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Why I Am A Liberal

Society & Culture  (tags: activists, americans, culture, education, freedoms, liberals, politics, rights, society, women )

- 1958 days ago -
Consider healthcare. We all of us--libertarians, conservatives and liberals--want a growing economy. And we all agree that a growing economy requires entrepreneurial dynamism.

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Kit B (276)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:00 pm
(AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh)

This past October, I participated in a debate at North Carolina State University sponsored by the Libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty. The YAL debates join a libertarian, conservative and a liberal. I held down the liberal pole. Why two positions to right of center and only one to the left? Good question, given that I find the potential breach within the the Democratic coalition—between, you might say, Keynesians and austerians, Krugmanites and Obamaites—more profound and potentially more portentous than that between conservatives and libertarians within the Republican coalition, but that’s an issue for another post. For this one, though, my inaugural post, the first of my thrice-weekly missives I’ll be blasting your way here at, you get a manifesto: my opening statement at that debate.

Richard Kim, the editor of this site, asked me for a few lines about what I’m going to be writing about here. I wrote back, “I’ll be interpreting contemporary political developments in light of their historical context. I’m especially interested in educating folks on the left about the organic continuities in right-wing thought and action—since the 1960s, since the 1920s, even going back to the eighteenth century. Too often we act as if the forces we’re fighting came about only the day before yesterday.” But first, before I get into all that, here are some “priors,” as the philosophers put it, some thoughts about where I’m coming from and why, the very best brief statement I could muster, for an audience of mostly conservative Southern college students about why I am a card-carrying liberal, and why they should be to.

A “liberal.” Yes, I’ll own the designation, not, as many on the left do, preferring the identity “radical,” disparaging “liberal” as a synonym for all that is anodyne, weak-kneed, not really leftist at all (see the classic statement by Phil Ochs here). I own it in part for the reason that liberalism, done right in this all-too-reactionary nation, is always already radical; for the reason that what most of the people putting their lives on the line to make left-wing political change around rest of the world—in Iran, say, in India, in Greece—are fighting for is liberalism; because a politics not merely of tolerance but of recognition—radical recognition—of those “different” from contingent cultural norms also is liberal, properly understood; and because frankly most of what I think is worth doing to create an economically just society is pretty damned liberal, too. If it was good enough for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to call himself a “liberal,” saying stuff like this (start reading at the part about “our resplendent economic autocracy” and “the individualism of which they prate”), it’s good enough for me.

But enough. That’s a digression. Here’s the post. I hope you find it helpful. Hold onto it for Thanskgiving next year when your wingnut uncle asks you how a nice person like you can be a stinking rat-bastard liberal. Maybe you can make him one, too.

* * *

In the 1930s, a congressman named Maury Maverick defined liberalism in three words: “Freedom plus groceries.” That’s how I define it, too. Liberalism is a both/and philosophy. There is no freedom without groceries. There are no groceries without freedom. What people call “capitalism” and “socialism” are actually one and inseparable. It’s a virtuous circle.

Consider healthcare. We all of us—libertarians, conservatives and liberals—want a growing economy. And we all agree that a growing economy requires entrepreneurial dynamism.

So ask yourself this: In a country in which health insurance isn’t guaranteed, how many millions of Americans with great ideas find it impossible to become entrepreneurs because they’re terrified to leave their job, because then they would lose their health insurance and ruin their lives if they get sick?

Now, in response to something like that, you’ll hear my fellow debaters repeat a curious fallacy, a crushing intellectual failure. They’ll act like only governments have the power to deprive citizens of freedom.

Consider, however, a corporation like Walnart, which had $447 billion in revenue this year, bigger than the gross domestic product of all but seventeen of the world’s nations. But according to libertarianism and conservatism, Walmart can only produce liberty. It can never curtail it. Even if they fire you for no reason at all—and by law there’s nothing you can do about it.

Conservatives and libertarians somehow believe that you are freer if an entity bigger than the economies of Austria, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates is simply left alone to act against you in whatever way it wishes. Only liberals know how to make you freer on the job, which is where most of us suffer the gravest indignities in our lives.

Liberals, in fact, make you freer everywhere. Look at liberty’s greatest historic advances: ending slavery. Giving women the vote. Outlawing legal segregation.

