Take back the name
Once upon a time in America, there were some people who probably had our best intentions at heart, who called themselves “progressives”. They believed in social improvement through governmental actions. In other words, they were kind of stupid. They believed that an unresponsive bureaucracy could ensure a better life for the American people. The people didn’t always agree with them, and they soon decided that they couldn’t trust the people whose lives they were trying to improve.
Once upon a time in America, there were some people who called themselves “liberals”. These people, who probably had our best intentions at heart, believed that each individual could best control their own destiny with a minimum of governmental interference. These people wrested control of America from an overarching government across the sea and eventually wrote down the most important prohibitions against government interference in the “Bill of Rights”.
Somehow or other we’ve gotten them confused. It probably had to do with Democrats co-opting most liberal views in the sixties, and jettisoning others. Most notably, they have managed to convince us that “gun control” is a liberal issue, not a progressive one. Thirty-five years ago that wasn’t true:
“By calling attention to a well-regulated militia for the security of the Nation, and the right of each citizen to keep and bear arms, our founding fathers recognized the essentially civilian nature of our economy. Although it is extremely unlikely that the fear of governmental tyranny, which gave rise to the 2nd amendment, will ever be a major danger to our Nation, the amendment still remains an important declaration of our basic military-civilian relationship, in which every citizen must be ready to participate in the defense of his country. For that reason I believe the 2nd Amendment will always be important.”
“The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”
Those are from John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, respectively, two of the defining Democrats of the sixties and whose influence in the Democratic party continues to be felt. Thomas Jefferson, the quintessential liberal (and founding Democrat) would have approved. The Russians have gotten it right: in Moscow, liberal democrats want wider gun ownership, arguing that personal freedoms should include the right to bear arms. It’s the communist party, the conservatives, that argue against the right to bear arms.
The equation of “conservative” and “liberal” with conservative or liberal spending policies is rather new as well. It requires, for one thing, that the government’s spending policy be an important policy to begin with. In the beginning this was not nearly as true as it is today. But if you take a look at Alexander Hamilton—probably the penultimate conservative of his time, he had quite a ‘liberal’ spending policy: he believed that a strong debt made for a strong central government. It was this desire for a strong central government that marked him as conservative for his time. Like the communists in Russia, he believed that the best government was a government like the one that had gone before. Even today, most “conservatives” want a strong central government: only a strong central government could hope to enforce the anti-abortion policies, entertainment industry control, and anti-drug policies that conservatives espouse. They may pay lip service to smaller government, but smaller government won’t be able to implement the policies they want, and they know it. We have, on the one hand, a “left wing” that wants to deny citizens the responsibility of defending themselves, and at the same time thinks that they can stop the tide of citizens demanding more police power so that the state can defend them instead. And on the other hand, a “right wing” that wants to step up the drug war and all the violence that prohibition entails, and still thinks they can stop the call for more gun control by citizens caught in prohibition’s crossfire. Today’s left wing and right wing both are those who “promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, the quintessential liberal of his or any time, had what we would view as quite conservative spending policies: he paid off the debt his conservative predecessor created.
Today, of course, both Democrats and Republicans, and for that matter most third parties, want “bigger”, not smaller government. They believe that they’re an elite charged with our moral conscience. They believe that government can, and should use social policies as a way to force “good” behavior. This is not a liberal position.
Why is it that now, when you hear “liberal” from conservatives, it means what used to be progressives? Probably because all politicians believe in amassing power, and the best way to do that is to say you’re doing it for the people’s own good. And then you espouse liberal or conservative views when campaigning, and progressive views when making laws. The fake liberals were just better at it in the seventies than the fake conservatives.
This confusion of liberals has culminated in such odd items as Don Feder’s “You know you’re a liberal if…” that has been promulgated on the Internet. It builds up a straw-man of biblical proportions in what appears to be an attempt to shore up his own flagging sense of conservatism.
