Three Ways To Cope with the Coming Plague of Obama Bumper Stickers

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I’m a 77-year-old conservative grandmother living, for family reasons, in a very blue state. It’s only March and already the Obama 2012 bumper stickers are everywhere. The parking lots are filled with them.  They’re irksome, especially when combined on the same bumper, with the 2008 version. It appears that the driver has learned exactly nothing in the past four years.

Is there anything I can do that will avoid direct confrontation, won’t get me in trouble with the law, but that will satisfy my urge to communicate my disagreement with the Obama-supporting owners of these cars?

Frustrated Near ‘Frisco

Dear Frustrated,

Yes, yes, and yes!

Placing an anti-Obama bumper sticker on top of a pro-Obama bumper sticker is tampering with property, also known as criminal mischief.  This can be a felony or a misdemeanor.  You don’t want to go there, tempting as it certainly is.

What you may do that’s perfectly legal is what many pizza chains and other businesses do in parking lots: gently lift the windshield wiper and place a written message to the driver where he or she cannot avoid seeing it.

I have three suggestions:

A POLITE PIECE OF YOUR MIND

It’s devilishly simple.

You type two sentences and print out as many as you like. Keep them in your car at all times. Here’s a little inspiration:

Dear Friend:

Some unknown socialist put an Obama bumper sticker on your car. I’m letting you know so that you can remove it before it causes you any further embarrassment.

That’s it.  Simple, friendly, concerned, considerate. What’s not to like?

It’s also guaranteed to be very annoying.

BUY ANTI-OBAMA BUMPER STICKERS AND PLACE THEM UNDER THE WINDSHIELD WIPERS OF THE PRO-OBAMA CAR

Happily, your choices are many and, while not inexpensive, if some of your like-minded friends chip in, it might be worthwhile to spend some money for such upbeat messages as:

The bumper stickers come in packs of 50 for $190 ($3.80 each), or bought singly cost $5 each. If you were to park your (un-bumper-stickered) car and watch what the pro-Obama drivers do after noticing your kind gift, my prediction is that you’d observe them throwing your valuable bumper sticker on the ground. Littering! As soon as they drive away, retrieve your abandoned bumper sticker and place it on the windshield of the next pro-Obama car you see.

After all, an anti-Obama bumper sticker is a terrible thing to waste.

Given your age and desire to avoid direct confrontation, I’d recommend being as subtle as possible as you go about your activities.  Perhaps you have a big, strong young male family member or friend who feels as strongly about Obama as you do who’d like to spend some quality time with you.

If you’d like to spend less than the prices noted above, I suggest the following third option:

 A BIGGER PIECE OF YOUR MIND

In the immortal words of New Orleans chef, restaurateur, and entrepreneur Emeril Lagasse, a letter such as the one below is guaranteed to kick it up a notch. A note of caution: the first option takes only a few seconds to read.  The one below will do more to express your thoughts, but it runs the risk of not being read in entirety by an avowed Obamaphile. That said, here’s an example of how you could purvey a generous piece of your mind.

Dear Fellow Citizen:

I note with stunned incredulity that the rear bumper of your vehicle is festooned with both an Obama 2008 and an Obama 2012 one.  This is troubling indeed.  It suggests to your fellow citizens that you’ve spent the last three years in the sort of place Vice President Cheney was said to have inhabited during the George W. Bush years: a secure, undisclosed location — but unlike Mr. Cheney, however, without access to news from the outside world.  

If, on the other hand, you’ve been living openly and freely, I must inquire whether you’ve noticed the lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution by the president and the Department of Justice, with “Attorney General” Eric Holder’s refusal to prosecute such blatant law-breakers as the New Black Panther Party and ACORN?  Does the phrase “Fast and Furious” mean nothing to you?

Have you noted without dismay the president’s hare-brained, anti-capitalist and un-American belief that those who work hard and have actually dared to earn a handsome income be penalized and have their hard-won wealth “re-distributed” to others?

Have you not watched in horror as the unemployment rate has soared perilously close to 9% among your fellow citizens?

Are you not outraged by every single element of ObamaCare and the fact that a growing number of physicians in fields such as cardiology are considering becoming “life coaches” to their patients because the tests they routinely order to monitor their health will be over-ridden by computerized regulations, and, indeed, forbidden entirely by green eye-shaded federal government employees who’ve never seen the inside of a medical school classroom? Or by social engineers or clueless politicians such as Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and “Human Services”?

Are you not horrified that your country is now more than $14 trillion in debt?  Does this not concern you if you have children or grandchildren, or even if you don’t?

Can you honestly say that none of these outrages causes you to reconsider your original, ill-founded enthusiasm for Barack Obama?

If you’re as pro-Obama in 2012 as you were in 2008, you can be only one of two things: (1) a Democratic loyalist who gives not a moment’s thought to the actual positions and hazardous consequences of voting like a lemming, or (2) a blinkered, clueless cave-dweller cut off from all news of the United States and the world for the past four years.  If that’s the case, I urge you to read news analysis on PJM.com during that period to see exactly what you’ve missed.

Just how much drek can you allow yourself to ignore?

