According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 49% of Americans believe that the Democrats are too liberal, and "four in 10" believe that Republicans are too conservative. I could go extensively into the intentional bias evidenced by the word choice there, 49% and 40% are much closer-sounding than "nearly half" and "four in 10", but that’s beside the point. As a progressive liberal who would doubtless be considered "too liberal" by significantly more then 49% of the country, someone who’s views are about in line with Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders (he’s the only genuine democratic socialist in the Senate), I think that liberals in America have a real problem with their message. When I was growing up, during my impressionable and Republican teenage years, I remember Republican commentators back in 1996-2000 complaining about how they just couldn’t win against stronger Democrat messages. Seemingly, that strength of message has been lost in the intervening years. Liberals no longer seem able to impart to the general public the value of their position.
Politics in America have become a battle between labels, instead of actual political ideologies. People toss slogans back and forth, hurling political labels like insults without any understanding of their positions. Unless you’re a shallow idiot who just follows the crowd and the label that manipulates you best (and if you are, FOX News appreciates the ratings), you’ve got some reason for holding any political position you might hold. Conservatives are conservatives for a reason. Liberals are liberals for a reason. Independents are independents for a reason. We seem to have lost track of those reasons. Instead, all you hear is "socialist!", "teabagger!", "commie!", "fascist!" and so on ad infinitum. We need to realize what these positions actually mean, and why somebody would march under one banner or another.
Republicans and conservatives (the two have largely become one and the same) have no problem giving people reasons to be a conservative. They want to let business expand without wasteful and nosy government interference, which they say stifles innovation and economic growth. Illegal immigrants, or sometimes any immigrants, are weakening the economic and cultural strength of the country. Any kind of multiculturalism is liberal weakness intended to undermine our national identity. Independence is very important to the conservative position. Personal gun ownership is considered a guarantee of the safety of oneself and one’s home, independent of the local police forces. This desire for independence extends to natural resource policy, things like fossil fuels and other minerals should be exploited to guarantee our nation’s independence. Foreign policy for conservatives should be focused on being too strong to be challenged, preserving our strength and independence, and utterly destroying any threats, real or potential.
Generally Christian or Judeo-Christian values are the norm, and are associated with the "Founding Fathers" as constituting the moral backbone of our nation. Weakening of those Judeo-Christian values weakens the nation as a whole, and so other religions are looked on with suspicion, and atheism is treated with outright hostility. For the conservative mindset, by definition, the old (or, existing) ways are the best, and should not be changed. As a progressive liberal, and therefore somebody who obviously does not agree with conservatism, I see the ideology as being dangerously static and bellicose. If we as a species had consistently stood by the belief that change is bad, we would have never advanced to where we are now. Every social advancement, every granting of equality, has occurred against a backdrop of conservative opposition, and the liberal position of today often becomes the moderate position of tomorrow, and the conservative position of two generations from now.
Moderates, the people who set themselves in the middle of whatever extremes exist, are not necessarily correct in their assumption that the midpoint is the high ground. We have been conditioned in our society to believe that any extreme is bad, and you can’t go wrong by trying to find a halfway point between the two sides of any issue, the fallacy of the false compromise. Yes, balance is great in some things, in (heh) moderation, but it’s not always the best pick. It’s too easy, too lazy, to look at two positions and assume that simply because there are people at one extreme or the other, they most both be wrong, or at least not entirely correct. You have to actually consider the issue, independent of anybody else and their positions, and decide for yourself what constitutes the best position for you. Instead, we have people like John Avlon of "The Daily Beast" pushing their "wingnut of the week" meme, trying to pick a crazy from the right and a crazy from the left and drawing a false compromise between them, as if to imply that neither extreme has any value. This is self-serving nonsense and it’s not backed up by history.
During the antebellum period in the United States, there was a group of political radicals from which mainstream politicians frequently tried to distance themselves, called the abolitionists. Lincoln called himself one, but limited it to an opposition of the spread of slavery, not a freeing of all the slaves. Lincoln also said he never wanted to bring about the social or political equality of blacks, he said he was never in favor of making them voters or jurors, or allowing intermarriage, and he believed whites were the superior race. That’s directly from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, although it could just as easily have come from the mouth of a Klansman 100 years later. Despite this, Abraham Lincoln was thought of as being so radical in his day that South Carolina left the Union shortly after his election, followed by many other slave states. He was doubtless considered "too liberal" in his day, but today his beliefs are more extremely conservative then anyone in the mainstream of politics.
