In the latest New Yorker, John Cassidy writes:
In my neck of artisanal, hormone-free Brooklyn, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, which shows Mitt Scissorhands leading “The First Gay President” by three points, landed with a nasty thud. “I can’t believe he might lose,” my wife said when she spotted the offending numbers on the Web. “People are really willing to vote for Mitt Romney? They hate Obama so much they’d vote for Romney?”
The rest of the article is an attempt to fire up the troops, an exhortation to liberals to take the threat seriously but not to be afraid, because it doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot yet. But I focus on the paragraph above because I think it captures the essence of a certain liberal mindset, what we might call the Pauline Kael syndrome.
You may remember that Pauline Kael, film critic at that very same New Yorker, whose lengthy tenure there (1968-1991) was extremely influential in shaping the viewpoints of the cognoscenti, was supposed to have said, in response to Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, “that she ‘couldn’t believe Nixon had won’, since no one she knew had voted for him.”
Kael’s real quote appears to have been more nuanced. As best we can tell, she may have actually said this:
I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.
That’s a more interesting statement because it owns up to its own insularity. The speaker is well aware that she lives in an echo chamber in which she not only is not exposed to other viewpoints, but can’t even fathom them. Whether she would like to understand better or not is another question; my impression is that the speaker is rather proud of only associating with the elite, and really isn’t interested in finding out what the great unwashed might think, or why. I read into her remarks a certain disdain for those who voted for Nixon; whatever their reasons might be, they certainly couldn’t have been good.
That’s where Cassidy and his wife come in, all these long years later. There’s the same kneejerk dismissal of the views of others, the same concomitant inability to understand them and reluctance to try (conservatives may be intolerant of the views of liberals, or even hate them, and certainly can misunderstand them, but my distinct impression is that they spend an inordinate amount of time at least trying to fathom them, and tend to know many liberals rather well).
The assumption is that no one could possibly have rational reasons to vote for the obviously—obviously what? hateful? incompetent? evil?—Romney, and so the only impetus for supporting him must be hatred of Obama. Which brings us to another interesting point: people who will be voting for Romney are assumed not to merely disapprove of what Obama has done or not done as president, but to hate him. The motive is personal, malevolent—and quite possibly racist (although the article doesn’t say that). Politics as pure emotion.