Finally, I suggest you buy yourself a giant sized GOO GONE, a liquid that comes in a spray can.  Apply it to your bumper stickers. Scrape with all your might until you’ve succeeded in removing that embarrassing pair from your rear bumper.  Once they’re gone, you can drive with your head held high because, at long last, you’ll have come face to face with the harsh, cold breath of reality and will have understood the perilous error of your ways.

Sincerely,

A concerned fellow citizen

IT’S YOUR CHOICE

There you have them: three distinct approaches, any one of which should help cope with some of the frustration you feel, and may even shed a little light of reality on your state’s Obama-besotted residents.

When the unremitting uniformity of their political views gets you down, return to this webpage and feast your eyes on the artistic creations below, brought to you by our distinguished colleagues at MAD magazine, one of the most reliably great magazines of the 20th and 21st centuries, the obvious fountainhead of The Onion:

— Belladonna Rogers

Help! I’m Surrounded by Intolerant Liberals at Work: A Guide for the Perplexed and the Outnumbered

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

How do you behave or talk in a workplace of liberals who monitor every behavior for political and social correctness?

While  my colleagues are hard-working, the general setting of my workplace is extraordinarily liberal. It is expected that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you.  Worse: in 2008 we had meetings where the managers talked openly about who had donated to Obama’s campaign.  They regularly went online to see who had — and who had not.  The head of the company — loyal and generous Obama supporter that he was — did nothing to discourage this outrageous behavior and so, in 2007, I began to feel as if I were living in the People’s Republic of China.  I still feel that way, now more than ever.  I’ve never said a thing about my conservative views, but believe me, it isn’t easy.

What should I do?

Sleepless in Seattle

Dear Sleepless,

This is a serious problem and one that particularly afflicts those who work in academic settings, in the media, and in the entertainment industry.  It’s also likely to affect any conservative or libertarian working in a blue state.  I’ll give you my advice on your best options for dealing with this, but first I’ll say why the situation you’ve described has become a widespread phenomenon in workplaces across the country.

The problem you’ve described stems from a convergence of four factors that are far more prevalent today than at any time in the past seven decades, possibly since the Civil War (although I can’t speak personally of that era: I don’t go back that far).

They are (1) the increasingly high concentration of liberals in certain sectors of the economy; (2) the militant intolerance displayed by liberals; (3) the steep decline in civility everywhere, including the workplace; and (4) the lowering of barriers to discussions of topics that were, in the not-so-distant past, deemed off-limits, especially in the workplace, but even at social gatherings in general: politics, sex, one’s earnings, and one’s religious beliefs.  This is a toxic confluence of trends that afflicts our professional and social lives and results in a less tolerant environment in which one’s “zone of privacy” is far narrower than ever before.

(1)  Types of work that attract more liberals than conservatives:

Your email address tells me that you work in a university. I’ve long wondered why academia is so strongly skewed toward liberals (by some estimates 90% liberal versus 10% conservative, except at explicitly Christian universities and colleges).  Last week, I  heard an explanation that rings true.  It comes from Tim Groseclose, professor of American politics at the University of California at Los Angeles, who explained, in a fascinating interview with The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein, that liberals want to direct the lives of others whereas conservatives don’t.  A person whose goal is to direct the lives of others, according to Professor Groseclose, will be drawn to academia, the media and the entertainment industry, the last of which — at least as much as teaching and the media — has an enormous impact on how and what people think.  A single film can powerfully shape opinions and points of view, and epitomize an entire era.

Conservatives tend to be less interested in proselytizing and prefer to be guided by the maxim “live and let live,” as they focus their lives on family and work.  They favor less government intrusion and prefer to be left alone. Liberals, particularly in academia, he said, are willing to forgo higher incomes for the chance to have a direct impact on the lives of others.

Furthermore, Professor Groseclose added, once an overwhelming liberal majority takes over a particular occupation or individual workplace, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to be the sole conservative, or one of a small minority, amid a sometimes belligerent, often nastily self-righteous majority. So conservatives begin leaving these environments, which they find increasingly hostile and intolerant of them and their views. (To see the full interview click here.)

Two memoirs offer personal insights into this phenomenon in the entertainment industry, the first of which I’ve read and recommend highly. Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown by PJMedia’s Roger L. Simon, novelist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter; and The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture by playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

In an economy as dire as ours, few employees, no matter how uncomfortable they are in their present workplaces, feel free to leave a secure position in hopes of finding more congenial colleagues elsewhere, especially if they live in a blue state or work in a sector of the economy in which liberals predominate.

Even if the economy were more robust than it is, if you work in any of the sectors that attract liberals in droves, or if you work in deep blue America, changing jobs is unlikely to help. It will change the names and faces of your colleagues, but not the underlying problem.

(2) The fact that you’re the lone conservative in a department or office of liberal Democrats would not be the problem you describe if liberals were more tolerant — or indeed, if they were tolerant at all — of other political perspectives.  As I’ve discussed here and here, the current incarnation of the Democratic Party is not the big, welcoming tent it was in the days of FDR.  Today, it represents big unions, including the strident teachers’ unions, academia, some minority groups, and social and political liberals.

In the wake of the budget deal, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in vitriolic Democrat attacks on the Tea Party, and by extension, on the Republican Party of which they form an influential part.  Rather than merely express contrary views, the Democrats at the highest levels of the party have turned up their attacks on a scale of 1 to 10, to at least 11, thus deepening the already sharp schism between the two parties.

