A few years ago Ann Coulter published a book titled "How to Talk to Liberal (If You Must)." With all due respect, Coulter, one of my favorite conservative eye-pokers, was wrong. There is no "how" in talking to a liberal. You can't talk to a liberal, period.
Believe me, I've tried. I've got a liberal mother, four liberal siblings and their assorted liberal offspring, and a horde of liberal friends (I went to college and grad school). Whenever I advance to them even the mildest of challenges to liberal orthodoxies, on topics ranging from the welfare state to illegal immigration to abortion, I'm greeted with name-calling, obscenities, shout-overs and, finally, the grave-like silence of ostracism.
The problem is this: We conservatives think liberals are silly; they think we're evil. Tell a liberal that you hope President Obama will be defeated in the upcoming election, and you'll be branded a racist. Voice your opposition to same-sex marriage, and you're a homophobe. Express outrage at the idea of building a mosque on the spot where one of the planes' fuselages fell in the 9/11massacre, and you're an Islamophobe. If you support the tea party, or Rick Santorum for president, or defunding Planned Parenthood, or setting up credible border enforcement, you could be all of the above plus more: anti-woman, anti-poor-people, anti-tolerance and a "fascist" to boot.
Liberals vs. conservatives
Liberals go on and on about the "Manichaeism" of conservatives: how quick we supposedly are to divide a morally gray world into black and white. But nothing beats the Manichaeism of liberals: Their causes are holy, and ours deserve a bucketful of scatology on Daily Kos.
Here are some characteristics of liberals that make it impossible to carry on a civilized debate with them:
• The personal is always the political, and vice versa. I nearly lost one of my oldest and dearest friends in 2004 after she forwarded me an email containing an incendiary anti-George W. Bushop-ed by the leftist novelist E.L. Doctorow. Among other charges in the op-ed, which made Bush look about as caring as King George III in the run-up to the Revolutionary War, Doctorow claimed Bush didn't care about the "forty percent" of Americans "who cannot afford health insurance." "Do you really believe this?" I emailed back, pointing out that Doctorow had gotten his numbers jumbled. It was not 40% but 40 million Americans — more like 15% — who lacked health insurance for various reasons back then. It took six years for my friend and me to mend our sundered relationship.
Conservative vs. Liberal: Gay marriage
• Liberals constantly violate the rule that politics and religion should be off-limits in social discourse. Toward the end of 2008, I received an invitation to some friends' Christmas party. Actually, it was a "holiday" party, since liberals never say "Christmas." The invitation informed me that we would be celebrating, among other things, the end of "eight years of Republican chicanery." Those friends weren't the only ones. A college pal's Christmas — er, holiday — card mailed around the same time rejoiced, "Our man won!" Our man? Liberals simply assume that if you possess a post-secondary degree and you've heard of Plato, you too would like to try Dick Cheney for war crimes and boycott the Lowes home improvement chain because it pulled its advertising from "American Muslim." Then, when they find out you're not on board, their faces petrify into Easter Island stone heads as they make a mental note to delete you from their iPhone address books.
• A conversation with a liberal is a minefield of political-correctness booby traps. Two years ago as I was defending my doctoral dissertation on a medieval topic, I mentioned that wealthy women of that time often functioned as patrons of the arts, commissioning beautifully decorated religious books. "Women like pretty things," I said. OMG! I looked around at the three learned but liberal female professors on the committee, their smiles suddenly frozen into rictuses, groans issuing from their lips. How was I going to tell my husband, who had already made the reservations for a celebratory dinner, that I'd failed the defense? (Fortunately, I didn't, but it was a scary moment.) It's always like that: chance observations about human nature or obvious sex differences drawing blood from the paper-thin epidermis of wounded liberals. You can't say that guys really do drive better than girls. You can't say that girls are worse at math. You can't even say "girls."
I don't have this problem with my libertarian friends, who are up for debating just about anything, especially libertarians' favorite topic, drug legalization. But when it comes to liberals — well, I love my liberal family, friends and academic colleagues, but I try to stick to safe conversation topics such as literature, music, food and gossip. Until one of them — as so often happens — asks, "Don't you think we ought to boycott (Fox News/ the Susan G. Komen foundation/ the state of Arizona/pick a pariah of your choice)?" And when I disagree, I'm the fascist.
Conservative vs. Liberal: Healthcare
Charlotte Allen is the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus."