Thursday, February 08, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be "Liberal?"

This is a difficult time in our national history to be considered a liberal (or the more current term, progressive*), whatever those political labels have come to mean. To me, liberal more or less equates to the (albeit wishy-washy) old George W. Bush label of compassionate conservative (which appears to be an extinct species in any case).

I consider myself a relatively conservative person, in the sense of one who believes in fiscal responsibility, a live-and-let-live approach to my fellow citizens, the smallest and least intrusive government that does what we've elected it to do, and personal freedom coupled with acceptance of responsibility to the larger community. But the more I see what the term conservative has come to represent, I find myself recoiling and leaning more toward a a more centrist, or even just-left-of-center, political approach.

But what is a liberal, really?

I found this interesting open letter quoted on Miss Cellania's website. It's very long, and I'm not sure of its original provenance, but I'm reprinting most of it verbatim with my comments added in bold italics; (if you want to read whole thing, with the introduction and the conclusion I edited out, you can see it at the link above) because I think it's cogent, well-written, and important. If you're a conservative or a libertarian who always uses a tone of voice dripping with scorn when you drawl out the word liberal, you may want to read it in its entirety and think about what a true liberal actually believes in. Here we go ...


... quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines.

1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period. I agree.

2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that's interpreted as "I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all." This is not the case. I'm fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it's impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes "let people die because they can't afford healthcare" a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I'm not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen. I absolutely agree. I've written 29 posts (yes, I keep track) on the topic of health care, almost all of which have received some level of derision from my more conservative readers.

3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn't necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I'm mystified as to why it can't work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt. I agree completely. To the extent that we embrace an education system driven by profit rather than academic excellence, and accept mediocre performance from students, we will continue to see the present sort of national behavior.

4. I don't believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don't want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. Have you, conservatives and libertarians, ever - even once - heard anyone advocate taking your money and giving it freely to someone else? I thought not. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can't afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist. Or a lousy  bleeding-heart liberal.

5. I don't throw around "I'm willing to pay higher taxes" lightly. I'm self-employed, so I already pay a shitload of taxes. If I'm suggesting something that involves paying more, that means increasing my already eye-watering tax bill. I'm fine with paying my share as long as it's actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare. I agree. I'm retired, rather than self-employed, and I've paid my fair share of taxes over the years ... unlike many who have the money and legal wherewithal to skillfully manipulate or evade the tax code. I've written about this nine times before.

6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn't have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live. I agree completely. 

7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is - and should be - illegal) All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I'm not "offended by Christianity" -- I'm offended that you're trying to force me to live by your religion's rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia on you? That's how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don't force it on me or mine. This is absolutely on target. There's a good reason the Founders wanted the forces of religion and the state to be separated ... if it's a theocracy you want, where everyone is required to accept and honor your beliefs, you may be happier in a garden spot like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Pakistan.

8. I don't believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe we should have the *same* rights as you. I'm as straight as they come, and don't understand the biology or allure of an gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, but as long as you accept that I can be straight, I can accept that you can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or whatever.

9. I don't believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN'T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they're supposed to be abusing, and if they're "stealing" your job it's because your employer is hiring illegally). I'm not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc). I agree, and I strongly believe in legal immigration. I'm the descendent of immigrants (as are almost all of you who read this), and I believe that our immigration system is in desperate need of rational revision. Unlike most of the people who loudly howl about the problem, I have actually proposed a viable plan for addressing it (you can read the most recent version here) ... what's your plan, other than build-a-wall-throw-everyone-out-no-amnesty-nohow?

10. I believe we should take in refugees, or at the very least not turn them away without due consideration. Turning thousands of people away because a terrorist might slip through is inhumane, especially when we consider what has happened historically to refugees who were turned away (see: The Voyage of the St. Louis). If we're so opposed to taking in refugees, maybe we should consider not causing them to become refugees in the first place. Because we're fooling ourselves if we think that somewhere in the chain of events leading to these people becoming refugees, there isn't a line describing something the US did. I generally agree, although we need to be realistic and we need to be clear about what "due consideration" means in a bureaucratic and humanitarian sense. The last sentence isn't always the case, but in the case of, say, Syria and Afghanistan, it's pretty undeniable.

11. I don't believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It's not that I want the government's hands in everything -- I just don't trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they're harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation. The upside of living in a capitalist, free-market society is that it provides lots of opportunities for both personal enrichment/advancement and vicious exploitation of those lower down the economic ladder. In an unregulated system driven by profit motives, there's no profit in spending extra money ensuring products are safe and the environment is protected for the long term. Conservative and libertarian economists claim that "the free market" will force out those actors that don't worry about safety and purity, but I think the historical record is pretty clear that that's not the case. Should the government regulate every aspect of life and business? No. Should it intervene when needed to "promote the general welfare?" Yes. 

12. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I'm butthurt over an election, but because I've spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past. I tend to agree. If you can't see this happening in the undermining of our justice system and the demeaning and undermining of free press and free speech to protect a flawed and incompetent president, you have got some major blinders on. No, the administration isn't full of Nazis, but the historical parallels can't be ignored.

13. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege -- white, straight, male, economic, etc -- need to start listening, even if you don't like what you're hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that's causing people to be marginalized. I'm of two minds on this one. While racism is a real problem we need to face and address, I tend to object to the immediate assumption that everything negative is a result of racist attitudes. Over the years I've worked with and for people of every combination of sex, race, and religion, and found that all of those are poor indicators of a person's worth. I've met really great people and really awful people of all races, sexes, and beliefs ... sometimes, an individual is just a jerk. 'Nuf said.

14. I believe in so-called political correctness. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you're using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person? Your refusal to adjust your vocabulary in the name of not being an asshole kind of makes YOU the snowflake. My mother used to tell us that it doesn't cost anything extra to be polite and to show concern for others.  

15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else. The rest of the world is going all-in for renewable energy. We're the ones being stupid.

I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I'm a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn't mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don't believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.


So, there it is. I understand that there have been similar overwrought comments made against conservatives and libertarians, but I have to admit that many of those on the right ... and not necessarily on the far right ... scare me. It's time for everyone to do a little soul searching and recognize that not everyone of a particular political persuasion is a foul, America-hating, troop non-supporting bastard.

But that's just my opinion, and what do I know?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* So what's the difference between a liberal and a progressive? Here's one attempt to distinguish one from the other.


John A Hill said...

I've seen this before. Definitely worth sharing.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

A great post.

Mike said...

Great points. Do I get continuing education credits for reading all that?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Very interesting thoughts along this line.

Unknown said...

Roomie, GREAT blog and your comments. You and I think similarly on all of these points.