[YouTube video, BBC blocked on Copyright grounds]

As PJMedia’s Bryan Preston noted last Friday, Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass), a former nominee for the presidency, explicitly called on the nation’s media to refrain from reporting and broadcasting the views of members of the Tea Party — at all.  John F. Kerry said,

And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. [Let’s hear it for good manners as we descend ever further into the netherworld of extreme intolerance.] The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.

Presumably, Sen. Kerry’s idea of an “absurd notion” is one with which he disagrees, while his definition of “everybody” is the fellow members of his windsurfing club.

This arrogance, this hubris, and this unembarrassed sense of entitlement are relatively recent additions to the traditional arrows in the Democrats’ quivers. Unlike in the past, actual political positions are secondary to extreme  expressions of political passion. Vitriol overwhelms content.

A similar point was made last week by former Vice President Gore, who was oddly silent on the massive contributions to left-wing causes by billionaire George Sorosas he scolded the Republican Koch brothers for supporting movements Gore finds reprehensible, preferring to advocate (I kid you not) an “Arab Spring” here in the United States, where we, unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, actually have a tradition of free and fair elections:

[Youtube video – now unavailable]

After the debt ceiling  talks ended and the president signed the bill, the Democratic Caucus met and a new phrase of attack began being bruited about by increasingly desperate Democrats. Suddenly, liberals from Vice President Biden to Rep. Michael F. Doyle (D-Pa) appeared on TV accusing Tea Partiers of being terrorists. TheWashington Times’ Jeffrey T. Kuhner noted  that “MSNBC host Chris Matthews likened Tea Partyers to ‘terrorists’ and ‘hostage-takers.’ Newsweek’s Tina Brown called them ‘suicide bombers.’ In short, for the Democratic left, the Tea Party is evil incarnate.”

As Commentary’s luminous Jonathan S. Tobin wrote at the Contentions blog,“Indeed, with the abuse escalating to a point where liberals now feel no shame about accusing Tea Partiers of being ‘terrorists,’” it is unsurprising that the group’s negative polling numbers have risen.  He also notes:

From its beginnings, liberal papers such as the Times slammed the Tea Party as a dangerous form of populism. It was smeared with unsubstantiated charges of racism on the false premise opposition to President Obama’s signature health care plan was a sign of prejudice. Though it was one of the most broad-based popular protest movements in modern American political history with a reach that extended across the country, it was still treated by most of the mainstream media as a slightly more respectable version of the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, when Tea Partiers vocally expressed their dismay to members of Congress and senators at town hall meetings, liberals reacted as if public dissent against politicians was the thin edge of the wedge of a new wave of fascism.

That line held until November 2010 when it turned out the only poll that counts — the ballot box — showed the Tea Party was a mainstream force in American politics. While the Republican victory put a damper on talk of Tea Party extremism, the theme was rediscovered this year as some members of Congress decided to act as if their campaign rhetoric about debt, spending and taxes wasn’t just hot air but a pledge of honor.

This is an important reason that political discourse among our fellow citizens has moved — in the immortal phrase of Abba Eban, Israel’s eloquent foreign minister, in his address to the UN Security Council on June 8, 1967 — “backwards to belligerency.” It has descended into the unchecked aggression of gang warfare — or the Pleistocene Era.  And citizens take their lead from the political class. When Americans see the president, the vice president and the Solons of Congress and their media allies attacking Tea Party members and Republicans in general — all with identical epithets — can there be any doubt that such unacceptable conduct will trickle down to all Democrat partisans, including those in your Seattle workplace?

Decades ago, I lived in a deep blue bastion of the country where I observed that while conservatives were viewed by liberals as rare, exotic birds (“That’s interesting.  I wonder what makes him think that?”), there didn’t exist the reflexive derision, hostility, and shunning that passes for enlightened behavior today. Republicans and libertarians were considered socially acceptable, if eccentric, human beings, not pond scum lacking a conscience or intellectual honesty.

(3) The public mockery of the Tea Party and Republicans in general dovetails with a even larger societal problem: the slow but clear coarsening of discourse and a descent into a jungle of inter-party disrespect veering into loutish contempt. Unfortunately, this tendency is not confined to liberals.

Those who thought they were alone in sensing a rising tide of rudeness can find confirmation of their impressions from a recent Rasmussen poll, which found 76% of adults believing that Americans are becoming more rude and less civilized.  According to the poll,

Seventy percent (70%) say Americans are more rude to sales personnel or people waiting on them than they were 10 years ago, up eight points from last year….Conversely, 61% say sales and service personnel are ruder to customers than they were 10 years ago….Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Americans say they’ve confronted someone over their rude behavior in public, up seven points from the previous survey.  Thirty-eight percent (38%) have never confronted someone about their rude behavior. Sixty-four percent (64%) of men have confronted someone in public about their rude behavior, while 52% of women have done the same.

