Arnold Kling  

The Attitude

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David Cole writes,


We, the Real Americans, in order to form a more God-Fearing Union, establish Justice as we see it, Defeat Health-Care Reform, and Preserve and Protect our Property, our Guns and our Right Not to Pay Taxes, do ordain and establish this Conservative Constitution for the United States of Real America.

Read the whole thing, which the Washington Post thought deserved prominent position in its Sunday "Outlook" section. It expresses what I call "The Attitude." With The Attitude, progressives do not take on the actual ideas expressed by conservatives or libertarians. Instead, they sneer and engage in self-congratulation.

Do all progressives display The Attitude? No, but those who do tend to achieve more prominence than those who don't. As a result, sometimes I fear that progressivism is going to degenerate into nothing but The Attitude. I think that when progressives are on the defensive, they are more likely to fall back on The Attitude. Right now, I think progressives should be thinking about where they stand with respect to large financial institutions, the long-term fiscal outlook, and the political power of public sector unions.

I am not denying that there are progressive approaches to those issues, and I would grant that conservatives and libertarians are hardly beyond reproach. But I would humbly suggest that these issues require thought, and that pieces like David Cole's are an attempt to substitute Attitude for thought.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

Certainly your definition of "The Attitude" describes this Cole guy, but a few other points oughta be made.

First, he's in all likelihood reacting to the "Attitude" that he gets from libertarians and conservatives. That introduces a chicken-and-egg problem of course. The conservatives and libertarians he has in mind are probably themselves bellicose in reaction to the "Attitude" from other liberals, ad infinitum. The point is, let's not act as if Cole writes in a vaccuum. The "Attitude" is a human thing, not a progressive thing. I think you admit as much when you say that conservatives and libertarians were beyond reproach.

What I find interesting about your definition of "the Attitude" here is that I feel like you express it on a regular basis. You wrote this, for example:

"I think that liberals see markets and government as representing different facets of human nature. The market is where we go to channel greed, aggression, and the desire to outwit and take advantage of others. The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit."

Which has always struck me as doing precisely what Cole is doing. The same with claims that progressives don't like school choice, that they think government has "mystical" powers (your words), that liberals believe that "Harvard types" who they affiliate with "are smarter than markets" (also your words), and that they "are confident that they are smarter and better educated than conservatives" (also your words).

Isn't this "not taking on the actual ideas of progressives" but instead "sneering and engaging in self-congratulation"?

I'm not in disagreement over you over Cole - I saw the article earlier this morning and had much the same reaction. I find it a little ironic that you are the one to claim this, though.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

*weren't beyond reproach.

Hyena writes:

I have to agree with Kuehn, but there's no need to repeat.

What boggles me, though, is that you actually read the Washington Post or any other newspaper, let alone know what section something appeared in.

I don't tend to see this sort of thing because I filter it all out. I suspect most people do at either the download or attention level.

buckydent writes:

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steve writes:

To the best of my knowledge, the terms "Real American" and claims about hating America belong almost exclusively on the right. Attitude is all too common on both sides. Every TV and radio blowhard exudes attitude.

Steve

8 writes:

What the progressives don't understand (nor Republicans in office) is that they are in power. The right's "attitude" comes out of alternative media and street protests. The left's attitude comes out of Washington Post, NYTimes, universities and government.

Cole has to create a fantasy world where conservatives/libertarians are in control and can enact their policies. Meanwhile, conservatives/libertarians are griping about what is in place, right now.

When people in power display the "attitude," it doesn't play well.

Tyler In Chicago writes:

Cole, and others with “The Attitude” seem similar to religious fundamentalists who are very insecure of their beliefs. As fundamentalists, they are the sole possessors of Virtue and Truth, and anyone who does not agree must necessarily be wicked and hateful. Since they are insecure, they must constantly interpret events and ‘prove’ that whatever has happened means that their views were even more correct than they knew and those who opposes them are even worse than suspected. Questions are hate speech, if they come from unbelievers.

As fundamentalists they don’t engage with or negotiate with the devil, they call him out to battle.

There are plenty of people on the right who believe the same way, but outside of talk radio they don’t have much access to the larger culture.

Cole has the front page of the Outlook section of the Washington Post

Mercer writes:

"Right now, I think progressives should be thinking about where they stand with respect to large financial institutions, the long-term fiscal outlook,"

What about the right? I don't hear about their plans to do anything about the big banks. They complain about the GSEs but don't dare to do anything about them because that would hurt home prices and bank balance sheets. The rights answer to the long term fiscal mess is cut taxes and don't touch defense or Medicare spending.

