The Nasty “L” Word: Liberal

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liberalismA recent Gallup poll confirms that people in U.S. are increasingly identifying with a conservative ideology: 40% as opposed to 36% with a moderate ideology and only 21% with a liberal one. This may help to explain why so few people identify with feminism: it, too, is seen as liberal.

Why is it that liberals are so maligned (and not just now, or just in this society)? A liberal is a person who is not afraid of change. Maybe that’s what’s so threatening, because most people are afraid of change, even change for the better. We can see that in the health care debate taking place right now. Another Gallup poll lists 10 reasons why Americans are skeptical about health care reform, but the bottom line is, they don’t want to trade what they know for what they don’t know. They automatically assume that any change will be for the worse.

I also see a liberal as someone who is generous. (In fact, that’s one of the definitions of “liberal.”) That, too, is part of the problem: conservatives and moderates don’t like the idea of giving anything away for free and with no accountability. But just because liberals side with unpopular causes like public assistance and immigration reform doesn’t mean that they don’t care how these things are paid for or how they are accomplished. They just happen to believe that it is the responsibility of those who are better off to help those who are unfortunate. Funny how that lines up with the Christian message and yet so many Christians identify as conservatives. (See, however, the Sojourners web site for an example of Christians who believe that they are mandated to work for social justice.)

“Bleeding heart liberals” is a phrase you hear a lot among conservatives, as if it is a bad thing to think with your heart. Liberals believe in rehabilitation; conservatives believe in punishment. Liberals are willing to look at all sides of an issue; conservatives stick to what has been true in the past. Liberals want to invite everyone to the table; conservatives are more comfortable being with like-minded individuals. To a liberal, Truth is a complicated concept; to a conservative it is black and white, period.

Most conservatives define liberals by the causes they support: pacifism, reproductive rights, gay marriage, health care and immigration reform, abortion, for example. But you can be a liberal and be against abortion personally; you’re just reluctant to make other people’s choices for them. Conservatives think that they know best and that they should be able to dictate what others have a right to do or not do. Feminism is considered to be a liberal philosophy because it encourages people to think for themselves.

The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that few people are all one ideology or another. I’m a moderate about many things, even a conservative about some, but I’m predominantly liberal. Because I believe in acting, not reacting; in generosity, not stinginess; in openness not protectiveness; in doing at least some listening, not doing all the talking; in well-rounded argument not argument tied to old ideas; in diplomacy first, not fighting; in making changes if necessary not sticking to the old just because it’s comfortable.

I believe that all citizens should have the same rights and each have all the rights that are possible; I even defend the rights of those I don’t agree with.

Can a conservative say the same?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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