How can ‘people like us’ vote for Ronan Mullen?
Educated people voted for one of the country’s most unashamedly conservative politicians
Ronan Mullen after his election to the NUI Seanad in 2007. He toppued the poll in 2016 election. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.
For some of those watching this week’s Seanad election results, Independent senator Ronan Mullen’s easy re-election exposed something deeply wrong with third-level education in Ireland.
Their indignation wasn’t because voters in the NUI constituency were misinformed or unsure about how to cast their ballot.
The travesty was that they had made the wrong choice. Supposedly intelligent university graduates - people who were educated! - voted for one of the country’s most unashamedly conservative politicians.
As it became clear that Mullen would not only win, but comfortably top the poll in the three-seat constituency with more than 20 per cent of the first preference vote, social media exploded.
“I think the best example of the failure in Irish 3rd level education is the re-election of bile-spewing altar boy, Ronan Mullen,” wrote one Twitter user of the senator, who has attracted much liberal ire for opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.
Other typical comments wondered about the “required intelligence level needed to vote” and how “sane, reasonable, university-educated people” could support Mullen.
Naturally, only the stupid and the ignorant could cast such a vote.
Mixed among the rage was genuine disbelief, no doubt exacerbated by the echo chamber tendencies of social media, that Mullen could have significant support among the public.
Worse, these were people who had been to university. People who had studied sophisticated tomes. People who knew the meaning of progress. People like us.
“How can someone as backward as Ronan Mullen be topping NUI polls? Students want progression not a return to the past,” wrote one student, apparently believing herself more in tune with the voters than the voters themselves.
Never mind that even his opposition to gay marriage, possibly his most controversial position, was echoed by 38 per cent of the electorate just last year.
Yet the deluge was entirely predictable. A similar wave of sneering contempt for voters gushed forth with the election of 25-year-old TD Jack Chambers in February.
Even more so than Mullen, Chambers, who describes himself as pro-life and opposes a referendum on the 8th Amendment, broke the rules of the right-thinking cohort by taking a Dail seat for Dublin West.
Not only was he elected as the youngest TD in the country, he was chosen by people in Castleknock, Blanchardstown and Clonsilla.
Chambers wasn’t an elderly farmer or primary school teacher elected in some primitive corner of Kerry or Mayo.
How could people like us, went the stunned chorus, vote for a unsophisticated cretin like that?
American essayist Emmett Rensin recently lamented a similar “smug style” that exists in American liberalism in an essay published by online media outlet Vox.
A man of the left himself, Rensin complained that, too often, self-described liberals paint those who disagree with them as not just wrong, but actually stupid, ignorant and bad. Rather than make even the faintest effort to understand the point of view of their opponents, they mock and ridicule.
They typically do this among themselves, negating any risk of actually evaluating an alternative opinion with an open mind. Since they know the truth already, what’s to learn? It’s easier and more gratifying to laugh and jeer.
Ireland is home to the very same mentality.
There are at least two good reasons to reject the “smug style” of those who believe they have a monopoly on reasonable thinking.
First, it imagines a cartoonish world of good and evil, where civility, friendship and co-operation become impossible with anyone who doesn’t tick the same box at election time.
In possibly the most tragically Irish expression of this mentality, one of Mullen’s detractors chimed in to say he probably wouldn’t be able to have a pint with anyone who voted for the senator. How sad. For all that any two people may disagree politically, it’s inconceivable that they have no common ground at all.
The second reason to dump liberal smugness doubles as some good advice to liberals themselves. If you want to effect change, you have to win people over to your cause. Unsurprisingly, people tend not to enjoy being mocked for their beliefs. Stupid people, after all, don’t change their minds.
John Power is a journalist who is based in Melbourne, Australia. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Mail, NK News, Sisa-In Magazine, UCA News, Asian Geographic and The Korea Herald.