The confrontations arise when people are so deeply offended by the rude conduct of others that they cannot help but push back and say something.  Recently, I found myself behind a man in a supermarket line who didn’t realize the high price of the cellophane-wrapped cheese he planned to buy.  When the young, pregnant Hispanic cashier rang up his intended purchase and he discovered how expensive it was, he became angry at her and hurled a pound of Cheddar at her face.  I raced to the store manager and asked him to confront the assailant.  He did, telling the man never to set foot in the store again, or he would call the police.

This rudeness and decline in basic courtesy that infects our relations with others — be it at work, in public settings such as supermarkets, or at social gatherings — is a malignant and powerful new force in our lives combined as it is with the extreme polarization of the two parties.  The confluence of these developments makes for some vexing experiences, such as those you’ve experienced in Seattle.

(4) The final reason that workplaces such as yours have become toxic is the free, online information available to all, revealing your political contributions, personal data, and even — have they no shame? — your age.  Whatever organizations you support — from the Audubon Society, to your place of worship (if you’ve donated to it), to charities to which you’ve contributed — are all easily accessible on the Internet.  Aspects of your life that were 100% private in 1980 are 100% public in 2011.

These inroads into the personal areas of your life that you could have protected by your silence or discretion then are out in the open now, and are grist for your colleagues’ inappropriate and shameful conduct in 2008.  The easy availability of your personal information places you in a more vulnerable position when it comes to office politics: your Obama-supporting manager and colleagues can easily discover, without a word from you, that unlike them, you contributed exactly zip to Obama’s 2008 election, and if my speculation is correct, that you’re unlikely to contribute to his 2012 re-election campaign (just a wild guess).

What to do?

My answer depends on two variables: the first is how secure you are in your job.  For example, in a university, do you have tenure?  Professor Groseclose explicitly stated in his interview that he would not have published his most recent book, Turning Left: How Liberal Media Distorts the American Mind, if he didn’t have tenure.  It would have provided ammunition to a liberal political science department that would have used it to prevent him from being granted tenure.  With tenure, he can now publish whatever he likes.

If you feel that your job is a secure one, you have the options discussed below.  If not, you have to judge for yourself how perilous it would be for you to speak your mind freely when you know in advance that your colleagues and manager are staunch, Obama-contributing liberal Democrats.  In a recent advice column in July, about dealing with liberals in social settings, two commenters wrote as follows:

53. JPL17

I’m a guns and religion-clinging, slurpee-drinking, pea-eating conservative who happens to work in the entertainment industry. I think it would be folly for me to follow the advice in this column. I think I’d become nearly unemployable.“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been my best policy. Meaning, I never ask a colleague what his or her politics are; I never reveal my own; and I keep my job and professional relationships.It’s sad, but it’s harder to come out of the closet as a conservative than as a gay communist necrophiliac serial killer.

Nimrod Goldberg

I think if you read the question and the answer one more time you’ll see that the column is intended for social situations, not the workplace. I can’t speak for Belladonna but it looks to me as if she’d agree with you when it comes to the workplace. She doesn’t seem like a person who would want to see one more American added to the country’s already 9.2% unemployment.

JPL17:

Actually, Nim, although my post was a bit opaque, that was the point I was trying to make; i.e., that although Belladonna’s advice may be good for social settings, I didn’t think it would apply very well to the work setting. It would be very interesting to know her take on that question.

Belladonna Rogers:

JPL17, I’m glad you raised this question. And Mr. Goldberg, you correctly stated my position. This column was, indeed, intended to apply to social gatherings and not to the workplace. When at your place of employment, unless it’s at the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee or anything of that sort—like a political campaign—my advice is not to talk politics. Not at the water cooler, not anywhere in the workplace. If a social situation includes colleagues from your workplace or industry, the workplace rule of not discussing your politics would supersede the social gathering rule.

So, I’m on record as agreeing with anyone whose own antennae and judgment suggest that a “don’t tell” strategy at work is the best job-protecting policy — as excruciating as that can be.  It has one substantial advantage: it guarantees a paycheck.

The second variable is your level of tolerance for conflict compared with your tolerance for the inner turmoil that prompted your email to me.  Coming out with your candid political views in a department or office that includes, by your own description, the expectation that “that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you” will exchange one form of discomfort for another.  Now, you are suffering in silence.

If, on the other hand, you make your views known in what I gather is a close-knit, even gossipy environment, then the insults will likely be intentional.  You can expect anything from under-the-breath negative mumbles to highly audible, heated expressions of intolerance and derision.

Unfortunately, either course — whether you choose silence or speaking out — will result in your discomfort.

The question then becomes whether you want to turn every lunch hour or working hour into a potentially unpleasant argument session or, what may be even worse, subject yourself to being shunned.  Revealing your true political views can cause your coworkers to cease treating you as a colleague.

What you decide to do depends upon how much you relish a good fight, and equally, how great your tolerance is to being treated as a pariah.  If you speak your mind, you may experience some temporary relief and discover that you can now spend your time in the cafeteria reading a book rather than interacting with colleagues.  But there are advantages to collegiality, even faux collegiality, one of them being that if you ever need help, someone will be there to offer it.  Being an outcast is not an unmixed blessing at work.

My sense, based on your email, is that if you enjoyed arguments, you would have openly declared your antipathy to Obama in 2007 and by now your colleagues would be accustomed to your difference of opinion.

