Viewpoints

Ruben Navarrette: Repellent talk from the left

SAN DIEGO – Liberals often say they want to take people of color and lift them up. If so, it might help to stop talking down to them.

Those on the left do that when they’re making themselves feel superior, arguing that Latinos and African-Americans can’t succeed without them, or putting in their place dissidents who challenge the liberal orthodoxy.

All of these factors may have motivated a left-leaning reader from San Antonio, who despises Republicans and any others “who argue that George W. Bush was actually a pretty good president,” to recently drop me a line. He wrote to take issue with a column but meandered into a personal attack.

These days, a lot of Latinos are feeling insulted – especially by right-wing commentators eager to sell books who don’t let the fact that they know little about the immigration debate stop them from having strong opinions on it.

Many Latinos think they’ll find safe haven on the left. But how many of them realize that there is more vitriol there if they deviate from the script set out by liberals and learn to think for themselves?

The column that set off the reader was on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s hawkish and internationalist views on foreign policy, which I supported and the reader opposed.

There is nothing wrong with that. You can’t be in the opinion business and deny people the right to theirs.

But the reader crossed the line by using condescending language that I doubt he would use in addressing a national columnist who is white. Judging from previous letters he has written over the years, it’s clear that this Texas liberal has his share of racial hang-ups. In the past, he has often referred to Mexican immigrants using an ethnic slur and glibly addressed me as “Senor.” Besides, he seems interested in Latinos only to the degree that he can use them as a weapon against his arch enemies – Republicans.

As far as the reader is concerned, the fact that I agreed with a Republican governor on an issue proved that I had sold out.

Ah, there’s a familiar phrase. I’ve been called a “sellout” since I first put pen to paper 25 years ago, usually by angry liberals but occasionally also by angry conservatives.

Recently, another reader who favored a hard line on immigration and was furious at my support for legalizing undocumented immigrants suggested a nice spot for a summer vacation: “Why don’t YOU and all of your liberal friends march south across the border and STAY there?” He signed off: “But you keep fighting the good fight, you sellout.”

Yet, you’re still more likely to hear the phrase from someone on the left. That was my experience back in the late 1990s when, after criticizing Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who was then serving as the U.S. attorney from Arizona, I was scolded by a liberal reader who insisted every opportunity I’d had in life came from affirmative action secured by the Democratic Party. I should be more grateful, he said.

Today, some readers accuse me of not doing enough to fight for the “little guy.” But, over the years, I’ve come to see that the little guy gets shafted by both parties, which are more alike than different when it comes to getting power and keeping it. Sometimes, the little guy is slammed by the right, as when nativists malign undocumented immigrants. Other times, he gets pummeled by the left, as when Democratic-leaning teachers unions stifle the support that Latino parents have for testing and accountability measures.

The reader from San Antonio concluded his letter: “You need to worry about your soul. You have sold it. I see what you are doing to it and, strange though it may seem, I worry about you. I feel sorry for you.”

That’s the “tell.” A conservative might just come out and tell you how much he despises you. But a liberal would much rather tell you how disappointed he is in you, as if you’re some social-science experiment that went off the tracks.

Someday, those on the left might just figure out that liberal condescension is – to many of the folks they claim to represent – a more effective repellent than bug spray. When that happens, they might even give it a rest. And our national dialogue will improve.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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