Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reclaiming Liberalism

I used to call myself a socialist and I am wondering why I don’t any longer, my views certainly haven’t changed. I think is has everything to do with the shift in political language, the distortion of the word “liberal” and the resulting shift of the Democratic Party toward a more right wing ideology and a shedding of the liberal ideals that once grounded them.

I recently wrote a post for Conservative Amnesty, in which I invited conservatives to join the Democratic Party, telling them that they will find themselves right at home since the Democrats have adopted many traditionally conservative principles, smaller government, fair taxes, less government intrusion into our personal lives. While I do believe this is true of the Party, I don’t know how comfortable I really am with the new face of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps it is just a reaction to neo-conservatism that makes traditional conservatism seem more appealing, and maybe I don’t feel comfortable advocating for socialist policies because it is so far from where we currently are. I was politically socialized during the Reagan years and even then, socialism was easy to argue for. From where we sit now, it seems like an unreachable place and with the liberal perspective effectively silenced by the right, what chance is there of being heard while advocating for Democratic Socialism.

Michael Stickings over at The Reaction wrote a beautiful post about liberalism and he makes a good argument that the United States has always been a liberal society and regardless of the gains made recently by neo-conservatives and the religious right, we are already in the process of swinging back toward our more natural liberal center. I hope he is right, but what I got most out of his post is that liberalism is worth reclaiming. I have always believed this (made obvious by the name of my blog) and the bastardization of the word liberal that we on the left have allowed to go unchecked for so many years, must finally be put to an end. We are not Progressives, we are Liberals and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

When we allow the opposition to define us, we lose the connection to who we are. There is a reason that the word liberal reminds us of words like, liberty, liberate, and liberally. To be liberal, is to give freely, as in “be liberal with the whipped cream on my all-American apple pie.” We exemplify the best of what this country has to offer and are responsible for the history most choose to embrace as the basis for what truly defines us as Americans. Liberal is defined as favorable to progress or reform. We want to continue to move forward, make progress and reform what is wrong, in other words, we want to be liberal.

Even those who have been tricked into claiming the label conservative most likely are not interested in stopping progress. To be conservative is to be cautious, moderate, controlled, guarded, unimaginative, undaring, timid and opposed to change. That doesn’t sound like America to me. We are advanced, enlightened, free, rational, reasonable, tolerant, big-hearted, and generous, all synonyms for liberal and all perfect descriptions of what America stands for. We are a liberal country, and it’s time we started acting like it again.


Blogger peace_rapper said...

D problem with politics is that you are trying to ride a boat which can't be matter how peaceful and calm the water is ...........that's liberal you have a thought process which has to stand by your principal of thoughts and conviction not of any parties views..........But i like your writeup.........


1:19 PM  
Blogger Bryon Rogers said...

I would be very delighted if you could expound on your views. I realize that's no easy task, but I too used to consider myself a socialist until I began to read the works of the American Founders (I especially favor Madison) as well as those that inspired them. There are also some very damaging problems to socialism that may never be solved.

1:42 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Peace Rapper--Thanks and peace to you as well.

Byron--I've often thought that socialism can only work properly once a society has successfully passed through democracy. Just like children must be taught morals and have those morals reinforced until they are able to internalize the teachings and act accordingly, as a country, we must internalize democratic principles before we will ever be able to handle democratic socialism.

You are right, historically socialism has proven to be wrought with danger, but there are many countries that have been able to successfully incorporate the ideas of the common good and shared wealth into their democracies. It is an idea that I like very much, but I can't say I have any great hope that our country, as vast and diverse as it is, will ever be able to achieve that, nor do I have any idea how to negotiate my own conflicting views.

I believe that hard work must be rewarded, that innovation and inspiration is often facilitated by the possibility of personal gain and that there should be an opportunity to get ahead, to move beyond mere sustainability to luxury if one so chooses and is willing to put in the work to attain it. Those are all aspects of capitalism. But I also believe in a strong social safety net, that there should be inherent rights given to all people in society, such as healthcare, education, work, retirement, all to provide a decent baseline from which all people can either choose to remain with dignity, or move past for more comfort. So I guess I’m not really a socialist anymore, I just want a capitalist system with very strong safeguards against the consolidation of wealth and the proliferation of poverty, which is still a very long way from we currently are.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Rory Shock said...

more of a democracy like one finds in western europe then? I could go for that ... I would like to see a system that gives power to the people ... not the lobbyists and corporations ... you are rather eloquent lg ... I'm tellin' ya ... you need to run for prezdent one of these years ...

