Why Don’t “Progressives” Debate Conservatives?

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I bumped into New York Times columnist Tom Friedman at Dulles Airport a few months ago and asked him if he would ever come on talk radio. He said he doesn’t do such shows. Yet shortly thereafter he went on NPR. What he meant to say was that he doesn’t go on conservative shows.

Why don’t liberals read us or listen to us or debate us?

Because the left has convinced itself that the right is unworthy of such attention.

They are certain that conservatives are sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic Islamophobic, racist and bigoted, not to mention anti-intellectual and anti-science.

The left has a mutually reinforcing dynamic at work here. Because liberals believe conservatives are all these terrible things, they do not bother acquainting themselves with conservative arguments. And because they do not acquaint themselves with conservative arguments, they are able to go on believing conservatives are all these terrible things.

Take race-based affirmative action. There is overwhelming evidence that it has hurt black college students. Nevertheless, liberals dismiss conservative opposition to affirmative action as racist. Therefore they do not read any of the empirically based studies and arguments against affirmative action. Why read racist hate?

I wonder what it would take to persuade Cornel West to debate Walter Williams or Thomas Sowell on the issue of race-based affirmative action.

One other example: Some of the most eminent climate scientists and physicists have questioned the manmade global warming computer models. Nevertheless, no liberal I am aware of has ever responded to what MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen or Princeton physicist William Happer has written. After all, if every scientist who challenges global warming orthodoxy is anti-science, why read anti-scientific literature?

I wonder what it would take to persuade Al Gore to debate Richard Lindzen on whether manmade carbon dioxide emissions are leading to a worldwide environmental catastrophe.

So, it is rather rare for to see a liberal actually forced to debate conservative intellectuals. And after last week in the Supreme Court, it may become even rarer.

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  • Larry

    They are also lacking in coherency and rationality in their positions and philosophy. As soon as they are challenged by a thoughtful question or position that requires them to go beyond the immediacy of a warm and fuzzy feeling they find that they simply can't, for the simple reason that they have never bothered to go there.

    And as soon as they go there their philosophy collapses in the face of reality and its own internal incoherence.

    • Jim_C

      Thoughtful questions about Obama being a Muslim who wasn't born in this country? Thoughtful questions about why the rich should continue to get tax breaks while we dismantle programs the middle class has relied on for decades?

  • Jerome

    WHat thoughtful liberals? Thoughtful liberal is an oxymoron.

  • http://www.theworldofgreasywrench.blogspot.com rich b

    I've been saying the same thing for years about progressives and their cowardice when it comes to true debate. They always seem to fall back on their talking points when challenged by a true intellectual in an argument. Debbie Wasserman Schultz comes to mind. She always seems to result to official democratic party dogma and outright lies when confronted.

    And a great example supporting Dennis Prager is Ann Coulter. I've seen Ann march straight into the "lion's den" without a scared bone in her body. She is a regular on college campuses and talk shows where she is hated by the progressives and knows their main solution to her debating skills is the tossing of pies and/or glitter bombs. I very rarely see Ann lose an argument. Would Keith Olbermann ever have the stones to actually debate a Conservative? Would and did Al Gore ever go toe-to-toe with an actual scientist? I think we all know the answer to that.

    • aspacia

      Coulter did lose the claim about Jews needing to convert to Christianity. Several Jews hammered her big time and Coulter let the topic drop.

      • rich b

        Probably because she was wrong and knew it. She did put her foot in her mouth that time.

        • Questions

          Speaking of someone utterly unwilling to stick their neck out! Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Mark Levin and the others never once have had the stones to challenge a liberal to a debate. If they host a radio show, their idea of a "discussion" is to insult, cut off or hang up on the caller.

          This is the 180-degree opposite of Bill Buckley, who always was willing to take a hit for the team and who was an expert debater. Most of today's conservatives are gutless. They will denounce liberals from the safety of their radio booth or laptop, but they'll never test themselves in open debate.

  • tkellybal

    I've spent a number of years on each side of the political spectrum, now conservative. I have the debating advantage of knowing how the other side thinks. This post by Prager stands to reason. If liberals understood conservatives, they'd become one.

