Judith Warner seems to be trying to get it.
In a meandering, unfocused piece in the NY Times, she tries to work through her confusion about Palinmania. Along the way, there is the usual condescension, barely contained.
But towards the end she seems to begin to understand something she may have never grasped before, and I applaud her for recognizing and at least grappling with it:
Haidt has conducted research in which liberals and conservatives were asked to project themselves into the minds of their opponents and answer questions about their moral reasoning. Conservatives, he said, prove quite adept at thinking like liberals, but liberals are consistently incapable of understanding the conservative point of view. “Liberals feel contempt for the conservative moral view, and that is very, very angering. Republicans are good at exploiting that anger,” he told me in a phone interview.
Perhaps that’s why the conservatives can so successfully get under liberals’ skin. And why liberals need to start working harder at breaking through the empathy barrier.
I’m not sure whether Ms. Warner is suggesting this as a strategic technique or if she really thinks it would be good for the liberal soul. But either way the effort would be nice, and I do believe she’s onto something when she writes that it’s one in which liberals very rarely engage. They may think they understand the mind of a conservative—and that it’s narrow, bigoted, selfish, and downright evil—but in the vast majority of cases they are wrong.
Of course, to truly understand the conservative point of view it might be necessary to read up on conservative values and principles as presented by thoughtful conservatives themselves, rather than as filtered through the eyes of liberal writers. And that might expose the liberal to some pretty compelling ideas that could have lasting repercussions. Beware, Judith Warners of the world—in trying to have empathy for conservatives, you just might end up becoming one yourself.