For several years now we have heard much of the plague of “low information voters” — those legions of the supposedly ignorant who walk, clueless on the issues, into our polling places, casting their votes for candidates the details of whose programs are as familiar to them as quantum mechanics.
But we may have a more significant problem. There are a number of people who are at least somewhat cognizant of quantum mechanics to whom the details of the issues of the day are just as unfamiliar — the modern liberal intelligentsia. I’m not talking about the punditocracy here, the Thomas Friedmans of the world, who are certainly aware of the issues (well, more or less) even if they evaluate them in peculiar ways. I’m talking about the workaday liberal, the well-educated professionals who are our friends, relatives and neighbors. They are, increasingly, low information voters, living in willful or perhaps willed blindness.
In a recent months I have been startled by many examples of this. In a casual conversation, an Ivy League graduate and author of several best-selling books asked me what I meant by “quantitative easing,” although it has been one of the keys to the economic policies of the last half-dozen years. Since the man is highly intelligent, my conclusion was he didn’t want to know about such details because they would lead to him having to examine long-held assumptions, assumptions it would be uncomfortable to question for a whole set of reasons. Remember, these are people who voted for Obama, twice, and now are just becoming aware that many of us consider him the worst president ever and have pretty good reasons. And the public is beginning to agree with us. This is hard to process.
This cognitive problem was even more evident to me at a breakfast of friendly acquaintances this weekend when I brought up the beheading in Oklahoma. The liberals at the table were only tangentially aware of it and then all too eager to dismiss it as “workplace violence.” I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray and started to talk to them — most of the group were lawyers — about Islam and jihad, reiterating many details that many of us know, that — unlike the Bible — the Koran was a verbatim dictation from Allah, making reform difficult, and that the latter portions superseded the earlier more pacifistic sections and demanded violent jihad of its adherents. This was all news to these educated people, even though we are thirteen years past 9/11. You would have thought they would have studied this subject a bit, but it was clear they didn’t want to. They listened politely as I talked, but I could see I was disturbing them with information they had no interest in hearing, so I eventually shut up.
Now these are likable people who are decent or better to friends and family, but they are monumentally square and unsophisticated. They grew up up in an environment where certain, now highly old-fashioned, liberal views not only were cool, they were the veritable given, donnée as the French would say, of their society, so they are constitutionally unable to reexamine them. Change is difficult for all of us. Few achieve any kind of growth. But we are surrounded by a generation of people whose ideas are stuck in 1968, though most of them were just little kids at the time and too young to participate. Nevertheless, being stuck, they are loath to see what is going on around them. They are terrified of it, lest they suffer from alienation of friends and family, loss of work, even personality disintegration. So they watch MSNBC and nod when some reactionary nitwit says the decapitation in Oklahoma was nothing more than “workplace violence” when the perpetrator had converted to Islam in prison only months before and posted beheadings to his Facebook page.
These people remind me of Jews — many of them are Jews, sadly — who would be saying that we should be understanding and negotiating with the Germans at the very moment they were being summarily marched into the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Too strong? No, it’s not. The liberals we know and love, most of them anyway, aren’t bad people. They’re just so scared of what’s happening they can’t think.
Related: Ed Driscoll on “Dispatches From the Reality-Based Community.”