Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Demonizing Liberalism

I wrote an editorial for submission to various locations of printability... for an Advanced Comp assignment, that is. It's something that I (obviously) feel strongly about...

“Liberals hate America.” - Ann Coulter.
The past 5 years of American politics have seen a rise in rabid partisanship, bitterly dividing communities and families between the Red and the Blue. This isn’t to say that there were no disagreements prior to 2000; I know my family has always argued about the merits of differing political ideologies. However, the pitch of confrontations between liberals and conservatives has risen into something that could very well be a war. Rather than debate, the popular way to try to discredit one’s opponent in this atmosphere is now wholly dependent on propaganda. The difference between liberals and conservatives, now, is the level of success in this new arena, where the conservatives have wholly dominated.
Whoever controls the rhetoric controls the public opinion. This is how it has always been. Sometimes opposing groups both manage to define their side positively, such as in abortion (pro-life instead of anti-choice, pro-choice instead of pro-abortion). Up until now, it has been relatively even in terms of which group defines what. Rhetoric that casts both sides in a positive light prevails, and the opposition acquiesces because they, too, are getting the gentle treatment. There is only one term in politics, however, that has held a strange dichotomy for several decades: liberal. The term liberal, to conservatives, at best signifies a restless movement, a constant dissatisfaction with the status quo. At worst, they describe liberalism as an attack on fundamental values and morality, an atheistic movement and interference in the free market. They often equate the liberal ideals with communism. The funny thing is, though, liberalism used to be something that they welcomed into their discourse and their strategy and even once employed as a political weapon against the USSR. Even today, they embrace economic liberalism, though they claim not to, redefining it as their own in “fiscal conservatism.”
The Liberal movement began as humanism during the Renaissance, a school of thought that questioned the authority of the church to impose law and sanctions on the people. Centuries later, in the Enlightenment era, free thinkers such as John Locke and Adam Smith injected the movement with the revolutionist idea of natural rights, that there were certain freedoms that no government could violate. The economic aspect contended that a free marketplace was the only way to provide economic equality, that people who were forced to share wealth would find ways to avoid it. By the end of the 19th century, the movement had split into two groups: economic liberalism and social liberalism. Conservatives embody the former completely, contending that any unnecessary interference in free-market economics is an encroachment of communism and an assault on capitalism. Present-day liberals trend towards social liberalism, claiming that the government should enforce individual rights when the people infringe upon them.
Liberalism was largely uncontested as a movement until the 70s, during the Nixon era. Tensions over the failure of organized labor, the Nixon administration, and the failed Vietnam War (a liberal endeavor) led to a rise in conservatism. Once Americans became disenchanted with liberalism, the demonizing began. Splits in the Civil Rights Movement began to side almost all liberals with the Democratic side, giving conservatives, for the first time, the ability to attack the side as a single ideology. It was then that the misleading and redefinition of “liberal” began.
The neo-conservative movement is wholly based upon these attacks upon liberalism. They have managed to dirty the word to mean hatred for the American way of life, communistic, anti-Christianity, anti-patriotism, sympathy for terrorists, and disregard for human life. Coulter, for example, has never mentioned “liberal” without bringing up abortion or atheism, cementing the view of liberals as wanting to “kill babies” and destroy God. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, also attacked liberalism and humanism: “We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism... we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today... our battle is with Satan himself.” Liberals have yet to respond to (or sink to the level of) these false characterizations. The attacks have only increased now that conservatives hold a majority in both elected branches of government, and conservatives claim that America is leaving liberalism behind. They like to forget that the country was founded on liberal principles, the idea that government should support individual freedom, as long as others’ rights are not encroached upon, and rarely limit it. Marc Forné i Molné, former president of Andorra and current president of the Liberal Party of Andorra, said it best: “Discoveries made during the last hundred years have shown that liberalism is the best system to improve a country's well being.” It is always the best idea to embrace change and freedom over the status quo.
Unfortunately, the term “liberal” has now been redefined as a pejorative, allowing pundits such as Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity to spit the word with utter contempt, using it as a defense when their own position is indefensible. This has been transferred to the common man, providing non-politicians with ammunition for debates of their own, though I use the term loosely. The malice is most evident in online forums, with neo-conservatives calling out liberals as “libtards,” “libshits,” and other dubiously respectful terms, asking them to define their position as bait for more liberal-themed taunting. Honest, cool debates can sometimes be found, but by and large any mention of the word “liberal” signifies a decline in reason and a rash of name-calling soon to follow.
The Virginia election of 2005 was a showcase of the hatred for liberals that conservatives want to ingrain in mainstream America. Each Republican candidate had at least one ad attacking their opponent as being “liberal,” treating it as a horrific negative. It’s a shame that the best attack on Kaine, other than “he’s going to raise your gas taxes,” as Kilgore so eloquently stated, restated, and stated again, was that he is liberal. According to Republicans, Attorney General candidate Creigh Deeds was a liberal, which is appalling in itself. This combined with the fact that, as a private attorney, he plea bargained his clients out of jail time, should be enough to frighten away all mainstream voters from the liberal threat. The commercial, of course, neglects to mention that Deeds supported more “conservative” positions, such as 2nd amendment rights, than most Democrats, meaning he is truly in support of individual freedom, the actual, original meaning of the word “liberal.” Leslie Byrne was attacked even more mercilessly than the others. In one commercial, a picture of her flashed in one corner, while “LIBERAL” flashed in large red letters in the lower right-hand corner. Nothing else was offered as proof of her ineptitude. Another commercial alternated the word “liberal” with “reckless,” suggesting that all liberals have a dangerous disregard for established law. Because of the success in demonizing this political view, these irresponsible and misleading attacks proved victorious, which will likely cause more of the same attacks in elections to follow. Byrne was soundly defeated by her much less qualified opponent, while Deeds lost a recount by 300 votes. Only Kaine won, and solidly, which hopefully demonstrated that the attack using “liberal” in a derogatory way is changing as a viable campaign option.
So what is left for the liberals of America? Some have abandoned ship, adopting the term “progressive” in order to escape the hex that has been placed upon their 200+ year-old tradition of support for the people. The political ideology that was coopted into every surviving political party since the beginning of the country is being discarded by a defeated Democrat Party. If the liberals become desperate, they may shuffle loose their identity that Wesley Clark describes as “loving and embracing all genders, sexual orientations, races, religions, physical and economic conditions,” in favor of a more electable, conservative bent. The Democratic Leadership Committee is one indication of this change, reining in the more centrist democrats into a ideology that tries to straddle the fence without losing its base. Will this be the death of liberalism, the school of thought that raised a superpower, despite the claims of neo-conservatives to the contrary? I hope that the American people are smarter than this, realizing that the word “liberal,” whether prefixed with “bleeding-heart,” “knee-jerk,” or “tax and spend,” doesn’t have to be so dirty after all.


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