"Cole has to create a fantasy world where conservatives/libertarians are in control and can enact their policies. Meanwhile, conservatives/libertarians are griping about what is in place, right now."

There was a time when the right was in control and put their policies in place - 2003 to 2006. They now prefer to ignore this time period because they did not like the results of their policies.

Lord writes:

It's just attitude for attitude. It is well nigh impossible to engage with those who have no interest in engaging but rely on slogans and cheap ideology and are unwilling to acknowledge reality much less confront it. Republicans cater to this which works when they don't have to govern but have to abandon it to govern. Thus they become unrepresented, not because those they elect aren't in power, but because they aren't capable of changing reality to conform to their beliefs. It is quite apparent where Republicans stand with respect to large financial institutions, and the long-term fiscal outlook, and it's not good.

anon/portly writes:

I think Daniel Kuehn's comment above comparing Cole to Arnold Kling is off base. AK in the quoted part was engaging in the age-old debate about liberal/conservative views of market/government. Liberals think conservatives over-appreciate markets and under-appreciate government and conservatives think liberals over-appreciate government and under-appreciate markets. AK isn't sneering at liberals by expressing his opinion about how liberals think. He's either right or he's wrong about how liberals think. There's nothing "sneering" about having an opinion, even if it's wrong.

(Although many on both sides of these sort of debates do think that expressions of contrary opinions amount to sneers, sure).

A more obvious comparison with Cole is Ann Coulter. Cole is trying to be funny, I think. It's just that he's so witless that it's hard to tell. If this is his audition to be the left-wing Coulter, I think he should keep his day job.

David N. Welton writes:

You want to talk about attitude, you should see some of the garbage that a few on the right spew. Taken from one particular email forwarded to me, talking about liberals:

"marxist, socialist, racist ... convicted communists ... stupidity ... corrupt ... death wish ... history-devoid, denial-riddled, fantasy-driven ... ignoramuses ... whining little girls ... cowardly ... army of idiots ... wimps ... soulless"

The right has 'attitude' too.

Actually, come to think of it, where I have little common ground are the people who substitute anything for thought, as you say, be it attitude, or their own version of the bible. Unfortunately, the latter appear to constitute a significant force on the right. I can agree to disagree with some on the libertarian right; discussing facts, premises, our view of society, and basically come away from the discussion feeling like I haven't wasted my time. They may concede some points, I may concede others. However, with the "god says so" crowd, there is relatively less to talk about. Things like evidence and facts are simply not germane to their discussions.

anon/portly writes:

"First, he's in all likelihood reacting to the "Attitude" that he gets from libertarians and conservatives. That introduces a chicken-and-egg problem of course."

I don't at all get the sense that Cole is reacting to the way libertarians and conservatives express their beliefs, but simply to the fact of their beliefs. And there's no "chicken-and-egg" logic that exculpates him, there's only (of course) the "two wrongs don't make a right" logic that doesn't.

"Attitude" is not in short supply, as everyone knows. But Mr. Cole parodies an "attitude" that is far more prevalent in America than he thinks.

What if November 2010 was just the first installment of a sea change in America? Mr. Cole and Mr. Kuehn probably can't imagine such a thing, but both may be surprised again in November 2012.

Yes, yes, off-year elections often go against the incumbent majority. But what if this time it really is different? After all, the Tea Party movement is a new "exogenous" shock, as we economists are wont to put it.

In the neck of the woods where I live, the Conservative Constitution that Mr. Cole offers up isn't as far fetched as he thinks.

fundamentalist writes:
Cole, and others with “The Attitude” seem similar to religious fundamentalists who are very insecure of their beliefs. As fundamentalists, they are the sole possessors of Virtue and Truth, and anyone who does not agree must necessarily be wicked and hateful.

I'm a religious fundamentalist and don't recognize myself or any other fundamentalist in your description, other than the fact that we do have the Truth. You're engaging in the same straw man battle that Cole enjoys.

First, he's in all likelihood reacting to the "Attitude" that he gets from libertarians and conservatives.

Kuehn sounds like my little sister when she and I would fight. "He hit me!" "She hit me first!" Of course, we were five.

Kling is calling attention to the socialist mentality of sneering at the opposition instead of discussing substance. But as he knows, socialists cannot win substantive arguments, and sneering at the opposition works so much better with people of their mentality, which is stuck somewhere in junior high.

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