Cruisin'

Johann Hari has written an interesting piece of immersion journalism about the recent National Review cruise. Basically, the way these cruises tend to work is that magazines will buy up a bunch of space on a cruise ship, then sell these rooms to their readers at a substantial mark-up, but with the bonus that they'll get to meet, listen to, and have dinner with famous people-- in this case, people like William Buckley, Ward Connerly, and Mark Steyn.

Anyway, the piece is by turns funny and disturbing-- basically, it's designed to illustrate what some conservatives will say when they don't think there are liberals around (Dinesh D'Souza sounds even stupider when he thinks he's speaking to an audience of like-minded dittoheads). You've got people arguing that the white race is in serious peril. Muslims are taking over Europe. Intellectuals are trying to tell everyone how to live.

As I said, it's fascinating, and very well-written, but it's not something that I think any of us need to feel too alarmed about, to be honest. This group is representative of the type of conservative who is willing to plunk down many thousands of dollars for a "vacation" with like-minded ideologues-- that's some self-selected crazy, right there. Are there others out there who feel as these people feel about the U.N., Iraq, and stem cells, but can't afford the vacation? Certainly. But as frightening as those people are, I don't think they really represent the majority of those who voted for George W. Bush and the neocon agenda in the last two elections. It's important to know that these people are out there, but it's also important to know that-- I think-- these "true believers" don't have much power themselves. Money, yes. Power, no.

Similarly, I should point out that Emily and I went on a cruise at the end of this year. We weren't on the same ship as the National Reviewers, but we were on the same line-- while Buckley and D'Souza travelled on Holland America's Oosterdam, Emily and I found ourselves on the Zuiderdam along with a whole bunch of The Nation's subscribers. We didn't plan this-- we were just taking our long-delayed honeymoon and catching up with some friends we hadn't seen it quite some time. Still, we thought, this might be nice, to spend a week surrounded by sensible left-wing types.

Boy, were we wrong.

As it turns out, anyone willing to pay many thousand of dollars to go on a luxury vacation with others who agree with his or her political ideology is an asshole, regadless of what that political ideology may be. Rich liberals suffer from feeling of entitlement just as much as rich conservatives do, and man oh man, can they be abusive to the wait staff. It turns out that a white-haired guy screaming at a bartender is just as obnoxious in a tie-dyed shirt as he is in a three-piece suit. And no, I didn't hear stuff about "reverse-discrimination" on my cruise, but I did hear-- over and over again, ad nauseam-- people yelling "Bush is an idiot! Bush is just an idiot!" Seriously, that seemed to be the extent of their political knowledge (and rhetorical skill). I overheard a lot of conversations, but I didn't hear anyone talking about domestic surveillance programs, or outsourcing torture, or election fraud. Not at all. Just a lot of smug assertions-- "Bush is stupid. Republicans are stupid. It's so nice to be around smart people, for a change."

Uh... yeah.

Now, to be fair, I'm pretty sure that the speakers on the liberal cruise were more intelligent and interesting than those on the conservative cruise. Indeed, at breakfast on our last day, we were sitting near one high-profile speaker (who Emily recognized right away), who was voicing to his companion the same complaints Emily and I had voiced earlier in the week-- "These people aren't very smart, and they don't even seem particularly liberal. Just rich and arrogant."

Anyway, all this is to say that, while I liked the Hari piece quite a bit, I think we should be careful about assuming that the people on that cruise represent mainstream conservatism, just as I wouldn't want anyone writing for The National Review who happened to be on the Zuiderdamcruise last year to assume that the obnoxious and abusive people on that cruise are representative of mainstream (or far-left) liberalism. These people are the hardcore believers who have more money than brains, and who are already predisposed to feelings of smug superiority. While that may describe many Republicans-- and all Republican leaders at the moment-- it most likely does not describe everyone who votes Republican.

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