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Self-Righteousness on a Bumper Sticker

A slogan with so many layers of arrogance that it deserves a careful dissection.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

October 17, 2009 - 12:00 am

I was driving through downtown Boise the other day and saw two bumper stickers on the same car that really captured a tremendously smug self-righteousness. No, it didn’t attack homosexuality or socialism. I think we can say with some certainty that the owner of the car wasn’t a member of the religious right.

On the right side of the bumper was the sticker that has become de rigueur in Boise, near Boise State University: “Blue Girl, Red State.” (What? Not “Blue Woman, Red State” or “Blue Womyn”? I’ll be nice and assume that Idaho Democrats aren’t quite as crazy as those on the coasts, and so they can use an un-PC term like “girl.”) On the left side of the bumper was a sticker that gave me my marching orders: “Don’t Assume That I Share Your Prejudices.”

This is a bumper sticker breathtaking in its arrogance — and it has so many layers of arrogance that it deserves a careful dissection. (I would prefer to perform a vivisection on the phrase, without anesthetic, just to hear the underlying smugness screaming in pain, but the SPCA — the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Arrogance — would come after me.)

The first level of arrogance is that the assumption that anyone who lives in Idaho is likely to be prejudiced. Huh? One of the great surprises that a lot of people receive when they move to Idaho is how really unprejudiced this place is. One of my wife’s students adopted a black child several years ago — and no one here has ever expressed any suspicion, discomfort, or even surprise that a white couple would adopt a black child. (When he went to Atlanta some years ago, there was a lot of negativity — from black people.)

I am also quite pleased at how little in the way of prejudicial remarks about race or ethnicity I have heard, especially compared to living in California. I’ve lived here since late 2001 and I’ve heard one person express a stereotype about blacks and one person express a stereotype about Jews. When my daughter was working on her social work degree, one of her professors described her considerable research on Idaho attitudes and was similarly surprised at how free of racial and even sexual orientation prejudices this state is. There may well be a lot more prejudice that people keep to themselves. But if no one expresses those feelings, is it like the tree that falls in the forest, but there’s no one there to hear it?

The second level of arrogance in that bumper sticker is the implicit assertion: “I’m not prejudiced. Only you are.” I never cease to be amazed at how many liberals are convinced that they are free of human frailties and weaknesses — including prejudice. You want to see liberal prejudice? Let it drop that you attend church — and watch how rapidly the assumption gets made that you are poorly educated, think the Earth is 6,000 years old, believe that every species was created in its current form, and support mandatory prayer in public schools. One of my professors in California — an otherwise properly liberal feminist who went to grad school when “female professor” was still something of a novelty — made the mistake of letting it drop in casual conversation with colleagues that she had started attending church. She soon found that admitting such a weird behavior was a source of amusement and even some razzing.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who compared Republican proposals for health care reform to the Holocaust? Look, we disagree about the best way to accomplish a noble goal — getting everyone insured — but this assumption that only Democrats care about suffering is so incredibly blind in its arrogance that I can’t even be angry at him. Mostly, I feel sorry for Grayson that he has been paying so little attention to alternative proposals.

I guess the ultimate expression of this liberal self-righteousness comes from Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR’s Prairie Home Companion. After the 2004 election, he proposed that “born-again Christians” should lose the right to vote. His latest exercise in self-righteousness is the following statement: “Republicans should be cut out of the health care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off health care to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.” I mean, if we don’t agree with him on exactly how to reform health care, then we deserve to die. I’m reminded of the Nazis’ T4 program, which was a bit more active in its methods, but motivated by the same certitude and with the same goal: mass extermination of those not fit to live.

I remember a time when I found the tone of Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority just a bit too self-righteous. But compared to what liberalism has become in the last few years, Falwell doesn’t seem half so bad.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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