Even if you’re not a natural-born verbal mud-wrestler, four years of silence compounded by the same four years of working among Obamaphiles may finally have tried your patience to the point that the unremitting enthusiasm for the president has become more than you can bear in silence.

If, after weighing the pros and cons of speaking out, you decide you want to do so, I’d suggest three rules:

(1) Don’t initiate the encounter;

(2) Be calm, matter-of-fact, reasonable, and good-natured, as if you were saying you enjoy six-foot snowfalls, knowing full well that your interlocutor would prefer to live in Longboat Key, Florida; and most importantly,

(3) Try to make the issue not the other person’s views versus yours, but rather the virtue of tolerance for a variety of approaches — not whose view is correct.  You could certainly mention that, historically, one of the core values of liberalism was toleration of minority views.  That is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of democracy: the rights of minorities are as fully protected as those of the majority.  You could even extend your hand and  say, in a friendly way, “Why don’t we agree to disagree? We have so much here at work in common that we don’t have to get into who thinks what about which candidate.  That’s not as important as getting our work done as well as we can — together.”

This doesn’t mean that you won’t find one of these stuck to your locker door or on the rear bumper of your car:

But you can always cover it with this:

Or, you could beat them to the punch and preemptively display President Lincoln’s wise words on your locker and bumper first.

Whatever you decide to do,  the most important thing to remember is that, in my grandmother’s words: this, too, shall pass.  Since FDR, no president has been elected to four consecutive terms.  This one has been fortunate to have been granted one term.  If only the same could be said for the country.

—Belladonna Rogers

Coping With Obama-Induced Irritation Syndrome (OIIS): A Guide for the Perplexed

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I didn’t vote for Obama and wasn’t happy when he won. Still, I’m a loyal American and want to see the country to do well even if it means he’s re-elected.  But the country isn’t doing well and I find that almost everywhere I go, even among people who agree with his politics, I sense a wave of anger rising up at the president.  I’m normally a pretty even-tempered guy and I don’t get emotional about politics or whoever is president, but even I’m feeling irritation when I see him on TV. What is it about this president that’s so exasperating?  And how can I deal with my rising level of annoyance with him?

Irritated in Cleveland

Dear Irritated,

“Folks,” as the president likes to refer to Americans outside the Beltway, are getting fed up with him. You ask what it is about President Obama that causes even a normally even-tempered man like you to become incensed.  Short answer: his withering condescension.

By way of introduction, a few words on the importance of presidential character in general. If you’re a politician, you don’t want voters’ assessments of your policies to be based on their negative reactions to your personality. The counter-example to Obama is Reagan: people thought he was a sunny, decent, fair, good-natured guy.  That was a political advantage, especially with independents and centrists: they were predisposed to give his views a fair hearing (even though they didn’t always agree with his positions) just because they liked him.

One of the great lines in the classic 1978 movie Animal House is uttered by Dean Vernon Wormer, when he says to fraternity pledge Kent “Flounder” Dorfman, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

Similarly, I’d say that condescending, disdainful, and contemptuous is no way to go through a presidency.  Nothing is better guaranteed to alienate your fellow citizens than being addressed as if you’re the only serious adult while they’re not merely in kindergarten, but are among the dimmer five-year-olds in the class.

With Obama, we hear the derision in his mocking tone. We also intuit his nonverbal signals of contempt.

Poker players are well-acquainted with “the tell” — the tiniest of changes in behavior, from a slightly deeper inhalation of breath to a nano-second-lasting twitch that reveals a clue about the cards another player has or signals an upcoming bet in the game.  Every player has a different tell, and some tells are genuine while others are purposeful and intended to deceive — an under-the-breath curse word uttered to suggest a bad hand when a the player actually has a terrific hand.

Similar to poker tells are what the psychologist Paul Ekman calls “microexpressions,” which, as the term suggests, are fleeting facial expressions that last from less than a second to a few seconds at most, and reveal the real emotions a person may be trying to conceal, or may unconsciously feel. A teenager’s eyeroll when being chastised would be a microexpression, conveying to the parent or teacher that the experience is way annoying while attempting to seem respectful and cooperative (the sooner to get it over with).  If the parent or teacher looks away for a nanosecond, he or she will miss the microexpression — it is that fleeting.  Another Ekman-coined term is “leaking,” meaning the unintended expression of an emotion that has inadvertently “leaked” out.

With Obama, the tell or microexpression is invariably a kind of smile, which has “leaked” out.  It isn’t a friendly smile; it’s a sneer, a smirk and it’s visible in the videos in this column. When you see him break into a smile as he’s about to answer a question, that’s invariably the tell that he’s about to lob a contemptuous and condescending taunt at the questioner.

Only last week, on July 25, Obama could be seen on TV lecturing us as follows: “Now, what makes today’s stalemate so dangerous is that it has been tied to something known as the debt ceiling — a term that most people outside of Washington have probably never heard of before.”  As William Kristol, editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, commented,

Consider the condescension implicit in the president’s statement — “a term that most people outside of Washington have probably never heard of before.” These “people outside of Washington” are not little children being lectured on an obscure subject by a worldly adult. These people outside Washington are … citizens. Judging by the polls, most of us have opinions about whether, and under what conditions, the debt ceiling should be raised. We don’t seem to be as ignorant as Obama thinks we are of the term or concept of a debt ceiling. But the president assumes we’ve never bothered our pretty little heads about such a thing…It would be nice to have a president who spoke candidly to his fellow citizens as adults.