Each and every time, the people at the forefront of advancing those reforms—often putting their lives on the line—called themselves liberals.

Each and every time, people who called themselves conservatives announced that those reforms would unravel civilization.

Then—each and every time—once the reform was achieved and taken for granted, and civilization didn’t collapse, conservatives claimed to have always been for it, even holding themselves up as the best people to preserve it.

It happens with economic reforms too.

Let me quote what some conservatives said, once upon a time, about a certain bill pending before Congress:

“Never in the history of the world has any measure been so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers, and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.”

“…Invites the entrance into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as…to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the head of our descendants.”

“…Sooner or later will bring the abandonment of private capitalism.”

The bill they’re talking about was not Obamacare but Social Security. Which conservatives now say they’re the best people to preserve. That’s how they roll.

It’s happening now with same-sex marriage. Watch Fox News. Two years ago they brayed it would quote-unquote “destroy the family.” Now, they hardly mention it. Just you wait: ten, twenty years from now, conservatives will say they were for it all along. And that it is conservative. Just like they now say about Martin Luther King Jr., whom in the ’60s they called a Communist. (Did you know that when he was assassinated conservative leaders said he had it coming, that it was his own fault? Strom Thurmond said, “We are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case.” Ronald Reagan said it was just the sort of “great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they’d break.”)

What a childish way to be in the world. It’s cowardly. But that’s conservatism. Meanwhile, liberals will push for the next frontier for justice, and the right will figure out some way to call it the end of the world.

So in conclusion, I ask you, as young people parsing out your own political identity: Which side would you prefer to join? The side of the cowardly? Or the side of the courageous?

Has the Democratic Party given up fighting for progressive values today? Read a manifesto on the “political bankruptcy” of the Democratic Party and other commentators’ criticism of and support for its conclusions.

By: Rick Perlstein | The Nation |

Kit B (276)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:01 pm

This article is a little long but I found it a quick and fun read.

Past Member (0)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 4:51 pm
Thanks for this article.

Jae A (316)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 5:11 pm
Great and fun read it is Kit. Personally I think that both the right and left in this country are missing to many important 'points' and working on too many incorrect solutions for our problems currently. I'm a liberal but in the 'Green and or Justice' Party I will choose ]the correct way].. by steping courageously away from the cowardly without either major party [Repubs or Dem.] having my full on support in the future :-).

marie C (163)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 5:14 pm
Noted thanks interesting read

Kit B (276)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 5:17 pm

I hear ya on that Jae. There is just too much labeling of people anyway. I'm a liberal in the way that it counts, I absolutely believe in equal rights for all people. I also believe that all humans and animals should be treated with kindness and acceptance. My own faults to one side, of course. I know liberals that are democrats, republicans. libertarians and green party. It's a way of seeing the world. Just as conservative once meant a way of looking at how we finance this country not an allegiance to a political party.

pam w (139)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 6:11 pm
WOW! Thanks, Kit!

I keep asking....when did "liberal" become a "bad word?"

Sheryl G (363)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 8:03 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Jae because you have done so within the last week

Kit B (276)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 8:13 pm

Ah, but it is not a bad word, Pam. It has some true meaning, maybe best expressed by JFK:

"If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy


"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal". - JFK

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." - JFK

Past Member (0)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 9:56 pm
Saved the Article being so Interesting. TY, Kit.

Elle B (84)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 10:16 pm
Ty Kit ~ Labels used to identify and categorize citizens as packaged units for political purposes is ass-hat nonsense to this little creature. However, in attempting to express thoughts to fellow human beings using a common language. . .i find "liberal" to be a non-offensive and apt term when used to describe those people who think caring and sharing is a good way to live while sojourning in this unique life form at this unique location many refer to as... planet earth.

