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The Psychology of Liberal Intolerance

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
This past Friday, August 24, 2012, while campaigning in Michigan, Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a joke concerning his own birth certificate. The Obama campaign reacted with outrage to Romney’s joke, even though President Obama has joked about his own birth certificate in public. Naturally, responding to the Obama campaign’s outrage, some members of the media followed suit and did the same. Yet, the Obama campaign and the media refused to show outrage when Vice President Joe Biden recently made racially charged comments while on the campaign trail.

While many can agree that this is just one more example of a double standard concerning the treatment of conservatives and liberals by the media and others, there is a matter much worse than a double standard playing out today in our society. It’s the matter of liberal intolerance toward conservatives as a whole.

Ronald Reagan once said: “The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom and open-mindedness. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.”

Many conservatives, especially religious conservatives, can identify with Reagan’s statement. The reason for this is found in the fact that acts of bigotry toward conservative ideals and beliefs are a common practice today among many in the media, the academic elite, and even in the work place. These acts of bigotry toward conservatives are usually carried out by those who claim that conservatives are intolerant, thus they need to be put in check. If you are a conservative, I am sure that you have felt the sting of this liberal intolerance more than a few times. In many circumstances, the intolerance of liberals toward conservatives occurs in the name of tolerance. I like to call it the practice of “intolerance in the name of tolerance.”

Here is one example of how the practice of intolerance in the name of tolerance works: A left leaning group announces to the media that they are waging a war against some intolerant practice – whether it be a true act of intolerance or a perceived one – and then the media elites join the cause by repeating the mantra of the left leaning group until many in the public practically regurgitate what has been said. This continues until the “intolerant” conservatives are completely demonized and marginalized. After the process has run its course, it is close to impossible for a conservative to get a fair shake. The label of “intolerance” has been set in stone.

There is one major reason that the practice of intolerance in the name of tolerance is so effective. It is a practice based on the Contrast Effect, a psychological phenomenon used as a counseling technique. The Contrast Effect is the tendency of humans to both play up the good and downplay the bad in our lives, or vice versa. Using the Contrast Effect during a counseling session, a counselor can reframe the way a client sees his or her circumstances. One way to do this is to greatly magnify the good experiences in a client’s life, while at the same time greatly diminishing the bad. This contrast between good and bad experiences allows the client to feel better about his or her experiences and thus move toward recovery.

What the political left does is much the same as the Contrast Effect when they engage in the practice of liberal intolerance in the name of tolerance. They magnify the minor mistakes made by conservatives as if they were major blunders, while at the same time downplaying the major blunders of liberals as if they were minor mistakes. This kind of contrast, done repeatedly, over time, creates intolerance for anything conservatives do or say, while allowing almost carte blanche tolerance for anything liberals do or say. Liberals become the heroes for calling out a perceived intolerance and trying to end it. Conservatives become the enemy for practicing some so-called intolerance. It is an easy sell as no one wants to be on the side of an intolerant cause or candidate.

The real underlying issue at hand, however, is the fact that the political left and their partners in the media actually promote intolerance for a cause in which they disagree, which contradicts their supposed belief in tolerance. They are actually engaged in intolerance disguised as tolerance. One does not have to look that hard to see how the political left advances intolerance toward conservatives by simply disguising it as tolerance.

Take for example the recent shooting at the Family Research Council (FRC), which much of the major media has either downplayed or not even discussed. It turns out that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal activist organization, has consistently named the FRC as an intolerant and bigoted organization. They even called the FRC a hate group. This is simply due to the fact that the FRC promotes traditional marriage instead of same-sex marriage, along with pro-life causes instead of pro-abortion causes.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s labeling of the FRC as a hate group reaped serious consequences recently as a same-sex marriage activist armed himself with a gun and 50 rounds of ammunition and then attempted to kill the people who work at the FRC. If it were not for the building operations manager stopping the shooter, and taking a shot in his arm in the process, many may have died or been seriously injured.

There is a twisted kind of irony at work here. The FRC is labeled a hate group for holding to their deeply held religious beliefs. This label incited anger and hatred toward the FRC and they came under attack by a man acting in the name of tolerance. Just who is showing bigotry and hatred? Is it the same-sex activist that armed himself with ammunition and shot a man, or is it the FRC? You may not agree with the FRC’s policies, but I do not remember the FRC calling for the shooting of same-sex marriage activists.

This is what the practice of intolerance in the name of tolerance produces: a hatred and intolerance toward those who simply disagree with a liberal position. Whatever happened to true tolerance -- one where we agree to disagree with those who have an opposing view? True tolerance means coexisting with those whom you may disagree. Such true tolerance cannot exist when intolerance is practiced by simply disguising it as tolerance.

Even more irrational than a hateful act disguised as tolerance is the idea that promoting traditional marriage is bigoted. Yet, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, if you do not support same-sex marriage then you must be intolerant and organizations that believe the same must be a hate group. Such blanket statements lead to the narrowing of minds and the inflaming of hatreds. In other words, there is no real tolerance being conducted, only the practice of intolerance in the name of tolerance.

I will be the first to admit that some socially conservative groups and organizations do a poor job of communicating their values and beliefs. In fact, sometimes the language used by some social conservatives to describe lifestyles they dislike is downright embarrassing. There certainly is a better way for social conservatives to communicate their worldview. Nonetheless, labeling these organizations as “hate groups” is a stretch. Worse yet, it does not truly promote the tolerance that many liberals claim to espouse.

It’s time for the real tolerance lovers to practice what they preach. If we are to be a society that engages in genuine tolerance, then we must reject the practice of intolerance in the name of tolerance and work to coexist with others with whom we disagree. Anything less is just plain intolerance, no matter what else some may call it.

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