I think it’s time to take back the name ‘liberal’, and Don’s misguided editorial gives the perfect vehicle. So, without further rambling, here is:
You Know You’re a Liberal If…
You think sexual harassment is rampant, date rape pervasive, domestic violence common… and Paula Jones is lying.
You’re a liberal if you think that women should feel free to report cases of sexual harassment, date rape, and domestic violence, up to and including Paula Jones. All of our studies have shown that this sort of thing does happen more often than generally believed, and that women are afraid to report the incidents for fear of being portrayed as liars or worse. You’re a liberal if you feel that no class of people should be ‘kept in their place’ by governmental support of their oppressors, whether this support come from law enforcement or the courts.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that women’s complaints about date rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment are unimportant and should be ignored, or the woman in question vilified.
You hate Hillary jokes.
Most of the Hillary jokes I’ve seen hinge on the alleged lesbianism of the first lady. You’re a liberal if you hate the attempts to paint Hillary as a lesbian and thus a bad person. Hillary may or may not be a bad person; she may or may not be lesbian. But liberals believe that gays and lesbians are no less moral for their sexual preference than are heterosexuals for theirs.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that Hillary’s possible criminal or civil wrongdoings are unimportant, and that it is much more satisfying to call her a lesbian when she supports social policies you dislike.
You pale at the execution of child killers, but defend the killing of unborn children as an expression of choice.
You’re a liberal if you believe that the government should not be given the power to kill, no matter the provocation. It’s the government who decides who a child killer is. What about drug kingpins? Don’t illegal drugs kill children? They should get the death penalty as well. And drug dealers are even closer to the problem. And if it weren’t for the drug users, drug dealers wouldn’t be in business. So the government should define “child killer” to include all of them.
In fact, this is exactly the rhetoric that you hear in congress, and I have no doubt that a large number of people reading this agree with all of those statements, including the death penalty for drug users. But consider now that at least one in ten of your friends (on average) use marijuana on a regular basis. Ten percent. And another 20 percent have used it in the past; this doesn’t count other drugs, nor does it count people who (a) live in group housing, such as students or military, or (b) were not convinced to tell a federal pollster that they use drugs.
In other words, if some penny-ante government official decides that they don’t like what you’re saying, all they have to do is scrounge around your friends and family for that easy 10%, and threaten to prosecute if you don’t shut up. Those of you who call yourselves conservatives, do you believe that there are power-hungry liberals in your town who would stoop to this level? And those of you who call yourself moderates, do you believe that there are power-hungry conservatives in your town who would? I hope so: it’s only common sense that someone who you describe as “power-hungry” will use that power. Believing otherwise is naive. Once the power is in place, someone will use it.
You’re a liberal if don’t want to give them that power in the first place. If you have a criminal who you want never free again, put them in prison forever. Imprisonment always holds out the chance that it can be reversed if the courts, the jury, or the government was wrong. Death never does.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that the courts can always be trusted to never be wrong. You’re not a liberal if you believe that it’s okay as long as we don’t kill the wrong person very often.
You think trees have feelings, animals can conceptualize and the fetus is a blob of protoplasm.
You’re a liberal if you believe that one line that the government can never cross is the human body. Your own views on whether abortion is right or wrong are less important than your belief that the government can never be given the power to control what we do with our own bodies. That as long as that “child”, “fetus”, “protoplasm”, or whatever you want to call it, is inside another human’s body, the government has no right to touch it or control it because of that.
You’re not a liberal if you believe the government should have the power to inspect our bodies for compliance with the law.
You are convinced that Frank Capra films and Norman Rockwell paintings are lies and distortions, but “Platoon,” “Dances with Wolves” and “Thelma and Louise” are realistic. You thought Walt Disney was saccharine sweet and terminally cutesy-pie—until it made “Pocahontas.”
You’re a liberal if you believe that individual freedom and human rights extend even to those we tried to exterminate in our history. You’re only using common sense if you realize that we did a lot of wrong to the natives of this land. You’re a liberal if you believe that filmmakers have the right to portray whatever they want.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that the government or its representatives should lobby filmmakers not to make certain movies and not to express certain views.
