Monday, July 26, 2010

Another "eureka" moment. Liberals? *UPDATE* A clarification of terms

Every now and then I have a "eureka" moment, when the light breaks through the oft-present fog in my brain and I get it.
One such moment happened a few months ago. I saw David Horowitz on television, explaining modern American liberalism from the inside. Horowitz was raised in the heart of 1960s liberal activism by two Communist parents, and he was fully on board for his young adulthood. He was a true believer in the "progressive movement." He later switched sides and became a strong conservative. (For his credentials, read here.)
Something he said that day has stuck with me:
Liberals are only liberal when it comes to sex and drugs. In every other aspect of life, they want to regulate and control others.
Liberals are not really liberal after all.
And for any liberals out there.... Is Horowitz's assertion accurate? I'd love to discuss.

*UPDATE: I want to be very clear with my terms. I am using the term "liberal" to discuss those on the left of the political spectrum in America. This ideology is characterized by being "liberal" (free and unrestricted) on the moral issues, but advocating control and regulation on practically all other aspects of our lives, including economic.  (Thus, the term "liberal" is a misnomer, which is the point of my post.)

When I speak of "liberal" or "left" I mean those in charge of shaping the debate today in America. The movers and shakers and policy makers. That would be liberal politicians (including the Democratic Party's base and Barack Obama), liberal journalists, liberal university professors, liberal artists, etc. I actually prefer the word "leftist," but it seems that "liberal" is still the preferred term.

I am not talking about the average Democrat in your neighborhood who votes that way because he always has, or his parents always have. 


  1. This is an interesting thought! It might be a bit of an over generalization, but I think that it could be a good basic rule of thumb... :)

  2. Megan, I should have clarified that he was referring to the political left, those who shape public policy and frame public debate. There are a lot of people who traditionally consider themselves "liberal" but who really don't understand what the political left has come to stand for.

    In my opinion, if you confine what he says to those "true believers" in the progressive movement (who steer the Democratic Party), then it's not a generalization. But let me know where you think I'm off base.

  3. Now see, this is the problem with you conservatives… 
    Actually, here in Switzerland (and France) the terms liberal and conservative mean the exact opposite of what they mean in the US. In the US, liberal usually refers to someone who is socially liberal and economically conservative, whereas conservative refers to a socially conservative, economically liberal. In Europe (well, the French speaking part, at least), the terms are used in their economic sense, rather than social sense. (This leads to a lot of confusion when my husband and I are discussing politics)
    I think it is fair to say there are extremists at both ends of the spectrum, in both parties. To state that there are extremist liberals is true. There are also extremist conservatives.
    Breaking down the question of liberal vs conservative into it’s social and economic components can be useful for mutual understanding. “Social liberalism” I think is what you are referring to when it comes to the question of drugs and sex (and abortion), and possibly a few others, such as welfare, healthcare, etc. Economic conservatism (characteristic of a US “liberal”) usually means increased regulation, controlled capitalism, and of course also touches the domains of illegal immigrant work forces, health care, and welfare.
    Here’s where my problem lies with the conservatives:
    I am ok with taking a stance against MORAL relativism. So far, so good. In fact, one (of any political affiliation) should feel obligated, morally, to stand for what they believe to be ethically correct in their heart or soul. This is why your last post convinced me to finally admit that I was a closet pro-lifer. Yes, liberals tend to fall more into the category of Live and Let Live (moral relativism), which is problematic for many conservatives, but at the same time, there is a lot of Live Free or Die in the republican party as well.
    On the other hand, conservatives tend to (and I’m generalizing here) not be capable of determining moral relativism vs simple relativism- the difference of opinions by two well-informed people. I get the impression when reading your posts on liberalism, that you believe if liberals could just UNDERSTAND, if they could just be as EDUCATED on the subject as you, that they would all *get it* and stop being so dumb.  The problem with this is that many liberals are very well informed on issues (that don’t imply a moral or ethical choice), yet still reach a different conclusion and action plan than conservatives! How is this possible???
    It is fair to admit that there are far more intelligent and educated people than us on both sides of each debate, who continue to reach opposite conclusions on the same issue, despite a similar set of moral and ethical values and ideals. (I’m not saying that every conservative and liberal are starting with the same basic principles, but that some are, and yet they still disagree).

