What it means to be a liberal

July 9, 2008

James and I were talking a week or so ago about doing a joint-post, or some responses to each other on what we believe. It all centered around FEE, something I will post about as soon as I feel that post is ready. James went ahead and took the initiative. This is my response to ‘What it means to be a conservative‘.

People who know me now may have a hard time figuring out where I fall on the political spectrum. In High School it wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to figure out that I am a liberal. A flaming, left-wing, hippie, tree-hugging liberal. I align myself as a Democrat, I am blue, I am from Vancouver, I live in Seattle, and I am proud of every ounce of it. I am also an Economics major, and am not afraid to admit there are problems with liberal ideas. There are problems with conservative ideas as well. When I got to college, I found it hard to explain myself as a liberal, when everyone heard and saw me questioning so many of what I said I stood for. Think of my as a Stephen Colbert of sorts (though no where near as funny); I act conservative out of parody.

I managed to find a good quote from Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at University of Chicago about what it means to be a liberal.

1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that “time has upset many fighting faiths.” Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.)

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; “one person, one vote;” limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.”

4. Liberals believe “we the people” are the governors and not the subjects of government and that government must treat each person with that in mind. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as “conservatives,” share this value with liberals.)

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, persons accused of crime and the outcasts of society. It is liberals who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the right to due process of law and the principle of equal protection for all people.

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to “promote the general welfare.”

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support government funding for stem-cell research, the rights of gays and lesbians and the freedom of choice for women.

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, and freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.)

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. It is liberals who have demanded and continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of innocent people in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: “Those who won our independence … did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.”

Since James started with what he didn’t agree with, I’m going to be more positive and say what I DO agree with.

Item one is the most essential part of being liberal. Accept nothing. Question everything. Are we really under terrorist threat? Is global warming real? Does it hurt to be eco-friendly, even if it isn’t? Is Obama a good choice? Is McCain a good choice? Should the free market prevail? Should a mixed market prevail? Is history correct? What’s the other perspective? Question. Question. Question. There is no right answer but the one you believe 100%, you don’t think something half way; or you shouldn’t. If you want to invade Iraq, be 100% committed to the cause, if you want to be environmentally friendly, then do it, discuss it, practice it. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is too soon to be discusses, joked, made fun of, honored, praised, blamed, debated, or talked about. America is, in theory, a beautiful democracy, and we were intended, nay required, to debate. If you are a liberal, don’t be afraid to talk about it. If you are a Muslim, don’t be afraid to talk about it, if you are conservative; don’t be afraid to talk about it!

In concurrence a good man once said: “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Second, Geffoery states the other most important aspect of being a liberal. Tolerance Acceptance. I’m going to amend him here. I can be tolerant of a cold, I can tolerate rap, and I can tolerate traffic. I need to accept and respect other people. If I meet a Republican in a dark alley, we should be able to discuss (ITEM ONE) and then AGREE TO DISAGREE. I may think A, you may think B, and we are both allowed to think what we wish. Ideally we should discuss and arrive at a median C. That’s how the system is supposed to work. Perhaps I am borrowing too much from Aristotle here, but the middle is often the best road, and I whole-heartedly believe that. Socialism isn’t the answer; Anarchy isn’t the answer, but a healthy mix of both! I think many liberals fail at this key point. Our answer isn’t always right, on that note their answer isn’t either. It’s a battle, a constant struggle to improve and advance, but people are remarkably resilient, they will get better. But no one will get ahead if everyone is beating everyone else down. I agree with competition, I don’t agree with discrimination. To be liberal, you must be open to being wrong, being right, and not knowing.

Item three goes with what I was saying above. Liberals must discuss, debate, but we must also act. Once we decide that global warming is a problem, and then we work to fix it. If blacks in the South are being wrongfully denied their right to vote, action must be taken. Everyone has a duty to express their opinions. If you have none, fine. If you are still deciding, great. If you are silent, leave. It is perhaps the most Un-American thing you can do. Do you realize the United States, while originally an escape from religious persecution, became the first federal constitutional republic? Borrowing from lessons of the past, American’s founded a country not based on a common language (though by de facto it was English), not a common ethnicity, not a common religion, but a common political belief. America exists to be political. I’ve struggled with the issue of voting. I feel that not voting is wrong. A denial of the freedoms given to you. And I would never advocate apathy in voting. However, I must respect your decision, I ask you to reconsider, but if ultimately you choose your voice to not be heard via a vote, so be it.

Question. Question. Question. Government, liberal or conservative. Obama or McCain, question everything. That’s al I’ve got to say on 4.

