WASHINGTON--To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
For the first side of this equation, I need no sources. As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about--Bosnia, John McCain, precisely how many orphans we're prepared to throw into the snow so the rich can have their tax cuts--we all agree that liberals are stupid.
We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe--here is where they go stupid--that most everybody else is nice too. Deep down, that is. Sure, you've got your multiple felon and your occasional war criminal, but they're undoubtedly depraved 'cause they're deprived. If only we could get social conditions right--eliminate poverty, teach anger management, restore the ozone, arrest John Ashcroft--everyone would be holding hands smiley-faced, rocking back and forth to ``We Shall Overcome.''
Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything.
Liberals suffer incurably from naivete, the stupidity of the good heart. Who else but that oracle of American liberalism, The New York Times, could run the puzzled headline: ``Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling.'' But? How about this wild theory: If you lock up the criminals, crime declines.
Accordingly, the conservative attitude toward liberals is one of compassionate condescension. Liberals are not quite as reciprocally charitable. It is natural. They think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do--self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power--without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? The argument that it would increase self-reliance and thus ultimately reduce poverty is dismissed as meanness rationalized--or as Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., put it more colorfully in a recent House debate on welfare reform, ``a cold-blooded grab for another pound of flesh from the demonized welfare mothers.''
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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