  4. The way the two parties discuss each other shows a total lack of mutual respect, which is astonishing considering the (what I feel to be) utter validity of the sentence above. How can any useful compromise or dialogue be started when both parties are unwilling to move even slightly?
    Again, I’m referring to issues that I don’t feel have a clear-cut moral impetus. We liberals tend to see the world in shades of grey, which unfortunately carries over (I think by bad habit more than malice) into domains where it shouldn’t, creating moral relativism. You conservatives tend to see the world in black and white, great for those issues which are morally clear, but not so good for all the rest (in this liberal’s opinion!)
    And herein lies another problem- there is virtually no way to discuss this without making sweeping generalizations, that are likely to offend EVERYONE on both sides. In the same way that a liberal is offended every time that someone says, “Well, all liberals believe…” so is a conservative.
    Ultimately, you have decided to align yourself with the conservative group, probably because of their stance on morally relevant questions, and that’s fine. But I have chosen to align myself with a more liberal group, because I feel that for all amoral issues, I am more closely aligned with democratic thought (f.ex. immigration, health care reform, …) and for issues of morality, I am free to disagree, even actively and vociferously, with my party, and these questions of moral importance represent a minimum in terms of what is regularly voted on and decided in congress.
    I don’t ever expect you to agree with my views on illegal workers, universal health care, or you-name-the-hot-button issue. But when the issue does not involve a question of morality (and while all of these above issues do involve human rights to some degree, none are a cut-and-dry case of morality) I would appreciate some mutual respect that one can have a difference of opinion AND be well-informed AND intelligent. When this is the case, a compromise might be able to be reached between republicans and democrats, and actual change for the good of all can occur.
    In the mean time, we tend to see a lot of debates between UNINFORMED liberals and UNINFORMED conservatives, who are just quoting their party lines as knee-jerk reactions (Christa comes to mind…) and this type of dialogue is useless, even harmful. Rather than creating a political culture of informed choice (where one is free to pick and choose the characteristics of each party that they feel personally aligned with after fully informing themselves), we encourage people to blindly step into one party or another based campaigning techniques that look suspiciously like product marketing based on fear and popularity tactics.
    I used a lot of “you”s and “I”s in this comment, and I realize upon rereading that generally speaking, I mean these in a more generalized sense that you or I as individuals, so I hope this doesn’t come off as offensive.

  5. That was insanely long, sorry!!!

  6. And I forgot to sign up for comments. lol.

  7. I have to think about this one. Yes, while this is true (I think he was being a bit cheeky) but here's another place they are liberal...for the poor and for other people's kids, this school system is good enough (of course they want it to be improved) but for OUR KIDS, no, no, no, gotta go to the Quaker School (i.e., the 40K a year school), the most exclusive school. Also, neighborhood, for everyone else such and such neighborhood is fine, but not for us, we gotta live among ourselves. That's why they love big taxation. Oh, there's plenty more!

  8. Leila, your clarification makes sense to me! In that context, I would tend to agree.
    Monica, I hear what you're saying, and it is for this reason that I tend to think of myself as an independent. I do tend to lean more toward the Republican side because they generally hold more pro life views. My family often gets frustrated with me and says that there is more than one issue involved etc. However, in my opinion, if we aren't legally protecting the smallest members of society, then we can never legitimately be advocating for the common good regardless of how noble our intentions are!
    Like it or not, our attitudes on morality are going to ultimately color our attitudes and actions about the other issues, and if I am going to dissent from a party, then I would rather be on the side that I believe to be morally solid and making noise about the ways that our morality isn't being reflected in our politics.

  9. Monica, thank you! I love that you want to engage this. I need to clarify some things, because I think you misunderstand my mindset (this may take a few post to respond).

    First, I have been in and around politics for over twenty years here in the U.S. My husband works in politics. I am using the terms the way they are used her in the U.S., or else we would all be confused. So, when I say "liberal," I mean those on the left (little to no restrictions on moral issues, lots of restrictions on economic and all other issues).

    Also, I have done a grave disservice if you came away from my posts thinking the left (liberals) are uneducated. Quite the opposite. When we are talking about those who move and shape the left in America, I believe they are VERY well-educated, and they follow a worldview that is very much thought-through. I would never think I could "convert" the far left, although some, like Horowitz, do change stripes.

    If you take one thing away from this, please know that although the "mushy middle" of both sides of the spectrum may be disengaged from the details and facts of what and why they believe, both of the "base" of each Party, or side, is quite educated and knowledgable. Both sides know exactly what they believe and why, and my intent is only to show it to those who are not clear, or don't know how to explain it to others.

    More soon....


  10. * Correction .... I meant I would be doing a disservice if you thought that *I* thought liberals were uneducated. I don't think that at all, not for a second.
    I know you don't think so, and neither do I.