    • Guest


      Although, there is a serious intellectual deficit in mainstream conservatism as well.

      Hopefully, conservatives will one day wake up and get out of the bad habit of emphasizing economic conservatism as their defining yardstick. The relevance of economics is miniscule compared to social issues when it comes to real political power. If anyone professes to be a true conservative, they should be able to think about and explain why that is. ALL true power comes from social movements and social environments that take years or even generations to effect, not from economic policies that can be changed with the flick of a pen.

      A "conservative" with liberal social politics and conservative economic politics isn't a conservative at all, but a liberal by definition of his social politics. Hence, "libertarians" are liberals because their social politics have the same political effect of the social politics of the left, which are the politics that determine any real and lasting change in power toward the right or the left.

      No individual has ever withstood an army. All politics and political power is defined by the relative effectiveness of group co-operation. This effectiveness is directly determined by the relative strength of the groups conservative social values and norms.

  • kateyleigh

    Makes sense. They aren't taught to think (remember Obama's words-don't think critically, don't question your leaders), they're taught to regurgitate information—indoctrinated. Trying to get them to think is an exercise in futility most the time, no matter what you point out they can't connect the lily pads in the pond.

    • alavarezew

      Ok…Kateyleigh….ever heard of all the "Pragerites' regurgitating his arguments without ever having read his books or validated his claims? Geez. Hope you are not one. Submit an original idea for a change and I will listen.

  • Schlomotion

    A new book is coming out breaking down the political field into "liberal," "conservative," "leftist" and "progressive" and shows that the "liberals," "progressives," and "leftists" are all one and the same and are wrong, while "conservatives" are smarter and better? This is bound to be earthshattering work. It is sure to change the face of politics. Nobody has tried this before! I don't think people are ready to think in these visionary terms. I hope it comes out in hardcover.

    • fiddler

      Please, smarter and better? C'mon. How about REASONABLE, how about thoughtful? How about respectful? How about engaging? How about enterprising? How about vibrant? How about creative? How about law-abiding? Just compare the unasuming character of the tea party with the riotous Occupy movement. Respectful? Law-abiding? I think to declare that they are the same is doing mental gynmastics.

      "When I was a child, I spoke as a child and thought as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things". 1Cor 13.

    • fiddler

      The Left will dismiss it and repudiate it. I think these people need to be befriended and helped a long one-by-one. Ask good thought-provoking questions and don't be accusatory. Don't give them fodder for their victim mentality.

      • Schlomotion

        I think books with a trite theme from 1985 should not be issued in the 21st Century as bold, new ideas.

  • tagalog

    What Prager describes is the reason why there is a sizeable percentage of the American populace who would be fine if the right to freedom of speech were curtailed or done away with altogether; America's lefties have defined an entire body of thought as taboo or beneath notice, certainly not deserving of a response, while the theory behind freedom of speech is that speech calls for more speech, an ongoing debate, so that the value of ideas can be worked out and developed in order that the best ideas survive while the bad ideas get consigned to the ash heap of history. But for liberals it's always May Day and there's no need to answer to the ideas of the Fourth of July.

    And of course, what Prager describes is the prelude to something horrible to contemplate; as happened just before the Civil War, people simply stop communicating and arguing with each other and take the next step, which is first, to try to opt out of the debate altogether, followed by one side or the other deciding to take up arms.

    • fiddler

      John Calhoun.

      • tagalog

        They have a huge, imposing statute of John C. Calhoun in Marion Square in the center of downtown Charleston, S.C.

        Mr. Nullification Ordinance himself.

    • Jim_C

      I don't endorse what Prager describes, but I think you hit on a weakness of liberals (though also of some conservatives). What I like about conservatives is they think in terms of raw liberty more than liberals do. And they also have a better understanding of from whence rights are derived. But both sides make too many assumptions about their givens ("The American way means….")

      I give conservatives the edge when it comes to liberty, but liberals have the edge in terms of the social contract–they're more realistic about the cost of a society.

