I wandered over to The Smirking Chimp this morning and read Burton H. Wolfe discussing knee-jerk ‘liberals’ and fanatic ‘progressives’. Reading this sort of analysis of the left makes me crazy. It’s one thing for conservatives to continue their decades long campaign of smearing liberalism, but when liberals join in, using the same tactics and language no less, it frustrates the hell out of me. While I recognize that the point Wolfe is trying to make is a valid one, I hate to see liberals focus on such a small problem when there are so many big ones left unsoved. Democrats should be trying to figure out how to bring liberals into the fold, not how to discredit us further. Excising liberals from the Party has proven to be a big mistake, I mean really, the DLC experiment has failed as completely as the Bush agenda. Perhaps it’s time to listen to the liberal point of view rather than trying to marginalize it the way the Republicans have for so long.
Yes, in order to build a strong Democratic Party and to successfully push a liberal/progressive agenda, it is necessary to focus on the long-term goals we share rather than on the single issues we each hold dear. The Republican Party has had great success because they have been able to get unified support from constituencies that have little in common with one another. But, just because liberals aren’t as compliant as conservatives, doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to compromise.
The Republican Party has done a great job in linking together its very different constituencies and enforcing lockstep support for their agenda by all of their separate groups. The religious right supports the financial agenda of the corporatists and the corporatists support the regressive social policies of the religious right. Bigotry and fear of “otherness” is not good for corporate America, but they support the pet issues of the religious right anyway. Creating more poverty through economic policies that favor corporations over people doesn’t square with Christian teachings, but the religious right supports them anyway. This may prove the Republican Party politically astute, but it does nothing to create a more perfect union. In fact it is tearing us apart and driving our country into the ground.
Social and economic justice for all is at the core of liberalism and discussion, debate and a thriving marketplace of ideas is how we decide the best way to create that justice. This makes it far more difficult to institute lockstep support for anything. Sure, we should make more of an effort to focus on our common goals and we should be willing to put our pet issues aside, but asking us to support policies that solve one problem while doing harm somewhere else, is not compromise, it’s silly. That doesn’t make us “knee-jerk” liberals, it just means we understand the connectivity of life, that what we do in one area will create ripples that affect everything else.
Compromise is good, but liberals should not be expected to compromise right out of the gate. There is a process for reaching consensus and there is a time for compromise in order to do the most good for the most people. Liberals understand this, we’re just tired of being expected to compromise before the appropriate time. We get to come to the table like everyone else, present our case and attempt to persuade people to our side. Our ideas are not “outside the mainstream” as the conservative noise machine has claimed for all these years and by picking up on their meme, Democrats do a greater disservice to the Party than liberals ever could.
Instead of calling us “knee-jerk” liberals, why not ask where the need to instantaneously react to policy affronts comes from? Could it be that liberals have been on the defensive for decades, fighting off attacks that we are myopic, rigid America haters? And how about questioning why we don’t hear the term “knee-jerk” conservative bandied about all the time? It’s certainly more wide spread and does far more damage to the political conversation, not to mention the country and the world.
Of course there are fanatics of every stripe, but I would venture to guess that there are far fewer liberal fanatics than just about any other group. Liberalism is a way of looking at the world that colors our opinions on a myriad of issues. We want justice, we want freedom, we want progress and while we understand that compromise is necessary for good governance, we also know that compromise is a two way street. We are willing to debate the methods of implementing policies that will further the larger goals, but don’t ask us to abandon the fundamentals. Justice, freedom and progress are imperatives. We can negotiate (through compromise) how best to achieve those things, but that they are necessary is not up for debate. That doesn’t make us rigid or fanatical, it makes us principled. Last time I checked, that was a good thing.