Saturday, November 26, 2005

Why I am a Liberal -- An Introduction

One of my favorite TV series is The L Word. The "L" in question, of course is for "lesbian," which is supposed to be so scandalous to polite society that it must remain inutterable. I have found, however, that in our present, poisonous political environment, it is less perilous to identify myself as a lesbian than as a liberal. The new (and evidently more frightening) L Word is liberal.

I have been paying close attention, for some time, now, both to the way the word "liberal" is used by those who call themselves conservatives and to the reluctance of many I know -- folks whose expressed viewpoints place them solidly left-of-center -- to touch the word with anything shorter than a ten-foot pole.

Many of those who call themselves conservatives are actually, upon closer inspection, moderates. It has become so hot and trendy to identify with the brash, hip, trash-talking Right that calling oneself a conservative is now the cool thing to do. As few hardcore Right-Wingers can stand to listen to any opinion less extreme than their own, it is also a way to hide in plain sight and keep from getting shouted down.

A good many self-proclaimed moderates are actually liberals. They've simply been bullied into a deathly fear of admitting it. Even those of us who aren't afraid of inciting a fistfight (with these weasel-ass little combat-dodgers? Don't make me laugh!) think twice about spending all our social time arguing against those who try to stereotype or miscast us. As soon as you tell a Right-Winger that you're a liberal, they'll spend the next hour and a half telling you what that means. Only very rarely, in their rantings, do I recognize anybody who even remotely resembles myself.

This brainwash (actually, it's a power-wash) has been so successful, in our society, that for private citizen, politician and pundit, terms like "liberal," "leftist" and "progressive" have become dirty words. Merely calling somebody one of these names is often taken as an insult.

"The term leftist is frequently bandied about in the U.S. media, but seldom defined. The power of the label is in its remaining undefined, allowing it to have an abstracted built-in demonizing impact, which precludes rational examination of its political content."
Michael Parenti, author/media watchdog, Z magazine (Aug. 2005), quoted from The Utne Reader (Nov-Dec '05)

Now, I'm not crazy about "progressive" for two reasons. First of all, it isn't very descriptive. What the heck is a progressive, other than somebody who wants progress? Well, progress is totally in the eye of the beholder. Were you to ask Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Osama bin Laden or even Attila the Hun if they wanted progress, I'm pretty sure they'd all say yes.

Worse than that, "progressive" is usually used as a euphemism for "liberal." Which, of course, gets back to the implication that there's something wrong with being a liberal. If you think there's any sort of shame in being a liberal, then don't be one. But if you think, as I do, that liberalism is so crucial to the survival of this country that it must be loved, advocated and fought for, then dammit, stand up and call yourself a liberal. And do it with pride.

The real shame is that so many people who really are liberals are afraid to admit it. The whole "centrist" wing of the Democratic party could be brought into perfect, planet-aligned harmony with the "democratic" wing espoused by folks like me and Howard Dean if only they realized how liberal they truly are underneath their protective coloring.

In the days and weeks to come, intermingled with my various meanderings, I will present my own argument for being an "out and proud" liberal. Each part will focus on a slightly different aspect of the issue. And through it all, I will make my case for the following assertions:

(1) Conservatives are not wrong about everything. Which means that in some ways, the Left must stop being so reactionary. It is not healthy for Left and Right to be so far apart on every conceivable issue. In a few ways (though only a very few), the Right has actually won the argument. The Left has always been bigger than the Right, and must remain so to survive. It in no way dimishes us to admit that.

(2) We've all got to get our heads out of the Nineteen Sixties. Not only are we in a different decade, we've just begun a whole new century. And one of the things about which the Right is correct (even if they don't know what to do about it) is that 9-11 Changed Everything. We are, very literally, living in a different world than the one in which all too many on both Left and Right are stuck.

(3) We must all remember to appreciate our own Western, Judeo-Christian heritage. It isn't "xenophobic" or "jingoistic" to assert anything so demonstrably, even urgently, true. Nor does it mean that we have to kill, or even be less than hospitable to, people of other heritages. There are certain elements of the Left, particularly in Europe, that are rushing to suicide because they fail to understand this. But even the Left, as we in the West know it, is a product of our heritage, and we must remember that even when the countries from which we inherited it have forgotten.

I will elaborate more on each of the three aforementioned themes as I develop my argument. And again, as I said in yesterday's post, we have before us the opportunity to remake our world. 9-11 may have changed everything, but whether that initial tragedy remains nothing but tragic, or whether we resurrect it (like the great bird after which my home city is named) out of the ashes, is entirely up to us.


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