  • AAC

    It needs to start at a very young age, when children are taught the value of different opinions. For adult liberals, it may just be too late to expect them to suddenly become open-minded. They may also be taking a childishly protective stance — that is, if I don't hear it (hands pressed against ears) it doesn't exist.

    • guest

      They can change if you can explain why they should be conservative in a manner that appeals to their intellect (and conservatism doesn't happen to be against their self interest – as many groups in this country practice liberal politics because it best benefits their weak group, in that it helps them take from a stronger / more effective groups).

      However, most conservatives don't understand why conservatism is necessary, as a matter of group political power. Hence, they can't explain it in a manner that is intellectually persuasive.

  • Zundfolge

    The unfortunate consequence of the way progressives "think" is that eventually we'll have to confront them on terms they can understand. A lot of people are going to die that day. :(

    • Jim_C

      Aren't you a charmer.

  • Gary from Jersey

    Some years ago, Front Page Magazine had an interview with a University of Chicago psycholgist whose book describes liberalism as a form of mental illness. Based on Prager's essay, he appears to be correct. There's no hope of reasoning with leftists; history, fact logic and reason are lost on them so they fall back on invective, name calling and evasion. You're playing with fire when you challenge people like that and they know it. Just witness the left's reaction to the SCOTUS hearings on Obamacare. The only hope is to reach people who haven't been poisoned by the reactionary left so grownups can save this country.

  • David Olds

    You are wrong on the global warming thing. I am a conservative who has fought Islam for close to twenty years (way before most anyone else even noticed) and see Obama for the threat to America that he is, but I can't go against an overwhelming majority of scientists. I don't see them as bias in that area.
    As a Christian I view the creation as the revelation of Gods character. To destroy something God said is "Good" is like tearing a page out of the bible. That part of nature could have drawn someone to God as I was by the beauty of the Southern Utah desert 50 years ago.

    • raul

      Are you aware of HAARP and the govts weather modification program? If carbon dioxide is such an evil and cause of global warming why do hundreds of govt planes traverse the skies daily spraying chemicals and emitting millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmoshere from their jet engines? Global warming is a coverup for the govt spending billions upon billions of dollars to experiment with the weather! If your old enough to remember normal patterns of weather in the past before this weather modification program was instituted you would see the vast difference today. This cant be debunked,the govt has even admitted to doing this! It's all a scheme to impose cap and trade,that which the govt would control commerce even more! It's all about govt control over the citizens,thats what this administration is all about. look it up HAARP.

  • David Olds

    Science is nothing more that good logic and without logic nothing can be decided and discussion is a waste of time. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. There are so many threats to my children’s future it is frightening. Our only hope is clear thinking but I see VERY LITTLE of that happening in the world thanks to mans willingness to believe what makes him feel most comfortable and free of cognitive dissonance. We ally ourselves to one ideology or another and refuse to admit we might be wrong or change our opinions because our sense of self would suffer.

  • David Olds

    I was born and raised in Utah before it was slowly ruined by the greed of men. (Damn Mormons!) In my single lifetime the world has gone from healthy, almost pristine, to the ugly mess we see today. I will debate and win any argument that says nature is here for us to gobble up as fast as we can simply to keep the economic machine running. That is shortsighted to say the least. My kids and kid’s kids will never see the beauty I have seen in the pristine desert of the SW United States. That was the fault of conservative ideologs, without the ability to think for themselves, who are just as narrow minded as the leftist clones on the other side.

  • David Olds

    Those who see the earth as just a bunch of crap to make money with and don't see God in the beauty or even the beauty itself are single dimensional, shallow and missing the best part of existence on this planet. If you can't appreciate of feel the wonder of the amazing complexity and beauty in nature you are little more than a biological machine and haven't taken the time to even wonder about the big questions. You are barely even conscious. You can be busy and productive and never have a real moment in your whole life. So keep watching your TV and do your best to avoid any real thought.
    I am to harsh. Yes, but I am so fed up with fools.

    • Jim_C

      Just think–even here, a fool would give you a thumbs down for your great posts.