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Time for the Left to Curb Its Corrosive Contempt

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Over the past few weeks, we have heard plenty about the bigotry of the American people. The recent debate about an imam’s plans to locate a large mosque at Ground Zero has highlighted, as never before, the liberal elite’s utter contempt for the sensibilities of regular Americans.

From the President on down, those in favor of the mosque’s construction at Ground Zero have characterized the opponents as ruled only by emotion – especially animus toward all Muslims. So outrageous were some of the aspersions cast on mosque opponents that even liberal former DNC Chair Howard Dean was moved to point out the left was “demonizing some fairly decent people.” In an implicit acknowledgment of the most common slur made by mosque proponents, he added that “sixty-five percent of the people in this country [the proportion opposing construction of the mosque at Ground Zero] are not right-wing bigots.”

Indeed. Aside from the gratuitous swipe at conservatives, Dean had it just about right. But the mosque debate isn’t the only area where regular Americans have been accused of irrational intolerance.

Recently, an unelected federal judge struck down a state constitutional amendment passed by a solid majority of Californians – and supported by a majority of Americans generally – that defined marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. He did so by concluding that there was no rational basis for the measure he had overturned; its only conceivable purpose, according to the judge, was to “enshrine in the California Constitution” an assertion that “opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.” In other words, Judge Vaughn Walker characterized every single American who has reservations about changing the age-old institution of marriage as irrational bigots.

Given that the President, Vaughn Walker, and much of the commentariat in favor of the Ground Zero mosque are part of the supposed intellectual and cultural “elite” in this country, the arrogance – and paucity of their moral imagination – is breathtaking. In their formulation, stupidity, ignorance and bigotry are the only conceivable reasons for opposition to anything they deem moral or just. Their intellectual and personal disrespect for those who disagree with them is breathtaking – and it is unleavened by even the slightest dash of humility.

The irony, of course, is that in its eagerness to denounce the intolerance and shortsightedness of the masses, the liberal elite reveals itself to be . . . shortsighted and intolerant. From the gay marriage case to the Ground Zero mosque debate, the elites don't even offer the courtesy of presenting principled rebuttals of their opponents’ arguments. Instead, they dismiss them scornfully as the product of inferior minds, unworthy of consideration by intelligent people.

According to well-known research on marriages and conflict, healthy relationships can survive frequent disagreement. It’s only when contempt sets in that long-time partnerships are in serious trouble. Increasingly, that kind of contempt emanates from those who consider themselves the meritocracy’s crowning glory – and it bodes ill for the health of America’s body politic.

Perhaps the phenomenon is the foreseeable consequence of a university system overwhelmingly dominated by only one (politically correct) viewpoint. Perhaps it’s simply the result of a general breakdown in manners – or, more sadly yet, a symptom of the decline of a common public religious faith stressing that all people (yes, even the “unenlightened”) are God’s children, and hence entitled to be treated with a measure of decency and respect.

Whatever the reason, it’s time for the liberal elite to curb their distrust of and contempt for the values and sensibilities of the rest of America. To put it in terms they can understand, it’s hypocritical to claim solidarity with “the common man” while despising everything he holds dear.

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