Information icon.svg

Nominations for the RationalMedia Foundation 2019 board of trustees election close on Sunday.

Information icon.svg

RationalWiki has reached 7,000 articles!

Essay:Misconceptions of liberalism

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay is an original work by RationalWiki users.
(see the page history for a list of the contributors)
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
Unless otherwise stated, this is original content, released under CC-BY-SA 3.0 or any later version. See RationalWiki:Copyrights.
Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

Someone dumped this on us not too long ago in late 2007; it's apparently a wholesale plagiarizing from Conservapedia. The edit was reverted, but I thought it could use a good fisking. Basically, this article serves as a mix of fact and fantasy describing conservative misconceptions about American liberalism. Our comments will be in italics.

"Our" "platform"[edit]

A Liberal is a believer in many of the following political positions:

  • denial of inherent gender differences, leading to things such as wanting men and women to have the same jobs in the military (while quietly holding them to different standards)

We feel that someone should be allowed to have any job they are qualified for, and that gender should not be regarded as a determining factor in what jobs people can apply for. We also feel that one can be whatever one wishes to be, regardless of any social constructs.

Notice how they got taxes and abortion into the same sentence there! The fact that taxes are used to pay for medical procedures that a person can't afford is apparently not an issue unless it is a procedure that conservatives don't like. There are also pro-life liberals out there, particularly within the Catholic Church.

This one is true. Why should two people who love each other be denied the right to marry in a secular society? Why should they be denied access to their partner's hospital room or not be allowed to benefit from their pension? Not all liberals support the concept of same-sex marriage per-se, but instead a civil-union concept which grants the same rights as a marriage but doesn't intrude on the religious concept of marriage.

Some do. Some don't. For some it depends on the type of affirmative action. All agree that it attempts to address a fundamental inequality affecting historically disadvantaged groups. Some feel this is the solution, others want something different, others still don't know the answer but feel that something needs to be done.

Conservatives are at least as bad with political correctness as any liberal—if the "War on Christmas" claptrap isn't conservative correctness run amok, what is it? Besides which, many liberals feel that political correctness has run amok in many ways as well.

Only public school classrooms, and only that led by teachers or school administration. No one is looking to stop all student prayer, nor could it be done if someone wanted to. On the other hand, it is not fair to those of other faiths or those of none to be subject to a prayer in which they cannot take part. The same is true of the military. This misconception of liberals (held mostly by Christian fundamentalists) only adds more evidence to the fact that involuntary prayer would be Christian only, and therefore can be taken as Dominionist, since nothing of introducing the prayers of other religions in school (such as Islamic prayers, which are performed by Muslim children five times a day, twice of which are done in school) is mentioned in this agenda.

Most consider education for all a mandate for a civilized society.

  • government-controlled medical care

To the extent that health care should be regulated to make sure its treatments are safe and effective, yes. Currently, the government isn't doing nearly enough in that regard since untested and often unsafe questionable medical treatments run rampant in our society in the name of health freedom (which doesn't mean what it sounds like). Also, many people in other Westernized countries find the idea that the US, with over 300 million people, lacks a healthcare safety net for everyone to be mindblowing and a bit barbaric. Finally, the government must require certain standards of health care in order to control the transmission of disease.

Collective bargaining provides necessary job stability and competitive wages for many skilled and unskilled workers. Although corruption does exist in some unions, this needs to be addressed rather than proposing the elimination of unions altogether.

Abstinence education has proven time and again to be ineffective and often counter-productive at reducing the transmission rates of STDs and teen pregnancy. Children end up unaware of the efficacy of birth control and barrier protection and often engage in other forms of sexual activity as they learn that only intercourse is to be avoided.

This is hardly a position that's exclusively held by liberals - progressive taxation schemes are widespread and have persisted under many conservative governments. Only the most extreme libertarians would argue that the same tax rate should apply to all levels of income. Redistribution is an inevitable consequence of such systems, unless the government would somehow find a way to supply everyone with benefits that are exactly equal to the amount of taxes he or she paid, which would render the program useless. There is also widespread agreement among liberal and conservative politicians that some form of redistribution is necessary to promote social justice and equality, the differences between the two sides simply concern the question of the extent to which such redistribution should take place, not the principle of helping less fortunate members of society in general.

  • a "living Constitution" that is reinterpreted rather than an unchanging Constitution as written

A sure hallmark of the fundamentalist mind is an insistence that some founding document or another is inviolable, and should be interpreted now the way it was when it was written. Such inflexibility is decidedly anti-rationalist. In addition, conservatives insist on their own interpretation of the Constitution, which is often not supported by reference to statements the writers of the document made about their intent.

