Monday, March 07, 2005

Defining liberalism down

In the previous post’s comments thread my conservative friend Alamo Commando jokingly referred to himself as a superhero fighting crime and liberalism. I understand the joke, of course, but I also know that in some respects he is being serious because Commando, like many other good Americans, works with a definition of liberalism that is radically different from my own.

Ever since Ronald Reagan mocked Democrats for embracing the unspeakable L-word, people have steered clear of the term like it was radioactive. Today when right-wing provocateur Sean Hannity puts out a book with the title “Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism,” most people don’t bat an eye.
Even self-described liberals just shrug it off now because we are used to being insulted on a daily basis. Everywhere you look today - newspapers, TV shows, bookstores, radio - you are constantly barraged with derogatory references to liberals or liberalism.

Liberals today are accused of everything from racism to treason. In the perverse Orwellian logic of some conservative leaders today, anything the government does to help people today is bad. Social welfare programs make people dependent and take away their incentive to improve themselves, the argument goes. Programs aimed at minorities are both condescending and racist because they assume these people need extra help. Meanwhile, these same liberal programs that are hurting the poor are also the cause of our huge budget deficits and are the reason why our taxes are high and our economy is underperforming.
People who question the war in Iraq are providing aide and comfort to our enemies and hurting the morale of our troops. Worse than that, they actually want despots like Saddam Hussein to win just so they can advance their nefarious political schemes.
Some people equate liberalism with immorality - especially the sexual kind. Those Hollywood liberals are responsible for the filth that is polluting the minds of our children and their overly-tolerant anything-goes attitude is lowering the standards that have made this a God-fearing country until now.

But this obviously is not how I view myself. I see liberalism as a good and positive force in our society. My liberal views are strongly based on my religious faith. To me, Jesus Christ was the ultimate bleeding heart liberal. The example he set and the teachings he put forward set a standard much higher than I have been willing to follow. I’ve never visited anyone in prison. I have yet to give away all my possessions to the poor. I have a difficult time forgiving all my enemies and turning the other cheek every time I feel slighted or injured. But I do try to live a Christian life and I don’t see why I shouldn’t support furthering some of those Christian values through our government. If helping poor people is truly a bad thing, as conservatives today insist it is, then start by blaming Jesus.

Anyway, here are a few definitions of a liberal that I found on the web:

Liberal. [n]  a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties. --

A person who believes it is the duty of government to ameliorate social conditions and create a more equitable society. Liberals favor generous spending on the welfare state; they exhibit a concern for minorities, the poor, and the disadvantaged and often see these conditions as a product of social injustices rather than individual failings. Liberals also tend to be concerned about environmental issues, the defense of civil liberties, and do not favor excessive military spending. -- iAmericanSpirit Political Dictionary

Liberals tend to favor greater federal power to remedy social inequities, and to support freedom of personal choice and behavior. Liberals are described as being left of center on the political spectrum. Of the two major political parties, the Democratic Party is generally regarded as being more liberal. -- Election Glossary, Public Broadcasting System (PBS)

[Liberals] generally believe in some form of income redistribution, a social safety net, universal health care, progressive values, and a multilateral foreign policy. -- Harvard University Institute of Politics Glossary of Political Terms

In today's world, the liberals are the idealists, the people who still believe, in spite of everything that has happened, that they can make the world a better place for everybody. They believe that government is inherently good, that it can make the human condition better. They believe that we have some obligation to our fellow human beings. They believe in personal freedom, in freedom of speech and religion. They believe in the common good, the things people cannot do alone. -- Henrietta Hay, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves. -- Sen. John F. Kennedy, Sept. 14, 1960

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