Similarly, Commentary’s John Steele Gordon wrote, of the same speech, “Was last night’s speech by President Obama…the moment when American popular opinion froze into an enduring, and negative image of this president? It was classic Obama: elitist, condescending, impolitic, self-obsessed, and dishonest.”

Thanks to the wonders of online video, one can see Obama’s mockery of the kinds of people he doesn’t respect, and hear the derision dripping in his voice when, for example, he referred during the campaign to plumbers.  (I wonder how he felt about plumbers five years ago in Chicago when his toilet was blocked and the Drano and the snake he bought didn’t do the trick):

[YouTube Video not Available]

Condescension is an attitude whose implicit message is: “I am superior to you.”  It’s gratuitously insulting, it’s anti-democratic and it’s wrong.  As few people in public life have demonstrated more vividly than Obama, just because you’re highly-credentialed doesn’t mean you’re either smart or well-educated.  And even if someone is bright, that isn’t the only important quality in a president.

The most important qualification for a president isn’t a Harvard degree but rather (a) competence at dealing with other people and working well with others; (b) emotional intelligence, a concept pioneered by psychology writer Daniel Goleman, meaning the ability to read other people’s emotions and being able to behave in a way that takes those feelings into consideration;(c) good judgment; and (d) character.

Character has been described as “how you behave when no one is looking,” and involves basic human decency, empathy, dependability, and the courage to understand what “the right thing” is, and then to do it.  Presidents who had it include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S Truman, and George H.W. Bush.

The character essential to be an effective president is hardly expressed by dismissing and denying the intelligence of “the public” — you know, Obama’s idea of losers who’re trying to get through life without an Ivy League degree.  Another way he expresses his condescension is by holding himself up as the only unflappable, self-controlled adult in the room, who’s been  tasked with the  tiresome duty of dealing with the volatile, immature folks “out there.”  In August, 2009,  John Knefel found himself irritated by Obama’s condescension in describing his liberal critics as “a little excited,” as if passion and fervor were negative qualities in an advocate:

During an interview with a Philadelphia-based radio show, Obama, once again, mocked and infantilized his critics on the left. Responding to a question by the show’s host, Michael Smerconish, about recent comments made by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about jettisoning the “public option” from the final health care bill, Obama responded, “The press got excited and some folks on the left got a little excited…” What a fantastically dismissive thing to say about health care reform advocates who feel discouraged and betrayed by the administration’s willingness to consider a bill that doesn’t include a public option. They are “excitable” — you know, like children are. Their anger, and the backlash that Obama is facing from liberals, stems from a purely reactionary mindset, apparently. Yes, why on Earth would the announcement that the health care bill might no longer contain any teeth at all cause the left to cry foul? If they were more serious and thoughtful, they wouldn’t be so excitable.

Obama seems to me to have trouble with his own aggression, and his disdainful notion of humor may be one way of expressing it without appearing (to himself, anyway) to be angry.  He thinks that appearing cool is his strong suit.  When he’s pissed off, he turns to contempt or sarcasm rather than overt anger.  He assumes that his true feelings of hostility are concealed by his verbal jabs, when in reality, they’re revealed for all to see.

This is a constant undercurrent in Obama’s response to criticism: to denigrate his detractors by dismissive adjectives and verbs that suggest he’s the only rational one in the room.

In Portland, Maine, on April 1, 2010, he was at it again, this time characterizing opponents of ObamaCare as “hollering,” and purveying “fear mongering” through “overheated rhetoric:”

“There’s been a lot of fear-mongering, a lot of overheated rhetoric.  You turned on the news, you’d see that those same folks who were hollering about it before it passed, they’re still hollering, about how the world will end because we passed this bill.”

Another of his favorite put-downs is to say, “But that’s not what’s happening.  Instead, they are trotting out the exact same ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.”

“Trotting out,” is condescending.  When Obama presents his arguments and his data, he’s being logical. If anyone has counter-arguments or countervailing data, they’re “trotting out” irresponsible drivel.

He seems unable to hold a town hall meeting outside zip codes such as 90210 (Beverly Hills) or 10027 (Columbia University and the Upper West Side of Manhattan) or 02138 (Harvard) or  without insulting his audience, as he did in Fairless Hills, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, answering a questioner with ten children, clearly more than Obama found acceptable:

 

He said, “I notice some folks clapped, but I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs.  You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything.  You’re one of them?  Well, now, here’s my point.  If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon — (laughter) — you may have a big family, but it’s probably not that big.  How many you have?  Ten kids, you say?  Ten kids?  (Laughter.)  Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then.”

As veteran White House reporter Keith Koffler wrote of Obama’s response on his blog, www.whitehousedossier.com, in April of this year:

Obama has no idea why the person who called him out – or why anyone, for that matter – has purchased an SUV…. But he assumes they are up to some kind of egregious mischief. We get this little lecture on fuel economy from the president who thinks nothing of trucking a convoy of heavy-duty vehicles 15 miles to go golfing every other weekend, flying to Hawaii every year on vacation, or jetting to New York City date night with his wife – who BTW flew separately last December to Hawaii for the family vacation and took a four day jaunt to Spain.Obama has carved out a nice chunk of change for himself, but the community organizer’s hatred of success and wealth abides within him. There’s real contempt in the first two lines of the statement, with phrases like “their big SUVs.” This is a person who, while pursuing his own success, continues to resent you for yours.