  11. Little JoAnn, yes, and that's exactly my point. They want to "control" where people can go to school. They don't want school choice, they want to force everyone into public schools, even if the parents don't want it. So, they are for "control" and "regulation" of every aspect of our lives. They may be "liberal" with their *own* school choices for their kids, but they want to make sure the rest of us (the unwashed masses, the general population) have no real freedom in that area.

  12. One more clarification (I am an obsessive clarifier, ha ha!): I should have said, "When it comes to law and public policy, liberals are only liberal when it comes to sex and drugs. In every other aspect of life, they want to regulate and control others."

    I hope that makes more sense.

    And, Megan, I like what Dennis Prager says about generalizing. If we can't generalize, then we can't talk about anything. There are always exceptions to everything (it would be cumbersome to bring up every individual exception), but we have to speak in generalities in order to understand each other.

    Let me know what you think.

  13. Monica, please see my comment to Megan, above, on the issue of generalizing.

    In reading the second part of what you wrote, I want to repeat that I in no way think that those on the left are unintelligent or uninformed. Quite the opposite. I think those on the left fully believe and understand their positions and are generally highly intelligent. I think our worldviews are entirely different, though.

    I agree that except for the black and white moral issues, we are free to debate and disagree about policy. I have more "liberal" views on the death penalty than many conservatives, for example.

    But "in general" the left is not for "freedom" as the term "liberal" would imply. That is the irony. The left wants to impose laws and limits on everything except the black and white moral issues. So, it's backwards! The left works to regulate how much energy we use, what cars we drive, how much money we make, what schools our children can attend, what kind of health care we can have, if we can own a gun, etc., etc., etc.... So, that is my whole point.... that "liberals" are not "liberal" except on the moral issues. And to me, that is totally backwards. And ironic. Because it's liberals who are much more oppressive in the laws and policies they propose than conservatives.

    But believe me, I never thought the left was ignorant or unintelligent. That's why I said they are "true believers".... they believe in the worldview that I reject. It's a battle for the hearts and minds of the "middle".

    Let me know what you think, as I really appreciate the thoughtful debate here!

  14. I guess what's puzzling to liberal folk like myself is how the opposite can be so true of conservatives. How can conservatives get so wrapped up in administering control over peoples' sex lives (usually with a religious agenda as the foundation) while disparaging control over business issues that also frequently touch on the moral-what would the Gulf of Mexico look like now if more control had been asserted over deep well drilling and protocol? What would our economy look like now if more control had been asserted over mega entities like Fanny/Freddie May? Why does morality only exist in the bedroom and not beyond?

    As far as liberals insisting on public schools for all but their own-what bunch of hooey! Most of us want BETTER public schools, assisting them with tax dollars to make them better. Conservatives are just as "guilty" of sending their offspring to elite schools, and taking it one step farther by cutting back on moneys designated for public schools.


  15. Having grown up and lived on the 'left' side of the world for many years, I tend to agree with Leila. Left DOES NOT mean 'live yourself and let others live'. Only people who never lived under Communism think like that. Communism is a religion in every sense of the word. Replace the true God of Christianity with a power hungry political leader with 'ends justify the means' approach and you get Communism. If you think socialized medicine is good it's because you were never strapped to a chair while your tonsils were taken out without anesthesia (by a doc in a bloody apron who had 'procesed' ten other kids before you in the last half-hour). I was. Or lost half of your teeth during a simple dental procedure like my Dad did. I saw scars on women's bodies from a C-section that looked like they were sewn back together by a 2yo. I can go on and on but I think you get the idea. All these 'left' ideas are great in theory but I pray you never have to actually live them to the fullest.

  16. Leila, I think that quote about generalization is very very true, and the more I have seen of this dialog, the more I agree with your initial conclusion.
    I do find it interesting that the exceptions brought up during a generalized dialog have the ability to change the course of the discussion. When discussing these exceptions with a liberal, it seems to create justification for changes to the whole system. However, that could be just another generalization... ;)

    Olya, what you went through sounds absolutely terrible, and it encompasses all my fears about socialized medicine. I'm so concerned about our quality of care being sacrificed. It all sounds great in theory, but it is impractical in reality.

  17. Olya, thank you for making an excellent point! Eastern Europeans are generally not leftists, precisely because they (you) had to actually live under the abject horrors of true leftist ideology .... not in theory, but in fact. Thank you for the vivid reminder!

    Megan, I agree!

    Gwen, thank you for the comments, and I appreciate you engaging me here! Without going into your points to rebut them, I just want to thank you again for being an honest liberal and confirming Horowitz's statement. That is the first step to understanding the two worldviews. If we can have that kind of clarity (i.e., yes, liberals want freedom on sex and drugs but not much else), then we can go from there and have a coherent discussion.