You think a moment of silent prayer at the beginning of the school day constitutes government indoctrination and an intrusion on parental authority, while sex education, condom distribution and multiculturalism are values-neutral.
You’re a liberal if you believe that no apparatus of the government can be allowed to favor any religion or group of religions. You’re only using common sense if you believe that part of a students’ education should include what that white stuff is coming out of a guy’s penis, and why it probably isn’t a good idea to let it enter a girl’s vagina. You’re a bit weird if you think that terms like ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, and ‘clitoral stimulation’ are sexual turn-ons. You’re a liberal if you worry about the power that public schools give to the government in forming the future of society.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that the government should be allowed to specify that only mainstream values, as the government determines them, will be taught in schools.
You agonize over threats to the natural environment (acid rain, toxic waste), but are oblivious to threats to the social environment (pornography, promiscuity, and family dissolution).
You’re a liberal if you believe that the family is out of reach of governmental control, if you believe that pornography is a matter of individual choice, if you believe that adults should have the right to choose their sex partners without government interference. You’re using common sense if you understand that acid rain and toxic waste are probably bad things. You’re a little weird if you think that acid rain and promiscuity are related, although Jefferson’s intellectual descendant weird-turned-pro Hunter S. Thompson said it better than Don:
What do you say about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring rain on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison scum right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation.
You’re not a liberal if you believe in governmental control over which adults have sex with which other adults, how they do it, and whether or not they should be allowed to take pictures of it as it happens. You’re not a liberal if you believe that the government should post a police officer in other people’s bedrooms.
You want to legalize cocaine and outlaw handguns.
You’re a liberal if you believe that the government should not have the power to control what we choose to consume, or do with our bodies, even if it might be unhealthy. You’re only using common sense if you realize that it was the prohibition of coca that led to cocaine’s prominence, and that drug prohibition leads to gun control. You’re a liberal if you believe that the right to self-defense extends to all, poor, middle-class, and rich alike.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that the government can be trusted to choose what to prohibit to adults and what to allow adults to own.
You think cops are pigs and criminals are products of their environment.
You’re only using common sense if you understand that both cops and criminals are products of their environment, that cops are not angels and criminals are not goblins. You’re a liberal if you believe that police officers are not an elite form of human being and might occasionally lie about their contact with ‘civilians’. You’re a liberal if you believe that police officers are civilians too, and that a police officer has no more right to kill or to harass than does any other citizen.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that all police officers can always be trusted with no oversight. You’re just plain weird if you believe that criminals pop out of nowhere fully formed.
You believe the National Rifle Association helps criminals, while the American Civil Liberties Union protects the innocent.
You’re a liberal if you believe that rights must be protected for everyone, even those suspected of crime. You understand our legal system if you realize that only those accused of a crime can press for rights. You’re a liberal if you realize that limiting the rights of any individual limits the rights of all.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that, once accused of a crime, guilt is automatic. You’re not a liberal if you believe that the ends justify the means when apprehending suspected criminals.
- You think Rush Limbaugh is responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, but are outraged by suggestions that Ted Kaczynski (the suspected Unabomber) and Al Gore have anything in common.
- Jesse Jackson makes sense to you.
- Barbra Streisand makes even more sense.
You’re a liberal if you believe that people of all races and creeds can work together for freedom, and that even if some views are personally repugnant, all should be tolerated.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that as long as you don’t like it, other people’s speech should or can be restricted.
You think Herblock cartoons are funny and Janet Reno is totally hot.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that a woman’s worth lies only in how attractive she is to you. You’re not a liberal if you believe that respect for a woman’s accomplishments must be tied to sexual attraction.
- You believe corporate profits are obscene but government spending is too low and the American people are undertaxed.
- You think deficits are caused by tax loopholes.