Liberals defend those who can’t defend themselves. This is the first item I can say really doesn’t agree with a conservative. A libertarian or conservative would say “I earned it, it’s mine,” or “They can defend themselves, they are just lazy,” or some other equivalent. They are right; sometimes. But not always, and less common than they’d like. The funny thing about some conservatives is that they had a poor background, and feel that if they can make it, so can everyone else. Well, I have a very sad truth for everyone. The American Dream is a lie. I can’t be a NBA basketball player, I can’t be an artist. The idea of the dream IS true, work hard, believe in yourself, and you can achieve your full potential, that society will let you achieve… A single mother who can work through college, and have 2 kids, and work 18 hours a week, works harder than any person I will ever know, and I respect you more than any CEO. But not everyone can do this. Luck, medical problems, money, assistance, location, color, and many other factors play into it, and many arise from social inequalities. A single mother who is still working 18 hour days, with one kid, may never be able to make more than $30,000, and will struggle until their death. They are working harder than you or I ever will (and I am going into Law). We (liberals) need to speak for this woman who can’t speak for herself. Society tells her she is worthless because she doesn’t own a BMW, have 2.3 kids, and doesn’t live on a street named after a tree. We tell gays they are worthless because they can’t have ‘families’ as we define them. We tell blacks that because they are darker, that they are worthless. All of this is simply untrue. So I am declaring right now, right here: No one is worthless, no one is better than anyone else, as a person. Bob may be a better CEO than Janet who is a better painter than Nick who is an asshole, but a better accountant than John. But as people, as fucking human beings, they are all the same. That is what liberals mean when they say we are equal.

Government isn’t the end-all-be-all answer. Socialized Medicine? Maybe, I am still discussing this one. But the idea, and the promotion behind it, cannot exist outside of a mutual care. John Locke believed we enter into government via a social contract, sacrificing some liberty to protect our rights. The debate is where the line should be drawn. A wise friend said to me: “The best way to determine whether or not anyone knows what they are talking about in relation to politics is to ask them this: What do you think the role and function of government is?” Tie, you are a genius. I will answer this.

The role and function of government is to promote the general protection of the entire group’s rights, and to promote the advancement of society as a whole.

In my world, this is what government is for. This is where welfare, social security, unions, labor rights, abortion rights, civil liberties, and everything else comes into play. The FDA (though in need of reform) protects the food I eat, and I know that chicken is chicken, period. There is no ‘snake oil’ unless I want snake oil. Unemployment can help me while I look for a new job (and everyone I know has never ‘cheated’ this system, and genuinely used it to live while they ACTIVLY searched for work). The list goes on. I do not want the government to pick my job for me, or force anything on me, but I know that if I stumble, I can have some help getting back on my feet, so I can walk again.

When everyone walks, everyone wins. It’s that simple. You may disagree, but a class that has all 3.5’s is better off than a class with all 1.0’s and a single 6.0 raising the average. In the first class, there is more prosperity, more happiness, more innovation, than one where the top guy may have ‘the life’ but no one else can contribute, and he ends up having to deal with their problems in the long run.

I believe in God. I have a faith, and my faith has changed over time. But in the end, I believe in, pray to, and respect God. But I also respect Allah, Yew*h, Buddha, Shiva, what have you. My God is my God, and yours is yours. Since politics involves everyone, and God is individual, keep them separate. Jesus stated (roughly) that we “take no part in the world”, or, keep religion out of politics.

The rest is pretty self-explanatory. The government, following the role I described above, should never violate (in my opinion) and of those items. If you are denying a group their rights, that’s wrong. If the courts fail to follow the legal procedures, that is wrong. If the executive doesn’t uphold the just and proper laws, that is wrong.

A few people may ask me, how can I firstly advocate disagreement and compromise, then call various things wrong? Well, in short, I don’t think the world is 100% subjective. Though I feel our perception is more-or-less subjective, and different things are different for different people, nothing can be 100% subjective. Why? If one person’s perception is that something does not exist, while another’s is that it does exist, there can be no compromise. Something can’t half-exist. This is an extreme, but it makes my point that there would be a chaotic and infinite combination of subjections. I don’t want to get into this too much, but there is a line. There’s a point where something is wrong. That is when it violates the ‘rules’ of the social contract, or the Constitution, or your religion, or whatever rules govern your life. I believe in an objective perspective of many things, and liberty/freedom/rights is one of them. It is wrong for people to needlessly suffer. Period.

James went on and on about his various beliefs, and that’s not how I role (no disrespect to him). I like to be as concise as I can, and talking about my beliefs on issues isn’t the same as what it means to be liberal. However, if you want to know what I feel on something specific, ask me. According to rule number one, I’d love to discuss it with you 🙂


2 Responses to “What it means to be a liberal”

  1. Amy J. Says:

    joint blogging? really now


  2. Mike Doyle Says:

    I am so very PROUD of you …

    I can hear Grandma yelling out to me your name, and how bursting with pride she is …

    Love, Dad

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