Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Liberal" is Not a Four Letter Word

I've been on the receiving end of the term "liberal" quite a few times over the years, and it wasn't hurled my way as a compliment, that's for sure. It was meant to be derogatory, although my dictionary describes liberal like this:
Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Personally, I think those are some pretty good qualities to have, but conservatives have succeeded in making "liberal" an epithet according to Paul Waldman, and it wasn't by accident. It was the result of a relentless campaign against liberalism by conservatives. Waldman also maintains liberals need to do the same thing to conservatism, and a good first step would be to never, ever again use the word with a positive connotation. He even gives us some talking points worth noting [emphasis added]:
1. Conservatism has failed. The overwhelming majority of the American public now sees the Bush administration as a failure. They failed in Iraq, they failed after Hurricane Katrina, they failed on health care, they failed to deliver rising wages, they failed on the deficit, they failed, they failed, they failed. Why? Liberals need to argue that it wasn't a product of incompetence, it was a failure of conservative governance. As Alan Wolfe put it in a recent Washington Monthly article, "Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well."

Conservatives had their chance: a Republican president, a Republican Congress, Republican-appointed courts -— in short, the perfect environment for enacting their vision with little to stand in their way -— and they failed. Should we be surprised at the level of corruption? Of course not; they don'’t think government is there to serve the people, so why shouldn'’t they raid it for whatever they can grab?

In short, progressives should start talking about the Bush administration's failures not as those of a president, but of an ideology.

2. Conservatism is the ideology of the past -— a past we don't want to return to. Liberals need to embrace the culture war, because we're winning. The story of American history is that of conservative ideas and prejudices falling away as our society grows more progressive and thus more true to our nation's founding ideals. Conservatives supported slavery, conservatives opposed women's suffrage, conservatives supported Jim Crow, conservatives opposed the 40-hour work week and the abolishment of child labor, and conservatives supported McCarthyism. In short, all the major advancements of freedom and justice in our history were pushed by liberals and opposed by conservatives, no matter the party they inhabited at the time.

Conservatism is Bill Bennett lecturing you about self-denial, then rushing off to feed his slot habit at the casino. It's James Dobson telling you that children need regular beatings to stay in line. It'’s a superannuated nun rapping you on the knuckles so you won'’t think about your dirty parts. It'’s Jerry Falwell watching "Teletubbies"” frame by frame to see if Tinky Winky is trying to turn him gay. Conservatism is everyone you never wanted to grow up to be.

3. Conservatives are cowards, and they hope you are, too. We're afraid, they shout. We're so afraid of terrorists, we have to become more like the things we hate. We're so afraid, we have to let our government sanction torture. We'’re so afraid, we have to let the government spy on us. We'’re so afraid, we have to give the president dictatorial powers. We'’re so afraid, we just want to rush to the arms of politicians who say they'’ll protect us.

Progressives need to frame their rejection of the fear campaign as an act of courage: Al-Qaida does not scare us, and we will not dismantle our democratic system because we are afraid. The America we love does not cower in fear, as the conservatives want it to.
Waldman also points out a troubling contradiction: In contemporary public opinion on nearly every issue, the progressive position is more popular, yet the number of people willing to tell a pollster they consider themselves "conservative"” still far outnumbers the number willing to say they'’re "“liberal."”

That tells me there are a lot of Americans out there who need to quit worrying about labels and join the rest of us who truly care about making our country great again - for all of us.


Lew Scannon said...

Conservatives often times act like a child with a big bag of candy that someone else gave them who doesn't understand why they should have to share it with anyone else.
I think the article makes good points of the failures of conservatism, economically we're regressing to the 18th century, the time of robber barons and no middle class.

Mike Bogle said...

Great post Kathy :) Problem here is that PM John Howard's party is called the Liberals. How the heck does that work? False advertising I tell you!

abi said...

Incredible, isn't it? People who more often than not share progressive ideas with liberals are afraid to identify themselves with that label because of the masterful hatchet job done on it by the right.

Speaking of liberals and conservatives, I love this line from Al Franken's book Lies:

"[Conservatives] love America the way a four-year-old loves her mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a four-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad."

Kvatch said...

To a four-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad.

Abi, that's a pretty good analogy, and oddly don't remember it from the book, matter.

Kathy, maybe we liberals need a motto: "I'm so liberal I make Bill Clinton look like a Bircher."

thepoetryman said...

Yes! Not as a failed president, but as a failed ideology! That is most certainly the ticket! Thank you, my friend...


Lish said...

While I feel there are some absolutely wonderful and accurate points in your argument, as well as the supporting text, to view conservatives on the basis of several tyrannical leaders who fail to follow through with anything other than their own personal directives is just plain silly.

I am neither liberal or conservative, and at the same time, I am both. I have voted on either side of the spectrum, sometimes throwing my vote toward people who have no chance of winning because of our nation's extremist practices in politics.

I am part of that faction that settles in the middle, feeling some issues and protests are necessary, while others may not be, except to those few who want to change policy for a small portion of the population rather than considering what is positive and progressive for the entire nation.

Using supporting materials that utilize black-and-white descriptions of any one side ("Conservatives are cowards") shows that you support those who label others in derogative ways, something that you claim is only practiced by conservatives.

The only way to bridge this country together is to stop with the name-calling and start listening to one another. This way is the only we will ever begin to understand and, eventually, adopt or compromise our own systems of thought to make this country a better place.

Kathy said...

Lish, thanks for leaving a comment. You bring up some good points, but I have to comment on this statement: The only way to bridge this country together is to stop with the name-calling and start listening to one another.

I agree with that to a point, however, I've noticed that using restraint and tolerance only goes so far. I'm not advocating vulgarity and name-calling, but sometimes people perceive taking the high road as a sign of weakness. If I'm going to be attacked as unpatriotic because I'm not in favor of the Iraq war, then I don't think it's unreasonable to call the person making the accusation a "coward" - especially when the comment comes from "anonymous."

Also, I should have clarified my post to say that I don't view all conservatives the same way. I have lots of conservative friends and I've included links on this blog to conservative sites, but I am tired and disgusted with those conservatives that have managed to dominate our culture. They may be a minority, but they've succeeded in bullying those moderate conservatives into submission. Those are the conservatives I have a problem with. (There are also extremist liberals I have problems with too.)

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. Drop by again.

Mike, you do have a dilemma! Sorry, but I can't help you. I have my hands full trying to keep up with American politics!

Abi, your quote from Franken is interesting. It's been shown that abused children will continue to love their parent even after gross neglect. I can't remember the psychological term, but the same idea is applicable here. A person/group of people identify themselves so closely with another person/group that they fail to look objectively at the dynamics of their relationship.

Kvatch, a motto with Clinton's name in it will not help! I thought he was a great president, but people can't get beyond his private moral failings, although I find it odd that they let Guiliani and others slide when it comes to morals.

Kathy said...

Abi, groan...I hate getting old. As soon as I posted my last comment to you, I remembered the term I was trying to come up with - Stockholm Syndrome.