7:05 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Thanks Rory, but I don't want any job that George W. Bush is qualified to do. How humiliating. Plus, I could never lie about my "questionable" history of drug use and sexual promiscuity like our current Commander In Chief.

7:12 PM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

Socialism (and especially communism) suffer from the same basic fatal flaw as capitalism: a thoroughly misguided faith in the basic goodness mankind. Socialists and Communists believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary that it is safe to entrust most or all power to the state because deep down those who run the state are good. Capitalists believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary that it is safe to entrust all power to corporations because deep down those who run the corporations are good (or at least are motivated by enlightened self-interest). However, the Founding Fathers knew that (to paraphrase the entire Bible) deep down, all people are inherently no damn good. Therefore, handing power over from the people to the states or the corporations is a generall bad idea. Regulatory capitalism (combined with the unfettered ability of gangs of vicious trial lawyers to sue corporate malfeasors into giant radioactive craters) seems to me the only economic system yet devised that takes into account the fallen nature of man.

7:18 PM  
Blogger jae said...


"To be conservative is to be cautious, moderate, controlled, guarded, unimaginative, undaring, timid..."

Oh My.
Interestingly enough, it don't sound like the Bush Admin, either! Especially the Moderate and Controlled part....and they don't seem to be too timid on breaking the law, now that I think about it!

I most recently started thinking of my self as Progressive, but it could mean that I am not as familiar with what that title means as I should be...

I just know that I am American. An American that until a while ago, was pretty proud of it.

Recently someone asked me what scares me the most. I replied "The U.S. Government."

8:02 PM  
Blogger Gratis said...

Though I don't consider myself a socialist I do hold some socialist beliefs. For instance, I completely agree with your safety net example. I find it abhorrent that our elderly and our children are starving and dying because they lack the very basic necesseties of life. And our government promotes and encourages that. There is no good reason why our most vulnerable citizens are neglected this way.

I am, though, very proudly liberal. When someone uses the word as an insult toward me I thank them, because it's not just a label with me. It's part of who I am, my very core.

8:16 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Local Crank--I too believe in the fallen nature of man (especially the religious who only refrain from bad behavior through fear of God's wrath) and strict constraints on capitalism are necessary, but so too is a bottom line below which we are not willing to let our fellow citizens fall.

Jae--No, it doesn't sound like the Bush administration, we would have to come up with new synonyms for neo-conservative, such as, imperialist, grandiose, domineering, shortsighted, belligerent, elitist, corporatist, arrogant, obstinate and preemptory.

Gratis--Nicely said. My liberalism colors every aspect of who I am and how I live my life, and no one will ever be able to make me ashamed of that.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings said...

Thank you for the kind words, LGND.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

"If men weren't such shit heads, no government would be necessary."

Playing around with Madison's famous quote compelled me
to change 'angels' to a more up to date description of what we currently have
attempting to run the country.

Having said that, I think we're all flinching a little too much.

It wasn't that long ago that we had liberal democratic capitalism. It
was called the 90's!
We had budget surpluses
and job growth.

Do you remember functioning, reasonably competent
agencies such as FEMA, EPA, Interior, Treasury...Wall Street AND Greenspan
both loved Robert Ruben...FDA, SEC? As you were on the SEC. They
certainly could have been more diligent monitoring the Worldcoms, Enrons, Arthur
Andersons and countless shit.coms that comprised the bursting 'bubble'.
However, if they had, then the Repugs would have cried bloody murder about
hamstringing free enterprise!

We've had five years of chronically malfunctioning, under regulated, crony capitalism/crony government.

"Republicans voted against criminal penalties for CEOs, tougher corporate regulations, executive accountability, greater auditing safeguards, and stronger protections for employee pensions. The chart to the left shows why Wall Street is not pleased with the cabal and its Republican Party."

It's all reversible. Not by adopting socialism, but rather by returning to a view that
government is part of a solution that includes a science and industrial policy that de-politicizes science and incentivizes businesses.
There're profits to be made in cleaner air and water, alternative energy, stem cell science, rebuiding the infrastructure, etc.

I'll conclude by paraphrasing Gordon Gekko's famous 'Greed' speech

"And liberal democratic capitalism -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."

