Why I Am a Liberal
Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., he one of the many cable news political pundits and a former aide to several prominent Democrats, wrote a script for the TV drama West Wing, and now gets to have his words mounted on social media (read accompanying graphic). The episode, which aired November 6, 2005, included a debate between two presidential candidates (post-Martin Sheen), with the words above uttered by the Democrat, Texas Congressman Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits).
The words are eloquently self-explanatory; they efficiently summarize what liberals have always believed deep down in their hearts. It’s interesting to peek at the scripted words that immediately preceded the quote:
Santos (D): Republicans have tried to turn liberal into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.
Sen. Arnold Vinick (R): A Republican president ended slavery.
Santos: Yes, a liberal Republican, Senator. What happened to them? They got run out of your party.
OK, you get the message: Democrats/liberals have been in the forefront of affirmative social and economic change in this country, and Republicans/conservatives have set up roadblocks every step along the way. As liberal programs became part of the fabric of American life, conservatives grudgingly came to accept them and, in some cases, even took credit for them. It makes liberals like me proud and frisky.
The Conservative Alternative
And what would be the conservative alternative to an iconic message such as the one written by Mr. O’Donnell? I see no point in revving up the search engines for an example. I assume it would contain elements of the conservative mantra: smaller government, “free” markets, the horrors of the collectivist “nanny state.” Obviously, these concepts are received by liberals in the exact opposite manner as they were intended, and so the proverbial wall is set in concrete, rendering debate meaningless.
Having declared myself incapable of finding an apropos conservative message, I will instead provide a recent example of a conservative Republican alternative to a vexing social predicament. Background: The city of Detroit, Michigan, lies smoldering in bankruptcy. The reasons are familiar, their nuances debatable: declining revenues due to a dependence on a declining manufacturing base, corruption, suburban flight…all that.
The bankruptcy has already jeopardized vital services to the city’s low-income residents, and threatens the pensions of active and retired city employees. So here comes Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the light of the fledgling “libertarian” conservative movement, to offer his remedy to the Detroit Economic Club on December 6, 2013.
According to Paul, reported the Detroit Free Press, “Detroit’s future will not come from Washington. The magic of Motown is here in the city.”
There was no report of a magic wand. Sen. Paul proposed that in Detroit communities that have an unemployment rate of 12 percent or more, federal personal and corporate taxes would be reduced to five percent, and that the federal payroll tax would be lowered to two percent each for both employer and employee.
That’s it. That’s his solution. No job-retraining. No decaying infrastructure repair. No mortgage adjustments. You cut taxes, and by magic, the engine of economic activity starts purring. Putting aside the demand-side vs. supply-side economics debate for now, it wouldn’t take a Congressional Budget Office analysis to point out the obvious: Been tried. Never worked.
Trickle Down Fantasy
Just as Marxists finally concluded that communism was doomed for failure in a capitalist-dominated world, conservatives are apt to claim that the “economic freedom zones” that Sen. Paul proposed wouldn’t get a chance to work because of certain influences that are anathema to…”freedom.” (Sarah Palin’s “lame-stream media” comes to mind.) If only we had the means, the space, to put our ideas to the test, they argue, we would show the world.
Examples of this range from conservative economist Milton Friedman’s foray into the Chilean dictatorship (google this) to a number of secession attempts, post-Civil War, in various US states. Certain state governments (North Carolina and Kansas come to mind) have become libertarian laboratories by enacting laws have slashed funding for basic government services and redirected tax preferences to the wealthy so-called “job creators.” The inevitable result: The conservative regimes have basically bankrupted each state.
This is why I am a liberal. I find Rand Paul’s cynical and dishonest urban tax ruse totally obscene.
Why I Am a Liberal
Reasons, reasons…so many reasons. The list I have made is by no means complete, but I’m happy with it. It’s a start:
I believe in science.
- I believe corporations are businesses, not people.
- I believe in equal rights, regardless of sexual orientation.
- I believe 47% of Americans aren’t looking for a government handout.
- I believe in climate change, and believe the US should join the global community to deal with it.
- I believe the strength of our military should be measured in how well it keeps the peace.
- I believe women deserve the same rights as men.
- I believe our sexual orientation is something we’re born with, not something we choose.
- I believe immigration is what has made this country great, not what will bring it down.
- I believe education is an investment we should protect and cherish.
- I believe we have the right to own guns, but that our Second Amendment says “well-regulated” for a reason.
- I believe in a living wage.
- I believe in economic democracy, but that the devil is in the details.
- I believe in nation-building at home, not in the Middle East.
- I believe health care is a right, not something for only those who can afford it.
- I believe a woman has a right to choose what to do with her own body.
- I believe a country should be judged by how it treats its poor, not its rich.
- I believe rape…is rape.
- I believe that demand, and not tax cuts, creates jobs.
- I believe the pillars of our safety net–social security and Medicare–are sacrosanct.
- I believe in those “union thugs” like teachers, fire fighters and police officers.
- I believe that the best way to strengthen the financial security of the middle class is through collective bargaining.
- I believe in a separation of church and state.
- I believe that religious extremism, and not a particular religion itself, is at the root of certain acts of violence.
- I believe that being unemployed doesn’t mean you’re lazy, and that most people who don’t have a job want one.
- I believe in a “color-blind” society that strives for racial equality.
- I believe in a Constitution that is meant to grow, evolve and progress.
- I believe in a country that resolves to benefit 100% of its citizens, not just the top 2%.
- I believe that all men (and women) are created equal, with the right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
- I believe in Live and Let Live.
Lastly, I am a liberal because my first political hero had this to say about the subject:
I am proud of it, too.
Highly inspirational Andrew. Brought a trickle of tear to my worn and worried eye.
Unfortunately the foundational progressive liberal/conservative tug of war that has defined our politics since the beginning is no longer operative. The threat that we on the progressive side must now fight is not a political philosophy but the domination of wealth and corporate power, and their (so far very successful) attempt to seize the physical, economic and social assets of the Earth to their complete and utter control.
Lizardtarians like the unctuous Rand Paul are the bought and paid for handmaidens of the plutocracy. Our political class, including the corrupted media, is now an indentured army that willfully serves their cause.
It won’t be long before their utopian vision of Belle Isle is the state of our nation and all others as well.
They want to return us not to the Gilded Age- we are already fully there- but to the New Middle Ages, where corporate oligarchs dominate their fiefdoms and We the People are as expendable as domestic animals.
The liberal/conservative duopoly is now irrelevant. Only a new radical vs plutocratic political war can save us from ruin. We are all radicals now, or must be.
Sorry this took so long. Been very busy.
You know my views–I don’t disagree per se with anything you wrote. The raging inequality that comes from aggressive corporate power–most notably enshrined in the Citizens United decision that opened the spigots of unlimited money in our electoral arena–won’t be easily disassembled, or even tamed.
Look at Russia. After a brief experiment with democracy, Putin emerged as a sort of broker (a tsar?) between wealthy oligarchs who actually rule the country. Russia is Belle Isle incarnate.
I use Russia as an example because, fortunately, this country does have a great tradition of democracy…a tradition that can be very useful as a change agent if employed with care and patience.
Victor, I truly believe that people matter…and that people want to matter. There are thousands of folks on our side out there working to put cracks in the corporate oligarchy. “Fighting the good fight” is not merely politics to me; it defines me as a person. It tells me I matter.
Let’s give these folks a chance before we throw away the key. Thanks for writing, my friend.