You are not a liberal if you believe that your own pet money pits are worth keeping, while those ‘liberal’ money pits are not. You are not a liberal if you believe that the government should spend billions of dollars a year fighting the spread of a minor plant. You are definitely a liberal, and a radical one at that, if you believe that the federal government shouldn’t be taxing individuals or corporations at all, but should instead be taxing states, which would decide through their own citizens how their funds would be received.
You think marriage is obsolete—except for homosexuals.
You’re a liberal if you believe that if the government provides marriage licenses, it should not discriminate based on sexual preference. You’re a liberal if you believe that it isn’t the government’s business who you want to marry. You’re only using common sense if you realize that getting the government out of the marriage business and leaving it to the churches would solve the problem.
You are not a liberal if you believe that the government should have the power to approve marriages between consenting adults.
You believe homosexuality is genetically determined, but fascism and spouse abuse aren’t.
You’re a liberal if you believe that the origin of homosexuality is irrelevant. You’re using common sense if you believe that the origins of fascism or of spouse abuse might be useful, as a society, to know. You’re a liberal if you believe that fascism should be opposed even in the beginning stages when it hides under the mantle of patriotism or family values.
You’re not a liberal if you believe that fascism under the name of patriotism should be tolerated, that spouse abuse is a family matter only, and that gays should be eliminated by whatever means necessary.
You think AIDS is spread by insufficient funding.
You are not a liberal if you believe that certain diseases aren’t worth worrying about if they only affect ‘undesirables’.
- You consider the Catholic bishops noble and idealistic when they oppose capital punishment and welfare cuts, but dangerous fanatics trying to legislate their theology when they defend the right to life.
- You are convinced that proponents of welfare reform hate the poor and opponents of affirmative action hate minorities, but AIDS activists who bash the Pope and People for the American Way types who go psycho over Protestant “fundamentalists” are guardians of democracy.
You are a liberal if you believe that religious beliefs of one group should not be turned into laws and forced on everyone. You are using common sense if you understand that fundamentalism in laws has a tendency to backfire and create more vice than before such laws are created. You are a liberal if you believe that minorities are entitled to the same treatment under law as non-minorities.
You are not a liberal if you believe that religious beliefs need to be legislated. You aren’t particularly Christian if you believe that vice can be turned to virtue through mere laws. You are at least a bit disingenuous if you believe that opposing religious-based laws is “going psycho”.
- You attribute every minority problem to entrenched, institutional racism and the legacies of slavery and segregation.
- You think the black middle class is a myth created by Newt Gingrich.
You are a liberal if you believe racism is to be opposed. You are a liberal if you believe that the government should not support discrimination based on race.
You are not a liberal if you believe that minorities remain oppressed because they deserve it. You are not a liberal if you believe that low achievement among minorities is the result of inferiority. You’re just plain blind if you don’t see the effects of slavery and segregation still in existence in American society.
You view race riots as justifiable expressions of rage over injustice, and fail to see the similarities between a black mob burning a Korean store and a white mob in the Jim Crow era lynching a black man.
You are using common sense if you realize that systematic oppression of an entire race is going to cause trouble. You are a liberal if you believe that lynchings by and with the consent of government officials in the Jim Crow era are an order of magnitude worse than arson or other ‘normal’ crimes.
You are not a liberal if you believe that a black man’s life is comparable in worth to someone’s place of business.
You don’t understand all of the whining about affirmative action and are more than willing to sacrifice someone else’s employment or education opportunity to assuage your guilt.
You are a liberal if you believe that government-funded institutions and government employees should be required to adhere to strict policies against discrimination. You might be a liberal if you realize that reducing the number of government funded institutions and government employees would make this problem moot.
You are not using common sense if you don’t realize that government mandates cross the political spectrum. You are not a liberal if you believe that government institutions should be free to discriminate as they have traditionally done in the past.
You marched against American involvement in Vietnam, thought the Gulf war was unnecessary but believe 25,000 U.S. troops in Bosnia are vital to our national interests.
You are a liberal if you believe that engaging in war for unclear political reasons is wrong no matter which party supports it.
