    Counter-evidence: Palin, the attacks on Sotomayor, Thomas, Steele. Just off the top of my head.

    Comment by bitchphd | June 9, 2009

  12. Sotomayor is counter-evidence? Why was she nominated, anyway? She is not a leftist; she is a moderate, pragmatic, “split the difference” judge, she’ll be a “swing justice”. That’s a pure identity politics for no other reason whatsoever. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

    Yeah, the Republicans do it too now. But not as enthusiastically; you can see that they are faking it.

    Comment by abb1 | June 9, 2009

  13. Yeah, it’s really a shocking pick, given Obama’s doctrinaire leftism in all his previous appointments.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | June 9, 2009

  14. Um, she was nominated because she’s got a strong record of cautious, pragmatic rulings, because she’s a moderate judge with a liberal personal bent–so far, *exactly* the kind of thing Obama values politically–because she’s *more qualified* than any current sitting SCOTUS judge was at the time of their nomination, and because yes, she represents demographics (women, Latinos) that form large parts of the American population and have been shockingly underrepresented on the Supreme Court.

    In what way is this “identity politics”?? In what way is that somehow “no [good] reason”?

    I’m sorry, but arguing that Sotomayor’s appointment is because of her race/gender, and that none of her other qualifications are relevant, is entirely racist. It demonstrates that the person making that claim does, in fact, apply a different standard to women/people of color than it does to white men–whose backgrounds and personal experiences get to be promoted as part of their “qualifications” without anyone batting a goddamn eyeball.

    Comment by bitchphd | June 9, 2009

  15. Really? You really do believe that she was picked for non-superficial reasons? Not only that, but also that to think otherwise is entirely racist? That if I assume that she was picked because of her race/gender then it has to be, it must be because I apply a different standard to women/people of color? Talk about dogmatic.

    Comment by abb1 | June 9, 2009

  16. No; if you think that *her* being picked b/c of her race gender is an issue, but the selection of white males b/c of *their* race/gender isn’t, then you’re being racist.

    Comment by bitchphd | June 9, 2009

  17. For example: do you think that Roberts was picked for “non-superficial” reasons? Alito? Thomas? Or do they get a pass because they’re white men (and therefore their qualifications don’t get pooh-poohed) or, in Thomas’s case, because it’s okay with the Republicans nominate someone on the basis of race?

    Comment by bitchphd | June 9, 2009

  18. This is precisely why talking with liberals becomes tedious and irritating.

    Comment by stras jones | June 9, 2009

  19. Listen, all I am saying is that I believe that what happened there was that some equivalent of Karl Rove called his lackeys and told them to find a Hispanic woman for the nomination.

    And that I object to this MO, while most of the liberals believe that this approach is what being liberal is all about.

    For all I know, she might have the IQ of 300 and know by heart all the law books in the library, but it doesn’t matter at all. SCOTUS judges don’t do research or write opinions – their clerks do. All that matters is her ideology, what kind of outcomes she will order her clerks to justify. I want that to be the criterion.

    Comment by abb1 | June 10, 2009

  20. This just keeps getting better.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | June 10, 2009

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