The Right Coast

October 28, 2004
Mad Crowd Disease and the Slate of Endorsements
By Maimon Schwarzschild

As has been widely observed (at least in the blogosphere), the Slate contributors almost all say they are voting for Kerry, although many of them are barely civil about him. (One of the very few pro-Bush exceptions is a brave Slate intern!) The New Republic magazine, which at times in its recent history has printed a wide variety of centre-left to centre-right opinions, this year is stridently pro-Kerry (with the possible exception, slightly weirdly under the circumstances, of the New Republic's owner, Marty Peretz): an almost unanimous chorus, otherwise, in every issue of the magazine. I have noticed the same sort of thing even among some otherwise conservative law professors. And there are well-known right-wing academics who deflect the question by saying they will vote Libertarian this year.

What's the explanation for the even-more-than-usual unanimity -- anti-Bush unanimity, at least -- in these circles? One possibility of course is that G. W. Bush is just as evil and moronic as his adversaries, Old Media and otherwise, have so stridently insisted for four years that he is. The wise pundits see this, even if I don't. But, as I say, I don't. So do I have any alternate explanation?

Accelerating polarization, and tribalization, of politics is the only explanation that makes sense to me. Why else are centre-right intellectuals loudly broadcasting their support of what amounts to a mainstreamed Henry Wallace candidacy? The reality is that the long-standing liberal near-monopolies in academia, journalism, the arts, and the "helping professions" have gotten political religion: there is a pervasive air of political rage and fervour in these quarters. The liberal orthodoxy is not new; but the feverish level of feeling is. To announce for Bush in these surroundings is, quite simply, to incur personal excommunication: an end to friendly feeling from many if not all the people around you. Not many people are eager to be "dis-fellowshipped" to that degree.

Perhaps a few of the apparent-goers-along will quietly vote for Bush in the privacy of the voting booth. (Are there booths anymore? Not at my San Diego polling place...) But most won't. The cognitive dissonance would be too great. It's a lot easier to believe what you've decided to say you believe. The madness of the crowd sweeps you along.

It may be a cliche now, but it really was brilliant when Harold Rosenberg first saw it, and named it, half a century ago: the herd of independent minds.