  • support for gun control

Guns are potentially lethal. All use of all potentially dangerous substances and activities are regulated. The US has a very high rate of violent crime and very high gun ownership. It's actually a more complicated issue than either side wants to make it out to be, though for the most part (with Switzerland being an exception, mainly due to compulsory military service), more guns equals more bloodshed, and all the Second Amendment thumping in the world won't change those numbers. Conservatives like to paint "gun control" as "the government taking away your guns" whereas most liberals support far more reasonable concepts like waiting periods, background checks, gun safety training, and in some cases trigger locks.

  • government programs to rehabilitate criminals

Not all criminals can be rehabilitated — change cannot usually be expected in the case of a pedophile or a sociopath. But some can be, and if they're ever to be let out, they must be. Surely an uneducated ex-con is far more dangerous than an educated one? As they now exist, prisons are training grounds for criminals.

  • environmentalism [3]

You say that like it's a bad thing. Make your own house as messy as you want, but Earth is everyone's common space, and it's quite finite. Moreover, the fact is that humans are very capable of causing severe damage to the environment which can have lasting consequences.

  • disarmament treaties

As compared to what, mutual assured destruction? No, not all parties in a treaty can be trusted, but when two sides can work together, they should. Fewer nukes is always better than more.

  • globalism

This is one that everyone tosses over the fence into someone else's backyard. Truthfully, most of us wouldn't weep to see the dissolution of a great many national boundaries and a far greater degree of international cooperation, but the globalism that everyone is against — homogenization of cultures, loss of local culture and foodways, loss of local literature, and the abdication of state sovereignty — isn't our program, it's the corporate world's, which is decidedly not liberal.

  • opposition to a strong American foreign policy[4]

Define "strong". Not everyone thinks the constant threat of coercion and violence qualifies as strength. Often more can be accomplished through negotiation than through outright war. Even Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leaders.

Many—most, probably—do. But so do many conservatives; they're just more hypocritical about it. And kinkier (but not gay). There are anti-porn lefties, but they're usually radical first- and second-wave feminists of a sort that has lost traction over the last twenty years or so. Many less radical liberals find them disturbingly similar to the Religious Right in their outlook and moralism. Conservatives like John Ashcroft see pornography even in classical statues of Justice.

  • opposition to full private property rights[6]

Even the Constitution recognizes that property rights aren't absolute, requiring that due process be exercised before a person may be deprived of property. This being said, private property rights aren't necessarily held in high regard by conservatives — abuse of eminent domain is bipartisan. In any case, liberals generally agree that the common good can trump property rights (for which the property owner must be fairly compensated, as spelled out in the Constitution). Conservatives tend to favor business over individual rights.

All things considered, conservative talk radio serves primarily to stroke the egos and play to the prejudices of its most ignorant listeners (liberal talk radio often follows the same formula, which is something of a ratings loser when targeting people who do not wish to be spoon-fed their opinions). Broadcast spectrum is regulated as a public property for the public good. Many of us feel that if talk radio spews hatred, misinformation and lies, it should be required to allow the expression of an opposing point of view, or give up its license. Others feel that free speech is an absolute and that if conservative talk radio is a commercial success then it should not be impeded. There is no single "liberal" platform on this matter.

Cartoon depiction of the liberal viewpoints[edit]

Liberal Brain.jpg

This is incredibly lame (about as much as a potato salad container of distilled Mallard Fillmore) and really doesn't deserve comment. It remains here only for completeness' sake.

Liberalism in Europe today[edit]

In Europe, on the other hand, parties that call themselves liberal are moderate to centre-right, promote typically economic and business freedom. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe[7] is an organization that represents most liberal parties from European countries. Similar policies are promoted by many liberal parties throughout the world,[8] such as the Liberal Party of Australia.

Hey, guess what. American liberalism and European liberalism aren't the same thing. Terminology does differ from place to place. "Liberal" in the European (and Anglo-Australian) sense is that of nineteenth century "liberalism", in opposition to the absolutism of conservative monarchies and their arbitrary power. The American Founding Fathers and the Constitution they wrote are "liberal" in this sense. The Republican Party was, when founded, a "liberal" party. European and Australian "liberal parties" are generally small-government, in both economic and social spheres, though there are of course regional variations. The writer's use of the term "on the other hand" suggests he believes that European and Australian "liberal" parties are more conservative than American liberals. This is incorrect. They are called "centre-right" because the rest of the world is generally more left-wing than America. The Liberal Party of Australia is the conservative party of Australia, and yet it is probably as liberal as the Democratic Party of the United States, with even its devoutly Catholic leader supporting abortion (he disagrees with it, but does not wish to prohibit it), universal health care, a maternity leave scheme and affirmative action, and eschewing the American conservative's habit of demonising gay people.

