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« Reason

Call Me A Liberal, I Don't Mind

By Tyler S. Clark (Contact)

Published June 6, 2008

Apparently the biggest insult in modern politics is to be called a Liberal. The Right-Wing media machine, from Sean Hannity (Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism) and Bill O'Reilly on Fox News to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage (Liberalism is a Mental Disorder) on talk radio to Ann Coulter (Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism) and Dick Morris on bookshelves, has invested billions of dollars in sharpening the term's razor edge, and the effect has worked.

Americans, according to a November 2004 survey, when only given the options "conservative" or "liberal," identify with the term conservative, 55 percent to 35 percent. When "moderate" is an added to the mix, the numbers are 19 percent liberal, 39 percent conservative and 42 percent moderate. If you go by these numbers alone, you might think America suffered from a paucity of Liberals. 

The problem, so to speak, of Liberalism is that it is such a large tent. As a movement committed to equal rights, it comprises diverse minority interests. These groups bring their own myriad agendas to the table and, gradually, any attention-getting campaign that conservatives find distasteful or unseemly can be attributed to Liberals as a whole.

Women pursuing reproductive freedom, pay equity, and an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation are termed feminazis. Environmentalists concerned with the fate of national parks, endangered species, and our natural resources are called "environmentalist wackos." 

Thus, the whole left-leaning crowd is painted with such unflattering portraits that one need not look further; one glance suffices to show these people aren't worth your time. These are ad hominem attacks—"arguments against the man"—designed to direct your attention to the personality and away from the issue.

You see, it turns out a supermajority of Americans agree on issue after issue with self-identified Liberals in these same surveys, even ranking to the left of so-called liberal Democratic political representatives. What are some of these issues? 

The government has a responsibility to take care of people who can't take care of themselves: 70% of Americans agree.

The government should see to it that every citizen has enough to eat and a place to sleep: 69%

Government-funded health insurance should be available for all: 66%

Stricter environmental controls are needed: 83%

We should put more emphasis on fuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies: 69%

Willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment: 60%

Opposed to making it more difficult for women to get an abortion: 56%

Just what is Liberalism, then? In 1951, Lionel Trilling described Liberalism as "a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine." Eric Alterman, in his excellent, new book, Why We're Liberals, points to the Enlightenment principles of "personal freedom, of thought, of expression, and of action," as Liberalism's roots, pointing to John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson as its forebears: 

"A liberal society strives to maximize these freedoms for the largest numbers of citizens while at the same time protecting the rights of the minority, whose ideas of personal freedom may conflict with those of the majority. This focus on the freedom and the personal dignity of the individual fundamentally distinguishes liberalism from the tenets of both the religious right and the Marxist left, which stress instead unquestioned obedience to a higher authority for the benefit of the collective."

So, while it can be perceived as amorphous with regards to its bedrock principles, the Liberal believes principally in individual liberty. From this root stem many related issues, including equal rights, personal freedoms, and governmental checks. 

The point is, despite its beleaguered moniker, Liberalism has a proud tradition and a pure motive. Do not be afraid to be called Liberal. When it's insinuated that you hate your country, that you don't support the military, that you lack a moral compass, that you don't understand fiscal responsibility, reject it outright. Sticks and stones…

From now on, demand that you be presented with fact-based arguments. No epithets, no name-calling, and of course you must be scrupulous to act in kind. Offer facts, demand them in return, and may reason win.


1grgzndmn(1 comment)posted 7 years ago

I think that many of us are getting too caught up in the labels that are put on groups of people. After all, put two liberals or two conservatives in the same room for long enough and you're sure to find that those two people are going to come to serious disagreement on some of their key beliefs. Conservative and Liberal have been generalized to an extent that i hesitate make any assumptions about someone simply based on a label.

If i were to list my personal beliefs i would surely be classified as conservative, perhaps ultra-conservative. But what does that really mean? Right away, based on that label, i'm sure to be characterized as hateful toward gays, rabidly anti-reproductive freedom, and hoping that we'll soon be invading Iran. But those things are not necessarily true. Often, i feel like i'm called a conservative in a derogatory tone - as if i'm a hateful person only interested in suppressing minorities and elevating the status of white males in this country. But my answers to the questions that a 'supermajority' of Americans agree with, according to your post, are different not for hateful reasons, but because i'm concerned about this country, just as you obviously are--even though my answers, without any sort of explanation, would seem cruel or filled with lack of concern. A closer look might reveal a thought-out response that does show compassion. For instance, it sounds nice to say that the government should make sure everyone has enough to eat and a place to sleep. But i believe that that is not the responsibility of government, but the responsibility of the individual. When a capable individual ceases to take responsibility for his own well being, he must instead take responsibility in the form of the consequences of his actions or inactions. I believe that those that are not able to care for themselves are the responsibility of churches and communities, rather than government. I am opposed to government-funded insurance not because i think the poor should be ignored, but because i believe that it will only increase costs to everyone while lowering the quality of care. And i'm opposed to abortion not because i want to take away a woman's right to 'reproductive freedom' (which i believe should be defined as a woman's right to choose when she has sex and what birth control she uses) but because i believe that an unborn child has as much right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as i do, and that that right is more important that the inconvenience of raising a child.

My point is that the "left-leaning" crowd isn't the only one that's being painted in an unflattering manner. Not that it should matter. I'm proud to hold the beliefs and values that i hold, just as you are. So, while i'm sure we disagree on many issues, i agree with you that we should cease the worthless name-calling, argue in logic and facts, and respect each other for the value we have as human beings--not the popularity of our beliefs.

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2valleyred(1102 comments)posted 7 years ago

I am a proud conservative pushing for conservatism to rule the valley!


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