11:34 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

The last thing I want is conservatives joining the democratic party. As the "liberal" party I think the democratic party has a responsibility to ensure the rights of all people including gays and people of foriegn origin are protected. Although some conservatives maybe in favor of those things as well, the vast majority are against them. To encourage their participation in the liberal party is asking them to take over. We have enough liberals out there that we should be encouraging to vote. We don't need to ad republicans to our party. Besides which, since when are we the losing party? The only reason we lost is because Bush cheated in the past two elections. Some ppl need to say that we need to change our views on abortion ect to fit in with "middle america". Well I disagree with that. Northern, hippie, vegan, punk, socialist, liberals are in the majority, there is no need to chnage the party's idealogy or present it differently.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Rory Shock said...

didn't mean to insult you ... and I'd still vote for you ... because you'd tell the truth

1:07 PM  
Blogger GraemeAnfinson said...

i have felt that way too, hey maybe conservatives aren't so bad. It isn't true, pat buchanan is still a dick head, even if he is against the iraq war. at this point everyone with a brain is against the iraq war.

local crank said-
"Socialism (and especially communism) suffer from the same basic fatal flaw as capitalism: a thoroughly misguided faith in the basic goodness mankind."

Socialism takes into account people's biases and flaws, it is the conservative belief that you can make it if you work hard enough that is misguided.

"Socialists and Communists believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary that it is safe to entrust most or all power to the state because deep down those who run the state are good."

you are assuming the state isn't run by the people. real socialism is democracy. in fact it is kind of redundant to call it democratic socialism. now if some country could actually get it right. i am putting my money on Norway.

anyway, i think the more decentralization the better. power corrupts. i am watching on the edge of my seat in latin america.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I suspect a good many more people like the idea of pure socialism than would like the reality. Likewise, I'm quite sure many millions who think they want pure, unfettered capitalism would quickly change their mind if they were ever to be subjected to it.

The U.S. has had a modified socialist, or if you prefer, a tamed-down capitalist, system for a long time.

Over time, we swing left and right within a fairly restricted range. Over the past 30 years we've gone right most of the time. If we actually get a national system of health care coverage, it will probably be the centerpeice of a left-trending interlude.

At the heart of our political and cultural divide lies a certain lack of understanding on the part of conservative, laissez-faire capitalist types. They don't like big, proactive government that's strong on meeting people's needs as invdividuals, families and small groups. They consider all that welfare — taking from the productive to entrench the lazy and lackadaisical in their no-account ways.

What those right-wing types fail to recognize is that from its very beginning our country has always had a huge welfare system. For the first nearly 200 years, it consisted of the free, open lands to the west. People who were poor and not making it in the settled, built-up East and South could move West, to a vast supply of free capital in the form of land, forests, mineral wealth, water, fish, game and so on.

The socialist-type welfare mechanisms we've put in place over much of the last century became necessary because the great, free and open West got filled up, bought up, owned and settled. So, we had to come up with some things to help have nots get along and, hopefully, reach a point where they could start moving upward on their own.

Ignorant or dismissive of this insight, most conservatives prefer a sink-or-swim, be-productive-or-starve approach. That's as foolish and unworkable in its way as Mao's "from each according to abilities, to each according to his needs," notion was in the other direction.

What conservatives and liberals both need to be thinking about is how we're going to get along when computerization, automation, robotics and other efficiency-boosting, labor-reducing technologies have all but done away with too many millions of jobs. At some point, both sides are going to have to recognize work can no longer reliably serve as a means of determing who gets rewards, and how much in the way of rewards people are entitled to.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey (liberal)Girl Next Door -

I share your sentiments about reclaiming the moniker "liberal" In fact, recently I set up this CafePress shop for those who want to show that they are "Proudly Liberal":

Found your blog via Smirking Chimp.

7:27 AM  
Blogger peace_rapper said...

World gotta change..........Politics has slipped out of hand....all d gud politics is only in da book..cause its a bad bad world out there.......Sometimes I gud this world would have been if people stop becomin politicians.........all school of thoughts always collide with each other socialism,communism,captilisam,democracy repulics I see everyone saying views and counter othere views.......if the answer is to make a better socitey and and better world then I don't think these school of thoughts are needed.....they divide your mind and call you intellectual..thats the problem

I ask a simple question: changes happen but don't you think the most successfull changes happened in human socity is borught by a natural views taken for the benefit of human development.. politics is alawys confusing to me so ma not goin to say any thing about it.......

But i say all these school of thoughts are slow poisions.......

Development Peace and stabilty can only happen in a big way : when we start thinking of development progress with out any selfish motive..........


8:21 PM  
Blogger jdamon said...

8:13 PM  

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