In fact, it was the ultra-radical abolitionists whose views became, in time, the commonly held political positions. Abby Kelley was a radical abolitionist, considered a danger to all white society, because she advocate the total abolition of slavery, full civil equality for blacks, and the extension of civil rights to women and negroes. She frequently scandalized her contemporaries by speaking to mixed-gender and mixed-race audiences. Few politicians outside of the Northeast, and certainly none on a national stage, would have been willing to associate with her in the mid-19th century. And yet, today her views are the mainstream in our country. What makes the difference between the 1840s and the 2010s? Was she an extremist then and right now, or was she right then and right now, and her opposition a force that helped hold women and minorities back for a hundred years or more?
Clearly, the "extremist" position isn’t always wrong, and the moderate position isn’t always right. Indeed, social progress occurs because of the hard work of progressive extremists. Without the freedom riders of the Civil Rights movement, without protests and political action, we would not enjoy the across-the-board benefits of equality that we enjoy today, and we would have no chance for further advancements in equality in the future. There’s one good thing about progressives, we have a history we can look back on proudly. And yet, we don’t, we don’t talk up the benefits of progressive liberalism or the advances for which we’ve been responsible, and why is that? Conservatives will readily claim things like the American Revolution (inspired by classical English Liberalism) or early Republican Presidents like Abraham Lincoln (despite how much they hate him in the South), and yet you don’t hear the same from Democrats or liberals nearly enough.
Progressives have a long and storied history. In addition to being the driving forces behind abolition, we were behind the American Revolution (especially in the Northern Colonies), the Civil Rights movement, labor reforms that almost all Americans enjoy today, World War II, and more. Do you like having an 8-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek? You have socialism to thank for that, and the 888 aspect of the Labor movement, with the slogan "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest". Before the progressive labor movement, working conditions were unregulated, workers were worked to death because there were always replacements, child labour was common, and working days could be 10-16 hours per day for 6 days a week. In many parts of the developing world, this is still the case. 19th century progressives and socialists literally gave their lives so that today everyone can enjoy the 8 hour day, and the Fair Labor Standards Act under FDR’s New Deal made the Eight hour day law. There was a long time when it was considered a dangerously extreme and damaging position, thank your lucky stars that day is past. As you can see, progressives do not have a history they need to run from, and many of our advances have been achieved in the face of frequently violent conservative opposition. Even socialists have a proud history, at least before the Russian Communists subverted the movement in the early 20th century.
Bringing us to the present day, what do liberals of today hold dear, what are our positions, why would somebody be a liberal instead of a moderate or conservative? How can somebody be proud of being considered too liberal? Moreover, why are Americans, as we’re told by the media punditocracy, concerned that the Democratic Party has gone "too far to the left"? And in light of history, what makes that a bad thing? If the Republican Party of the 1850s (because back then they were the liberal national political party) had advocated worker’s rights, abolition, and equal rights for all, they would have been considered "too far to the left" for their time, but it would not have made them wrong. What are the positions of modern-day liberalism, and why do we fail to sell these to the populace as a whole? We should be the evangelists of equality and freedom, and yet instead we keep our light under a bushel and let the conservatives and the false-balance media narratives walk all over us, until repackaged Republican ideas from the early 90s are decried as socialist government takeovers!
First and foremost, the guiding principle of the progressive liberal movement, from its earliest days as John Locke’s English Liberalism, has been Equality. That equality has not always been equally applied, like how during the American Revolution it was just equality for white male landowners. Additionally, the cause of equality has been subverted for tyrannical goals, like during the Terror of the French Revolution or the abuses of Bolshevism and Leninism. These abuses aside, it has been the drive for equality that brought equal rights to Asian-American immigrants. It is the drive for equality that has resulted in the rich tapestry of religions that we have in America today, first realized in the colony governed by William Penn. Equality brought us the New Deal, and the Civil Rights movement. Equality brought us female politicians, and women like Sarah Palin, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and Olympia Snowe can thank progressive liberals for giving them the right to not only vote but to hold office as female Senators and Governors.