With miniaturized technology such as cell phones that can record video, a politician is virtually never entirely off-the-record.  He may think he’s talking to a roomful of like-minded, wealthy, Marin County devotees, but then, wouldn’t you know it, one of them has a video feature on his phone, and the candidate’s intolerance, coupled with his condescension for millions of his fellow Americans whom he neither knows nor understands, goes viral:

When you add it all up, it’s clear that Obama deploys mockery, derision, humiliation, ridicule, contempt, scorn and downright nastiness when he’s outside the comfort zone of people he knows and likes.  His forays into the heartland seem to evoke either anxiety or hostility that he tries to mask with what he thinks is humor but that comes across to others as a screeching fingernail across the blackboards of our souls.  He’s not the smooth, cool guy his PR machine imagines he is: he’s a snob, and a nasty snob at that. He seems to be utterly unaware of how he comes off: unconscious of the intolerance, the disrespect, and the profound ignorance of how people unlike himself and his cronies live, think and feel.

It’s interesting to compare Obama’s snide condescension with the firm, effective way that Ronald Reagan expressed his exasperation  in New Hampshire in 1980 — and he was exasperated.  Watch how skillfully he deployed just the right degree of anger as he dealt with the moderator of the debate that was about to begin:

By contrast, when Obama finds himself feeling anger, he strikes back, but not in a comfortable-in-his-own skin Reaganesque way.  Because some members of every audience will giggle or laugh, if only out of nervousness, Obama hears the laughter and interprets it as a green light to continue badgering, belittling and demeaning the person whom he believes has challenged him, or is just a man with ten children, a version of family apparently unfamiliar to this president.

Obama’s behavior bears some resemblance to locker room towel-snapping where young men compete to put one another down. In those circumstances, though, it’s a group free-for-all on a level playing field.  When Obama deploys his ridicule and arrogance, however, the playing field is far from level: citizens normally feel the need to express respect at least for the office of the president, and invariably for the incumbent in office.  In return, this president often behaves like an ill-mannered Ivy League frat boy making fun of a townie.  It’s an odious thing to behold, and may be one of the reasons you find yourself irritated by his behavior.

Cumulatively, the continuous repetition of condescending remarks such as these becomes annoying to some, and downright infuriating to others. The “public” — of whom Obama is so dismissive — pays attention to his superciliousness, and remembers what they’ve seen and heard from him.

To quote from Lincoln, the current president would be well-advised to find a way to speak more respectfully to “the better angels of our nature” than to betray his contempt for the millions of citizens who aren’t like him and his friends.

At least half of our politically-divided country will continue to disagree with President Obama’s policies.  But is it necessary, or politically wise, for him to aggravate policy differences with his repeated demonstrations of disdain for those whom he is in office to serve?

What irritates you, I believe, irritates many people.  Even without the credentials of which the president is so proud, everyone can recognize a snob, and resent the obnoxious disdain that is never far from the surface.  My advice?  When you see the Seal of the President of the United States on your TV screen,

reach for your remote and switch to a channel that doesn’t broadcast presidential addresses or press conferences. If they all do, then turn off the TV altogether.  Life is stressful enough without being irritated by this condescending man.

—Belladonna Rogers

The Unbearable Smugness of Liberals: A Guide for the Perplexed

Dear Belladonna Rogers:

I live in deep blue America and am a conservative.  When I see old friends after a long absence, or meet new people, they assume I’m a liberal Democrat, in part because they are, and also because I live in a blue city in a blue state.  I don’t like to argue in social settings, so normally I don’t reveal my political views. I can deal with differences of opinion, but what I find increasingly unpleasant is how smug and nasty liberal Democrats are when referring to conservatives,  Republicans, or even independents. I’d like to remain close to old friends and form new friendships, too. How do you suggest I deal with the demeaning attitudes and intense anger that so many liberals express toward conservatives these days?

Adrift in San Francisco

Dear Adrift,

(1) It is unpleasant to be treated as a moron, or criminally insane, a traitor to all that’s good and true, and, of course, a pariah, just because of your politics.  It’s even more than unpleasant to incur wrath because you don’t want to dive head first into the blue seas of the liberal Democrats around you. In regions like yours it’s easy to be blindsided — stunned, really — by the unanimity of idolatry toward the current president.  It’s galling to be presented with this uncongenial Venti, topped off as it invariably is by the latte of condescension. Disdainful liberals are unable to hide their contempt for those who differ with them. You begin what seems like an enjoyable conversation, but as soon you declare your political perspective, you go from being an attractive object of interest to the objectionable equivalent of a social leper.