    I hope you will stay tuned, because your points about education and schools deserve a post of their own. Please keep watch for it, as you are still the only liberal who will not only hang with me, but also be refreshingly honest. I love your integrity, so please stick around! Thanks so much, Gwen!

  18. I think what Gwen said- that on some level all issues contain quesionts of ethics or morality, is true to some extent, and a good point. Most party members want the same things- good schools, clean oceans... but have vastly different approaches to the problem. Unregulated capitalism has failed in California. Period. And over-regulated socialism has failed in France. Period. We must seek middle ground.

    I have the unique perspective of living in a country which considers itself to be a social democracy. It is very important to distinguish, again, between socialism and capitalism, and democracy and communism. These are very, very different questions, and the opinion of someone who has lived through the terror of communism cannot be used to justify the hatred of socialism.

    We have an excellent system of mandatory socialized healthcare. You can read a bit about Swiss healthcare online, as it has been in the news a few times as a potential model for US health care reform. I'd like to add that doctors here are well-paid and competitive, and cutting-edge research takes place in Switzerland (first double lung transplant performed here in Lausanne, just to give an example), despite a socialized healthcare model.

    I have been in both Swiss and US emergency rooms lately, and can remember hearing the horrible conversations the nurses had to have with the woman in the curtain next to me in the US (she was not insured). Because she was not at death's door, she was essentially refused treatment. My mom was admitted to a Swiss hospital for 7 days, also for a non life-and-death emergency, and received impeccable treatment, even though we could not manage to connect her insurance provider with the Swiss hospital for 5 days.
    As much as conservatives want to believe that socialized healthcare is always a trainwreck, it can work, and there are working models in many countries.

    For liberals, we tend to take the ethical perspective that healthcare is a human right, and mandatory and/or socialized healthcare guarantees that right to all.

    Leila, in this post you never called liberals stupid, true. But look at your tone in the soap post. I know that this was mostly written as gentle mocking, but your post and the comments that follow are certainly not complimentary to the basic intelligence of the liberals out there!

    And with that, I have to admit that we're starting to get out of my league in terms of political knowledge! I am, admittedly, a mushy middler, and really only know a bit about the subjects that I find interesting- immigration, healthcare, etc. I am excited to read what you have to say about schools, as I don't know either party's views on the subject. If we ever moved to the US, I just assume I would homeschool and join my brother's future Catholic Cruchy Commune and catch all the little Catholic babies being born left and right. lol.

  19. Monica, "unregulated capitalism" is not what caused the mess that is California. In fact, California is one of the "bluest" (i.e., Democratic) states around. But the issue of California would be fodder for another post.

    As for Switzerland and the Swiss health care system... Switzerland is a small, wealthy country. The model that works in Switzerland does not/could not work in most nations of the world. The issue of health care also deserves a post of its own (or, multiple posts... it's a complex subject, to say the least). I did just read that England is pulling back from socialized medicine, so we will see how that goes.

    Socialism and communism are two ideologies on a spectrum. Socialism is not communism, for sure. But socialism approaches communism on the spectrum.

    I quote Dennis Prager a lot (because I think he is a clear thinker, not because I agree with everything he says). He contends that liberty is more important to conservatives than (forced) "equality", and "equality" (of outcome) is more important to liberals than liberty. I think this is generally true, and that their respective policies bear that out.

    As to the soap post. I do admit to satirizing the left. I will continue to use satire on occasion. It doesn't mean I think liberals are unintelligent, it only means that I think their ideas are unworkable. I think liberals have ideas that "sound" and "feel" great, but that lead to the most ineffective, and even ridiculous or harmful outcomes. And I am all about what works, not what "sounds good."

    I will definitely do the post on education, just as soon as I can. Hang in there with me. And please keep commenting! I appreciate your perspective.

  20. Monica, I have a friend who lives in Europe and they pay 70% of their income to fund socialized medicine. 70%!!!!! My husband works 14-16 hour days, I can't imagine paying 70% tax, it's just not fair!

  21. This is a test, it is only a test...did I fix it?

  22. Wow... this really is a eureka moment. So true! Except "freedom" for sex actually can translate into some scary regulations too. Even the health care debate is not nearly as simple as evil capitalism vs. socialized medicine. The reality is, government programs like medicare and medicaid have been greatly impacting the private sector for decades and contributing to the problems due to the way these programs are run. I guess I just never understood why anyone (whatever label they go under, haha) would think the government and politicians would somehow magically be more saintly and fair than any other entity.


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