Trade unions and socialist parties often criticize politicians that promote lower taxes on business, or more flexible hiring and firing laws, by calling them 'liberals' or neoliberals. Thus, just like in the US, 'liberal' is often used as a term of abuse. But when someone is called 'liberal' in Europe, this is usually a way of calling them right-wing, exactly the opposite of the meaning in the US. In fact, the US meaning of liberal is more similar to the politics of European socialist or social democratic parties.[9].

This writer evidently knows nothing about Europe or the rest of the world. Accusing someone of being a "neoliberal" is nothing like accusing them of being a "liberal", as much as accusing someone of being a naturist is the same as calling someone a naturalist. When Europeans wish to describe a right-winger, they will call them conservative, a right-winger, a Tory (in Britain) or, in some cases, a fascist. Outside the abysmal political "discussion" of the United States, "liberal" is scarcely ever used as a term of abuse, with only Britain (influenced by America) showing some signs of it among the European countries.

The US meaning of liberal is vague and usually abusive, formed from the same dark place in the American psyche that makes "secular humanist" an insult. The philosophy of Europe (and, to a degree, Australia and New Zealand) is humanist, and all the major parties are "liberal" by American standards. Margaret Thatcher voted for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and pushed policies to combat global warming, which would be enough for her to be discounted as a presidential candidate for the GOP. Surviving social-democratic parties of Europe (most notably in the Nordic countries) are far further to the left than the Democratic Party, with the closest European equivalent being the Christian Democratic parties of Germany and Italy (but these support - and have created - universal health care systems and have legalised abortion and homosexuality, which would put them at odds with a fair number of Democrats) or maybe Britain's New Labour. But basically Europe and America are too different politically and culturally to be compared so mechanically. Not least because Europe speaks different languages to America, making any attempt to compare the uses of "liberal" difficult - and far beyond this writer's ability.

is a political philosophy with freedom as its core value. The term was originally applied to supporters of individual liberties and equal rights, but the term has come to represent a movement of social change that often conflicts with conservative values such as moral values and tradition. Democrats and many media outlets in the United States often have liberal bias.

Why is it that conservatives have values and we have a bias? We have values—tolerance, acceptance, free agency, the right to intellectual inquiry, the right to dissent from the status quo, the right to make our own decisions about our lives, and the responsibility to make sure that our actions don't hurt others. And as regards liberal bias, the mainstream of American conservatism is a maelstrom of propaganda and rabble-rousing, so the bias accusation is at best a tu quoque argument, and at worst naked hypocrisy. As for tradition, some traditions don't really deserve to be preserved. Slavery, for example. Or Weasel Stomping Day.

Historical liberalism[edit]

In history, the word "liberal" has meant different things at different times, and was associated with individual liberty in prior centuries. In the postwar period, liberals supported government intervention in the economy and welfare state policies, as well as peaceful coexistence with the communist block, which are not liberal policies in the sense of classical liberalism. After the end of the cold war, with the demise of socialism and communism, many liberals embraced some ideas from economic neo-liberalism, and coined it the "Third Way". In the area of national security and foreign policy liberals in the U.S. failed to define a consistent stance, even after the events of 9/11 and the beginning of the war in Iraq. Liberals still support socially liberal positions when it comes to affirmative action, gay marriage, and abortion.[10]

It takes astonishing chutzpah to write the previous section and then to write this, essentially undercutting the author's "proper" definition of liberal by admitting that it's a term whose meaning changes with context (indeed has to). And it's an outright lie to say that there is no consistent policy on national security and foreign policy—regarding national security, the liberal view has always been to defend but not attack, and regarding foreign policy, American liberalism has generally favored diplomatic and economic engagement over military posturing. As for being pro-gay rights and pro-choice, well, I guess we value personal freedoms more than the author of this essay would like you to think. We just don't think anyone has the right to run roughshod over anyone else. It's called table manners—keep your elbows off the table so they don't wind up in anyone else's plate.

Evil liberalism[edit]

Wikipedia and John Kerry, much like illegal immigrants and Josef Stalin. And Stalin was an atheist, just like illegal immigrants.

Original meaning: 'classical liberalism'[edit]

See Classical Liberalism. Compare Libertarianism.

"Classical liberal" is generally no more than a euphemism for "snotty right-Libertarian". The classical liberal program was essentially that of the Enlightenment—greater freedom in all facets of society, the idea that people were free agents, that the role of government was not to legislate morality but primarily to protect and serve the state and mediate disputes. Those who call themselves "classical liberals" today often distort that message, focusing primarily on the economic aspects (often in the form of "free market fundamentalism") and are often little different from libertarians in many ways, that is when they aren't pushing social values that could only be considered liberal in the 18th century sense and would be considered outmoded today.