1 - "Antipathy to liberalism has been present from the outset of the conservative movement but it only became a powerful unifying influence in the early 1980s. "

2 - "Today's conservatives - especially social conservatives, as opposed to intellectuals and the more thoughtful politicians - define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal. That category includes everyone from Democrats to anyone with whom they disagree, and can, therefore, automatically be labeled a liberal." ―John Wesley Dean, III, [former] White House Counsel to U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon

"Conservatism requires liberalism for its meaning [for] without the enemy [of liberalism] to serve as nemesis and model, conservative politics would lack its organizing principle." ― Sidney Blumenthal, Washington Post

“There are few genuine conservatives within the U.S. political system, and it is a sign of the intellectual corruption of the age that the honorable term 'conservatism' can be appropriated to disguise the advocacy of a powerful, lawless, aggressive and violent state, a welfare state for the rich dedicated to a lunatic form of Keynesian economic intervention that enhances state and private power while mortgaging the country's future.” ― Noam Chomsky, The Culture of Terrorism

“Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals.” ― Mark Twain

“A Radical is a man with both feet firmly planted--in the air. A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward. A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards. A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest--at the command--of his head.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Past Member (0)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 10:41 pm
Alas, it seems to be only be in America where a person has to define and almost defend the term liberal.

Pretty much everywhere else it's just the norm these days.

Robert O (12)
Friday January 11, 2013, 12:40 am
Thanks Kit.

Nancy M (197)
Friday January 11, 2013, 8:41 am
My first chuckel having not yet read the article was that I am a liberal because of Pat Robertson's rants "hardnosed" "awful looking" women ruining marriages.

Will be back after reading.

Nancy M (197)
Friday January 11, 2013, 8:47 am
OK, very interesting article Kit.

Yeah, I often wonder about Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which seem more and more difficult in today's world.

David C (131)
Friday January 11, 2013, 10:32 am
Kit, sorry I can't send you another green star.

Arielle S (313)
Friday January 11, 2013, 1:58 pm
It's very sad that people who want to keep the earth healthy, people who want to help other people, people who care about all life forms, people who walk softly upon the earth are vilified with the "liberal" tag as if it was something to be ashamed of. I'm tickled pink to be a liberal - it means I care and I'm willing to do something to make the world better. We liberals should all stand tall and proud - just think what the world would be like without us.

Kit B (276)
Friday January 11, 2013, 3:35 pm

I think that first and fore most we are all just people. We get drawn into political issues and we are inveigled into thinking that we must take sides. Our life experiences do make each of us unique but as JFK said we all are wrapped in the same hopes and dreams for our children for this planet, for our future. I think we get caught in webs of political deception both left and right. It's far better for politicians to keep us fighting among ourselves than looking too closely at them.

Lin Penrose (92)
Friday January 11, 2013, 5:47 pm
Thanks Kit, that was fun and educational. I'm more in line with Arielle S. in my personal "Liberal" ideals. More concerned about the planet's health and all the creatures we humans exploit, including ourselves.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday January 12, 2013, 9:53 am
I'm a centrist I guess. I don't belong to any political party. I believe that regardless where an idea or piece of legislature originates it should be considered on its integrity and merit. That is the way we should be governing also and not on the partisan ideological lines that benefit no one save the top percentile who own 90% of the world's wealth and resources. They won't be satisfied either until they control it all including the minds and lives of a globally reduced population that serves as an indentured slave class. They would like nothing more than a return to the divine right of kings who govern their serfs.

Terry King (113)
Saturday January 12, 2013, 10:24 am
And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

I am an Atheist but still believe in this basic tenant of Christianity. Anyone who shares this belief is, by definition, a liberal!

Kit B (276)
Saturday January 12, 2013, 10:48 am

Nice to see you Terry.

And...I like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" --- Primarily the ideal of empathy.

This concept can be explained from the perspective of psychology, philosophy, sociology, and religion. Psychologically, it involves a person empathizing with others. Philosophically, it involves a person perceiving their neighbor as also "an I" or "self." Sociologically, this principle is applicable between individuals, between groups, and also between individuals and groups. (For example, a person living by this rule treats all people with consideration, not just members of his or her in-group). Religion is an integral part of the history of this concept

As a concept, the Golden Rule has a history that long predates the term "Golden Rule", or "Golden law", as it was called from the 1670s. As a concept of "the ethic of reciprocity," it has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard way that different cultures use to resolve conflicts It has a long history, and a great number of prominent religious figures and philosophers have restated its reciprocal, "two-way" nature in various ways (not limited to the above forms.
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