Tone Deaf Liberalism

Why are so many liberals so damned tone deaf? The modern conservative movement consists mostly of gun-toting Neanderthal crazies and hate-mongers, the latest case in point being Professor Niall Ferguson, another reason why you should never send your kid to that overpriced, overrated den of egoism and mediocrity called Harvard. Nailhead Fergy recently said that Keynesian economics were bogus because Keynes was gay and never had children. (Keynes was a married bisexual; his wife had a miscarriage, which makes Ferguson both confused about sexual identity and cruel.) And Fergy isn’t even close to being the most pompous, loud-mouthed, fact-challenged idiot in the conservative movement. By all rights, liberals ought to be as common as pollen in spring. Instead, they’re as rare as truth on Fox News. Why? Because liberals are often as reckless with their good intentions as conservatives are with their greed. Two cases in point, both from Massachusetts:

The first involves the Boston Marathon bombing. In Cambridge—recently dubbed the best (and most liberal) place in the Commonwealth to live–there was a sucessful hue-and-cry to release Robel Phillipos on bail. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s a 19-year-old UMass Dartmouth student arrested for lying and tampering with evidence. He and two others went to Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s room after the Marathon bombing and removed a backpack with emptied fireworks and a laptop. All three have admitted that when they saw images of the bombing suspects, they thought one of them was their friend, Dzokhar. That is to say, they were protecting a man accused of massacre.

Wait—it gets worse. Some good liberals in Cambridge are worried about Dzokhar himself. They think he fell under the Svengali-like spell of his deceased brother and just went along with the plot. Here’s the incredulous spiel coming from people’s mouths: Dzokhar is really a nice guy who loves video games, girls, and smoking pot. A couple of people—mostly in the Chechen community—even think both Tsarnaev brothers were framed! Dzokhar’s good buddy, Robel, is a “civic-minded” kid who worked several jobs, is a good son, and just got “confused” and “freaked out.” The charges against him are “refutable.”

Okay, I did things at 19 of which I am not proud. There is, however, a world of difference between being immature and having mass murder on your résumé. Or tampering with evidence related to mass murder. There’s also a difference between believing everyone deserves justice and being naïve, insensitive, and a sap. It is paranoia of the first order to see a conspiratorial frame-up of the Tsarnaevs. Framed people don’t steal cars, brag of their deeds, toss bombs at cops, or engage in shootouts on public streets. Sure it’s a shame that Dzokhar threw away his life but he did so, and if he ever leaves prison walls other than to go to his own grave, that would be an injustice. And if you take steps to assist such an inexcusable act in any way, shape or form, you deserve every day of the eight years Robel Phillipos faces. 

Spare me the confused college “boy” crap. We say that college students are adults. Those of us associated with colleges are bound by scores of privacy acts that prevent us from giving out information of these young “adults.” (Laws prevent me from even telling a student’s parents what his/her grades are.) The abolition of parietals is among the many ways in which colleges no longer act in loco parentis. The age of sexual consent is 16; legal contracts 18. We can’t call college students “adults” when it comes to cultural practices and student preferences, but wail that they are still impressionable children when they commit antisocial acts.

Let’s go the other side of the state for another example of dumb liberalism. Northampton—merely the 15th best place to live—had a series of fires in 2009, the second of which caused the death of a father and his developmentally disabled son. Arrested was (then) 23-year-old Anthony Baye, who admitted he set that fire and 19 others. The State Police may have botched the overall arson case, but they appear to have the goods on Baye for the fatal fire. Baye has subsequently secured a lawyer—his right, of course—who has systematically bombarded the public with protestations of his client’s innocence. That’s precisely what a lawyer should do in such a high-profile case. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy the line and don symbolic sackcloth and ashes to sympathize with Baye.He did, after all, confess to the crime, though that confession has been quashed.

Much as in the case of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, scarcely a day goes by in which we don’t hear some local remark on how “tragic” Baye’s life turned out to be. Believe it or not, there are actually a few people in Northampton that argue—you guessed it—that Baye was framed. Those folks are (mercifully) rare, and the Baye case isn't a replay of Ken Burns' "The Central Park Five." It is, however, a sad example of what I call Birkenstock Liberalism. Some from that group say Baye should not remain in prison because “he needs help.” We hear that his acts were a desperate cry for that help. (If you send the same message, arson, a dozen times and no one listens, shouldn’t you try a different tactic?) I’m willing to believe that Anthony Baye did not intend to kill anyone–maybe even that he has psychological demons stoked and stroked by fires. But all indications are that he knows right from wrong. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we replace the “tragic” label with another: murderer? One can hope that Baye gets some help, but if the evidence against him holds up, one cannot morally justify his actions. Being sympathetic should never be an exercise in excusing the inexcusable.

Why do so many liberals become animated about “rights,” but shrink from the word “responsibility?” Surely there has to be some middle ground between the sin-infused Protestant determinism of the Heartless Right and the “he’s a good kid and couldn’t have done this” naivety of Kumbaya liberals. The latter serve only as anecdotal fodder for the Heartless Right, relegates well-intentioned people to minority status, and elevates idiots such as Ferguson to the status of public intellectuals.

Step one in isolating the Right is for liberals to admit that sometimes people disappoint and go bad. If liberals want to rebuild American civic ideals, they must also be willing to call out those who undermine it—not just their political foes on the right, but also the rotten apples in their own barrels.

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