(2) As soon as you realize that you’ve been presumed to be a liberal, nip it in the bud.  Say that you’re a conservative. And say it as calmly as you can, not as if it’s a challenge to a duel.  You may have to practice while you’re doing the dishes, but get to a point where you can say it with the same nonchalance as if you’re saying, “I’m from Nebraska.”  No big deal. If you don’t reveal your politics as soon as you realize that the other person presumes you’re a liberal, you’ll become increasingly restless in the political closet as you mutely endure the slings and arrows of outrageous insults heaped on you and your fellow conservatives.  You’ll also find yourself annoyed, not least at yourself, as you suffer through the predictable barrage of liberal arrogance.  However conflict-averse you may be, not revealing your true colors is like trying to pass as something you’re not.  Silence implies assent, and your silence won’t serve you well.

If you don’t disclose where you stand early on, you’ll become ever more irritated by how your liberal friends — having assumed you were one of them — refer to conservatives, and by the time you do tell them the truth, you’ll be far more exasperated than if you’d spoken up immediately.  By the same token, your liberal friends will be equally irritated at you. They’ll feel that you deceived them which, by your silence, is exactly what you did.

(3) Your tone matters.  Don’t be defensive, condescending, or aggressive with others, even when, or especially when, they address you in these ways. Be clear and friendly — and give them a chance to continue the conversation or let it drop.

(4) Your implied fear that expressing your political perspective may drive a wedge between you and your new and old friends is justified. It will put some distance between you and them, but in this case good fences make good neighbors by clearly demarcating the potentially toxic territory between you and them.

Think of it this way: if relationships are structures, revealing your political views will ensure that yours are built on firm ground and not on the quicksand of implicit deceit.

Even without a heated argument, a calm discussion is difficult to have with many liberals because they limit themselves to so few sources of information. An interesting exchange is foreclosed by their willful ignorance. It can be like talking with a cult member whose involvement forbids contact with anything that isn’t cult-approved.

When your interlocutor reads the New York Times and The New Yorker, listens to National Public Radio, and watches The Rachel Maddow Show — all uncritically and in the mistaken belief that these are objective sources of accurate information, what you’re dealing with is a person with an extremely restricted understanding of the country and the world.  These parochial news sources reinforce one another.  And even worse, the liberal will usually refuse to expose him-or-herself to a wider variety of sources.  I, myself, had the experience of emailing a liberal acquaintance a link to an insightful op-ed piece that appeared in a newspaper that is, apparently, on the liberal “do not read” list.  In reply, he wrote, “The Wall Street Journal? Please take me off your distribution list, Belladonna.” Wouldn’t even read it.  He saw the source, knew it wasn’t approved, and that was that.

(5) What not to do: Don’t think you can convert a liberal to your views. Political affiliation has become a matter of tribal and personal identification with a group. Although it may appear to be rational, it isn’t, entirely. It’s emotional. The desire to remain a liberal, even in the face of all the evidence of its failures, is born of humanity’s — and all living creatures’ — deepest instincts to affiliate with others and to retain that affiliation regardless of logic or facts.  Not everyone has either the desire or the need to think analytically about political realities.  Many base their politics on a yearning to be part of a movement larger than themselves.

By revealing that you’re a conservative, what the liberal will hear is this: “I could have chosen to be a member of your tribe, but I’ve decided your tribe doesn’t represent my understanding of the world.”  What this, in turn, conveys to the liberal is, “I’ve rejected the premises that undergird your entire world view.  The foundations of your understanding of the world are not mine.”

While people can and do change, they don’t turn around on a dime because of a single powerful conversation over drinks or dinner. Change occurs, if at all, over years or decades, through the slow accretion of new or newly-understood information and newly-formed impressions, as well as through the gradual accumulation of experiences and observations.

(6) Adult friends cannot and do not agree on everything.  You can try in an amicable way to agree to disagree on politics.  You can look for other areas of commonality. You may or may not succeed in your search.

It’s also possible that your differing political views are too powerful to sustain a close friendship, even if you succeed in finding other areas of mutual interest. The enormity of your political differences may always be the rogue elephant looming in the corner, ready to trample on discussions of a wide variety of other topics.

(7) When revealing that they’re not liberals, some conservatives will add, “I’m a fiscal conservative and a foreign policy hawk, but on domestic social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, I think you and I would agree.”  Of course, if that’s not true of you, that option isn’t available.

(8) Many conservative women, in particular, encounter liberal men in social settings who become uncontrollably loud and abusive when a conservative woman fails to nod pleasantly and express respectful agreement with his political views.  When this happens, remain as cool as you can.  Hold your ground.  Let the liberal become apoplectic while you calmly say, “I disagree with your characterization” or “I don’t share your contempt,” “I don’t accept your premises,” or “I see things differently.”

You be the rational one, while the liberal is driven around the bend not only by your views and your knowledgeable statement of facts, but also by your composure and your refusal to be bullied.

Don’t be surprised or stunned into silence or submission when this happens.  And it will happen.  Expect it. Trust me.

(9) Try to be patient with your liberal friends.  Their unexamined premises and their overwhelming desire for affiliation with their tribe are understandable, and not everyone has the temperament or inclination to think for him-or-herself.  They’re like prisoners trapped in a dungeon, unable to escape.

(10)   You could approach the challenge this way: try to show the liberals in your life what a thoughtful conservative is really like — as distinct from the demented fiend on the lunatic fringe conjured by their fevered imaginations.

— By Belladonna Rogers