Monday, February 28, 2005

Right Wing, Left Wing, Chicken Wing

Christmas Aitch Keerist on a cracker! This just goes to show that people are not walking around identifying as right or left in their everyday lives (people who do not live in certain rarified college towns, I imagine). This settles it. I'm going on vacation. It can't be as bad as all that, can it? Maybe it can.

To wit:
The Harris polling agency last week released the results of an interesting study. In a survey of 2,209 adults, they discovered that most Americans only have the vaguest idea of the meaning of two important pairs of words that play crucial roles in the national political discourse: conservative and liberal, and left and right.

Some of the numbers are surprising. According to the survey, 37 percent of Americans think liberals oppose gun control, or else they are not sure if liberals oppose gun control. Likewise, 27 percent of respondents thought a right-winger was someone who supported affirmative action. Furthermore, the survey showed that respondents generally viewed the paired concepts liberals and left-wingers and conservatives and right-wingers as possessing, respectively, generally similar political beliefs – with one caveat. In both cases, respondents were roughly 10 percent more clueless about left-wingers and right-wingers than they were about liberals and conservatives.

"The label left-winger is broadly perceived to be similar to liberal," the agency concluded, "except that more people are not sure what it means."

Hoo! You cannot make this stuff up, friends! Tell me more!
Respondents were asked to define the labels according to what their positions were on seven "political issues": abortion rights, gun control, cutting taxes, gay rights, same-sex marriage, affirmative action and moral values. This list of issues is preposterous in itself as a symbolic reflection of the political landscape, but that's a discussion for another time. To me the most instructive category was "moral values." According to the survey, 78 percent of respondents believe conservatives support moral values, while only 40 percent said the same about left-wingers. In fact, 29 percent said they believed left-wingers actually opposed moral values.

God, I just want to marry that last sentence. 29 percent said they believed left-wingers actually opposed moral values. Beautiful. Wingers just don't mince judgment, do they? At least I deign to patronize them for being mislead, misinformed, and, to paraphrase Mr. Summers, not so bright. They can't help. They were raised that way. (Tongue planted firmly in cheek, wingers.)

The writer is a clever monkey though:
When I see someone called a leftist or left-leaning in print, I'm never sure whether they're talking about an actual communist, or just some timorous capitalist yuppie whom David Brooks spotted drinking a latte, or standing in line to see Cinema Paradiso. Politically, it's just not a very concise definition.

Teehee. Sadly, he's ends on a sharp note. It cuts because it's true.
Obviously there's no way to really stop a group of people bent on demonizing dissenters by the tireless use of some all-encompassing, Satanic label. When even Nancy Pelosi can be described as a "left-wing torch-thrower" (a small California paper used that term last week), it's pretty clear the word is more meant as an insult, to describe a fuzzy-headed refusal to accept patriotic orthodoxy, than it is to refer to a concrete set of political beliefs.

But at some point it says something about you if you allow these labels to stick. Either the left is not being very clear about the winning politics that it stands for, or else the word accurately describes a secret willingness to be constantly abused by bigots, a market niche full of bashful subscribers to Total Pussy Weekly. Because nothing else makes the American left look worse; it can't even change your mind about its name, much less change the world.