Underestimating Opposition

I’m libertarian, not liberal, but a quoted remark from some conservative teenagers about liberals caught my attention. In an essay in the New York Times (Why Rural America Voted for Trump), Robert Leonard describes how two conservative eighteen-year olds think of liberals. Here’s the essay’s introductory paragraph, containing the quote:

Knoxville, Iowa — One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

Perhaps some liberals find this unfair or irritating, but I’ll leave them to their own assessment. Here’s what matters about the teenagers’ remark: they’re assuming their ideological opponents are lazy, and there are few greater mistakes than assuming weakness in one’s political opponents.

On the contrary, the better approach is to assume strength, skill, and tenacity in one’s opponents, and to prepare oneself to face capable adversaries.

Although one’s opponents might be lazy – and should be called out accordingly if that should prove true – one should prepare to face them as though they were industrious, relentless, insatiable. I’ve never prepared for any exchange in my life as though the other side were weak; one prepares as best one can under the assumption that a political adversary is formidable.

A liberal might look at the boys’ remark and take umbrage, but anyone (conservative, liberal, or libertarian) should look at it and notice instead the risk of underestimating others.