You are not using common sense if you believe that American involvement in Vietnam and in the Gulf served any better purpose than American involvement in Bosnia. You are not a liberal if you believe that America’s involvement in Bosnia is wrong because of who supports it rather than on its own lack of merit.
You see no correlation between welfare and the rise of illegitimacy, judicial leniency and surging crime rates, or addiction and an entertainment industry that glorifies drug abuse… but you believe Richard Nixon is responsible for everything horrible that’s happened in the past quarter-century.
You are a liberal if you believe that elected officials should not be allowed to maintain their power through criminal means. You are using common sense if you realize that the vast expansion of what the law calls “crime” is going to cause surging crime rates, that “nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced” (Einstein).
You are not a liberal if you believe that entertainment that espouses views you oppose should be banned. You are not a liberal if you believe that the solution to higher crime is more laws making more things a crime. And you are not using common sense if you don’t realize that the overflow in prison occupancy that forces judicial leniency is the direct result of prohibition laws making crimes out of things that are not crimes.
You think those child-abusing, religious fanatics at Waco had it coming but the illegal immigrants roughed up by California deputies—after leading them on a high-speed chase—are the victims of the decade.
You might be a liberal if you believe that perhaps the government line at Waco wasn’t exactly correct. You are a liberal if you believe that religious fanatics of all types are entitled to their views. You are a liberal if you understand that illegal immigrants are human beings with rights.
You are not a liberal if you believe that law enforcement can terrorize a class of people, and then say “they had it coming” when members of that class try to escape from law enforcement.
Lastly, you know you’re a liberal if… you don’t get the point of this column.
You are not a liberal if you believe that making up a ‘liberal’ straw-man is a reasonable way to pretend that your own support of progressive ‘conservative’ policies are okay since they aren’t ‘liberal’. ‘Conservative’ support of the drug war, intrusive police power, government control over family life, and any of the other progressive policies that Republicans support are just as dangerous to freedom in America as the progressive policies used by Democrats.
The fact is, most of us are liberal in some way or other. The problem is, we’re liberal for ourselves and not for others, which in the end isn’t liberal at all. We all believe in our own right to free speech, our own right to self defense, and our own right to privacy. It’s other people’s rights that bother us.
If you believe that even the poor have the right to defend themselves, even minorities, inner city youths, gays, muslims, christians, and hippies have the right to own a firearm, then you are a liberal. If you believe that you have this right and others don’t, then you’re no better than the politicians who feel the same way about you.
If you believe that everyone has the right to do as they wish to their own bodies, that a person’s flesh is one line the government can never be allowed to cross, then you are a liberal. If, on the other hand, you believe that you have the right to smoke in the comfort of your home, or drink, or have a cup of coffee but believe that free men should not be allowed to harm themselves with marijuana, LSD, coca, opium, crack, or heroin, then you are not a liberal and you are not free. If you believe that the government you empower to crack down on dopeheads, crack fiends, junkies, or hippies will not laugh in your face when you say “I meant here, and no further, just get them…” then you are not only not a liberal, you are a fool.
You know that a government cannot be trusted to take away only this right but no others; to oppress this or that group but not your own. If you understand this and are willing to let your fellows live in freedom despite your views of morality, then you are a liberal. If you ask the government to oppress regardless, hoping that oppression will come not to you but to your children then you are not a liberal, and you are not a particularly good parent. And you will find to your chagrin that your actions will come home to you and yours much sooner than expected. Governments are slow in all but one thing: they are quick to learn when their citizens are no longer liberals.
If you believe that you can offer your police the power of dynamic armed entry into drug users’ homes but not gun owners; if you believe that you can offer your police the power of unannounced search of gun owners’ possessions but not your car; if you believe you can offer your police the power to snoop into the sex lives of other people but not yourself, then you are a loser: and what you have lost are your own and your children’s rights.
You know you’re a liberal if you believe that the rights of others are as important as your own… because they are your own.