Are conservatives meaner than liberals?
Implicit in the Left’s indictment of conservatives as racist, sexist and xenophobic is the idea that conservatives are hateful, angry and just plain mean.
The conservatives-are-mean theme has been a part of many of the Left’s recent attacks on conservatives. But what liberals portray as meanness often can more accurately be described as adherence to the conservative values of restraint, frankness and the rule of law.
At a recent Republican presidential debate, a few audience members booed when a gay soldier appeared by video to ask the candidates a question about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It was impossible to tell whether they were booing the soldier himself, the DADT policy, or the question.
It didn’t matter. The mainstream media ran stories for days about the non-event, because it reinforced their idea of conservatives as so hateful and bigoted toward gays that they would jeer a soldier.
Even President Obama felt the need to comment. At a subsequent fund-raiser for the gay-rights group the Human Rights Campaign, Obama said, “We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders … being silent when an American soldier is booed.”
This from the man who just weeks earlier refused to condemn Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa for describing conservative members of Congress as SOBs at a campaign event.
At another GOP debate, some audience members cheered Rick Perry after the Texas governor proudly stated that during his tenure, Texas executed more prisoners than any other state. This incident provoked a spate of columns by liberal pundits lamenting the GOP’s barbarity and lack of compassion.
Then there’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom the media and many liberals describe as harsh, combative and mean. Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called Christie’s governing style “mean-spirited.”
It seems like 2011 has been the year of conservative meanness. “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski criticized Republicans for looking “stupid and mean” for refusing to give in to President Obama during the debt-ceiling debate. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to “mean-spirited” Republicans during his speech against cutting funds for National Public Radio and a government-funded cowboy poetry festival.
Conservatives, naturally, are sensitive to being labeled mean or unkind. George W. Bush was self-conscious enough about it that he called his big-spending conservatism “compassionate conservatism.”
House Speaker John Boehner, a self-described “happy warrior,” has made it one of his central tasks to make sure the public sees Republicans as compassionate and kind. Boehner recently told The Hill newspaper that in the past Republicans “opened [ourselves] up to our opponents as being mean—even though we’re not.”
So, are conservatives mean? Sure, some of them are, but no more so than some liberals. The real question is, whose policies are meaner?
Liberals talk about empathy, the possession of which would seem to reduce one’s propensity for meanness, as if it were their governing virtue. They look for it in their Supreme Court justices, appeal to it in trying to justify a federal takeover of health care, and much more.
But the Left’s application of empathy is highly selective, and always leads to liberal policy prescriptions that call for more government intervention.
When conservatives are labeled “mean,” it’s usually because they oppose this or that government program meant to assist the poor, the vulnerable or the historically disadvantaged. But conservatives do not oppose giving assistance to these groups. They oppose the idea that a redistributionist government must be the one that dispenses assistance.
You’re bound to get labeled “mean” when, as in Gov. Christie’s case, you are upfront with voters about the dire necessity of restricting public pension benefits and the urgency of requiring state employees to pay their fair share of health care. What makes this meanness myth even more incredible is that on an individual basis, conservatives are more charitable than liberals. Numerous studies have shown that political and cultural conservatives (both religious and secular) tend to give more money and time to charity (though they make less money, on average, than liberals).
And, not coincidentally, conservatives are also happier, on average, than liberals, according to opinion surveys by Pew and others.
The Left will no doubt continue its decades-long tactic of depicting conservatives as cruel and nasty. But the smears won’t matter on Election Day, when the only thing most voters will be thinking about is the mean reality of liberalism’s devastation of America’s economic, cultural and moral health.