Because they’re afraid

By Edwin Cooney

Septemeber 26, 2013

A little more than a week ago I received the following email from a reader:

“So many of the conservative talk show hosts seem to truly hate Barack Obama, a visceral, gut-wrenching hatred that seems to go so far beyond just disagreeing with his policies. By extension, I feel that these people also hate me. Why do you think their hostility goes so deep, so far beyond just political disagreement? Are they truly so filled with hatred for people like Obama, plus you and me, that is, the have-nots, or, is it all acting, shtick and charade? Any thoughts?”

Before offering my response I must tell you two things. This reader is a friend of mine. I’m glad to have his inquiry as it gives me license to do a bit of expounding—so here it goes.

First, having been interested in both history and politics since the 1960s, I’ve done my own fair share of political hating and finger pointing.  I can remember the days when just the letter combination LBJ drove me batty. My attitude for Hubert Humphrey, a man I’ve since come to love and admire, was downright contemptuous. In recent years, however, I’ve forced myself to find something admirable about most members of the political opposition, although I find it painful to offer much of my respect for many radio and television talk show hosts—with some ideological exceptions. (To paraphrase the great conservative communicator Ronald Reagan, “there I go again!”)

Conservative and liberal talk show hosts invariably reflect the hopes, fears and values of their constituents. So, you may well ask, what is it that they reflect?

For the first century or so of our existence as a republic, between 1789 and 1900, we lived in a largely agrarian society not nearly as dependent on a cash economy as we are today. Public issues had more to do with occupational matters such as: the benefits of high verses low tariffs, the settlement of public lands, and our “manifest destiny.” Even civil rights issues such as slavery or the displacement of Native Americans had little direct effect on the way people lived their personal lives. Finally, with the dawning of the twentieth century, government began dealing with such issues as the purity of food and drugs, the need to control the hitherto unregulated prerogatives of corporate capitol and the rights of working men and women. (The nation was shocked in September of 1902 when Teddy Roosevelt involved himself in the settlement of the Anthracite coal strike.) Government, after all, had never, up until then, dealt with a specific economic crisis — even going so far as to legitimatize a labor union!

Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt government has become increasingly involved in social affairs, to the gratification of liberals and to the chagrin of conservatives.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most Americans identified themselves politically as Republicans or Democrats. However, since the turbulent 1960s with LBJ’s Vietnam conflict “credibility gap,” Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover up, Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, Jimmy Carter’s incompetence, Ronald Reagan’s arrogant snubbing of the poor, the international adventurism of two Bushes named George and the personal conduct of Bill Clinton, the character of our national leadership has moved to center stage. Add to all that the existence of such issues as black civil rights, abortion and gay marriage, and one can readily see how Republicans and Democrats turned into conservatives and liberals.

Conservatives and liberals have two things in common. They’re proud of themselves, not so much for what they’ve achieved, but mostly for what they believe in. Second, they’re deathly afraid of each other. Even the partial success of one diminishes the other. Subsequently, and neither fully yet realizes this, in their sureness of their moral superiority they’ve become contemptuous and intolerant of anyone who challenges their dogmatism. Thus, their devotion to liberty takes second place to their sense of self.

As for the current occupant of the White House, to probably the vast majority of conservatives the very name Barack Hussein Obama smacks of devotion to world values and priorities over American values and priorities. Hence, everything from his birth to his very name labels him and those who support him as less than American. As for the color of his skin, they’ll insist they don’t notice it, but they squirm and scream when he publicly identifies with the fate of an unarmed black teenage boy who was assaulted by a man with a gun while walking to the home of a friend on a dark February Florida night.

Ultimately, I resist the idea that conservatives hate my friend, the poor or even President Obama. What I am sure of however is that they fear the three of you, who you are and what you believe in. They have come to allow YOUR AGENDA to diminish them. Let them be who they are, and you go right on believing what you believe but keep in mind the following:

As logical, sincere and even patriotic as your beliefs and values may be, understand that the legitimacy of liberty is based on the likelihood that the beliefs and values of others are as crucial to our future well being as your own!

Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.