There's a reason that "progressive" and "liberal" are synonymous in American politics—American liberalism traditionally bases its positions on the tenor of the times as well as the principles involved, and does occasionally throw out ideas that don't seem to be working. To call oneself a "classical liberal" in the modern loaded definition, then, is to repudiate liberalism/progressivism in and of itself.

Alternative meanings of 'liberal'[edit]

One definition of liberal is anything that is not conservative. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary includes this definition of "liberal":[11]

  • Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas ...

Liberal organizations[edit]

  • AARP - American Association of Retired People

AARP is not really all that partisan. In any case, the elderly have a great many of their own issues—being old, unhealthy, lonely, and broke is a depressingly common state of affairs in the United States.

As hated as they are, the ACLU does a lot of heavy lifting to protect personal liberties, that which conservatives claim they care the most about. They do good but thankless work to make sure that people still have the right to say anything they want, including bigoted drivel.

  • AFL-CIO - American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Best thing we've got right now. Perhaps one day they'll get their house in order and we can truly respect them again.

I wonder why these people aren't the right-to-life movement's best buddies. They're all about life. And freedom.

Actually, many liberals in the US don't think particularly highly of the DNC—for the most part, the Democratic Party is run by centrists, and liberals are badly underrepresented by anyone who has any actual clout. (Kennedy and Kucinich don't count.)

Very in-your-face bunch. Some people don't like that. Some people think it's exactly what the environmentalist movement needs to be. Liberals feel that reasonable people can disagree. Conservatives don't seem to understand the concept.

  • NARAL - National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League

Many—perhaps most—lefties find abortion to be quite distatseful. But virtually all feel that an actual life takes precedence over a potential life, and that a woman's body is hers to do as she wishes. That's what NARAL is for.

Over forty years since the Civil Rights Movement first bubbled out of the Deep South, and black people are still disproportionately overrepresented in the underclasses (and prison populations) of this country. The welfare system is either designed to create dependency or too inflexible to be helpful, or both. The books are not yet balanced, demagogues on the Left shoot themselves in the foot, demagogues on the right either don't care or want to roll back the clock. Cooler heads are needed, and that is what the NAACP is for, eighty-plus years and counting.

  • National Committee for an Effective Congress
  • National Education Association

Only in the mind of a zealot can trying to keep politics out of the classroom be considered politically biased.

  • National Organization of Women
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Same as NARAL, but they're down in the trenches, making sure women have healthy families and that every child is a wanted one. The abuse they take from people who don't know the difference between quality of life and moral principle is unconscionable.

  • Rainbow/PUSH Coalition

A controversial group, Jesse Jackson's attention-whoring is well-known and seldom really liked. But if conservatives can have their radicals, so can we. It's called freedom of thought.

Not every liberal likes them—radical, strident, occasionally misinformed, but very powerful. They are, however, the core of the liberal netroots, and as such may be considered, followed, rejected, but never ignored. (At least they aren't the Weathermen.)

Only someone truly desperate to shed bad publicity could shovel Fred Phelps and his bootlickers off on the political Left. Authoritarian, intolerant, and relentlessly hateful, they fit no definition of liberal recognized in the English language, except perhaps as regards legal barratry. The Right can have 'em back; even if they do vote Democratic, they're about as liberal as Stalin was a chicken salad sandwich.

  • A.N.S.W.E.R.

Source: The Politix Group

See also[edit]

  • Liberal Bias
  • Liberal Hypocrisy
  • Essay:Liberal Style
  • The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness
  • Conservative Links

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Politically Correct Terrorism The Conservative Voice, August 21, 2007
  2. Democrats Aim To Kill Abstinence-Only Program Funding, Fox News, Monday, June 25, 2007
  3. Greenpeace engages in environmentalism. No shit, Sherlock.
  4. Stefaan Walgrave and Joris Verhulst, The February 15 Worldwide Protests against a War in Iraq: An Empirical Test of Transnational Opportunities. Outline of a Research Programme(PDF).
  5. The Warren Court, led by liberal Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, William Brennan and Chief Justice Earl Warren issued 36 decisions granting First Amendment rights to obscenity and pornography. These decisions remain fully supported by liberals today.
  6. For example, the liberal wing of the U.S. Supreme Court issued the 5-4 Kelo v. City of New London decision authorizing the taking of private property by government in order to give the property to another private entity rather than convert it to a public use.
  7. Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
  8. Liberal International
  9. [1]
  10. "Political liberals tend, for whatever reason, to be ardent supporters of both gay rights and pro-choice programs." Greenberg and Bailey [2]
  11. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/liberal