In the present day, the desire for equality is why progressive push for equal marriage rights for homosexuals, and equal pay regardless of race or gender, and equal rights to military service. Today we fight for homosexuals; yesterday it was racial minorities, who knows who it will be tomorrow. Someday we want to get to a point where everyone has equal rights, where every person can succeed or fail purely on their own merits, and not on the prejudices of society. We’re not trying to force Heterosexual White Christian Males down to the level of everybody else; we’re trying to bring everybody else up. When anyone is oppressed or made less free, all of us suffer.
When it comes to business and corporations, superficially it may seem like progressive liberals are opposed to all business. We’re not. We’re certainly opposed to the skyrocketing income disparity between the top and the bottom of major corporations, the wholesale concentration of wealth in the top .1% of the country. Whether that top .1% realizes it or not, they’re weakening their own positions with this, not just the people they’re exploiting. Additionally, we don’t wholly trust any person or business wholly motivated by profit. When money is involved, we don’t trust man to listen to his better angels. For a nonessential service, sure, let it be private. I have no problem with that at all. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates do what they do, and more power to them. Private development and innovation is a wonderful thing for the advancement of humanity. However, for essential services, we should not have people relying on businesses that run on profit.
Fire Departments and Police Departments are public bodies for a reason, and the reason is that the entire population relies on them. No matter how far removed it may be from the people voting, having a government in charge of something means that at some point it is responsible to the electorate for its existence. I don’t trust the motivations of people who want power, that’s always a cause for concern. However, I trust the motivation of somebody who wants power that relies on votes slightly more than I trust the motivation of somebody wanting power that relies on money. If your governor screws up, you can work to vote him out. If the CEO of your health care provider screws up, you’re out of luck. Anything that is a basic human right is not something where we should have to rely on profit-motivated private industry. If you think corporations are wholly worthy of unchecked public trust, crack open a history book and read through the first few years of the Industrial Revolution, and get back to me.
Natural resources within the planet were not placed there by God for us to waste wholesale, they are a finite resource and if we don’t use them responsibly, we’ll run out. That is just the way the world works, and it’s another core belief of today’s progressive movement. And what’s so wrong about that? We have this incredible wealth of renewable resources available to us on the world, without eating through finite resources and damaging the planet. If we managed to efficiently harness the available solar power, and the power in the wind, geothermal power, wave power, and more, we’d have more power then we would need for the foreseeable future, and we’re always coming up with new ideas. Instead we stay addicted to oil, not least because of the unhealthily close relationship between our mass media and the oil industries, or the close relationship between our politicians and the oil industries. Oil is money, and money in our world is power, and so the people with the oil have the power, until that oil runs out. Liberals may not be conservatives, but we’re definitely conservationists.
What I’d like to know is, which Democrat positions are "too liberal" for 49% of the American public? What has the Democratic Party done in the last 2 years that has been "too liberal"? Maybe it was Health Care Reform? That was a moderate bill at best, ripping off Republican health care proposals from the early 90s. Liberal health care reform would have meant a public option, or single payer health care, both positions apparently "too extreme". Was it the stimulus program? Oh sure, spending a trillion dollars on war is just fine, the media reporters will be slavering and drooling for exciting "embedded reporter" opportunities and prospective Pulitzers, but spending just shy of a trillion to try to stabilize and repair a damaged economy is dangerously radical. Is it the agitation towards equal rights for homosexuals, in marriage and the military? Opposition to this is a losing battle against history, just like it was in the 1940s when racial integration of the military was opposed and miscegenation laws are supported. By what criteria beyond religious can anyone justified the continued denial of these rights? If we are using religious criteria for this, we’re establishing a basis for religious law in the United States, and that’s never gone well in the past. You can use the Bible, even the New Testament, to justify slavery and the oppression of women.
Next time somebody tells you the Democratic Party is "too liberal", ask them what they mean. Defend your liberalism, defend your position. Know why you believe what you believe, and know why other people hold the positions that they hold. When somebody says that Democrats are too liberal, odds are good that they’re repeating something they’ve heard from the people in the media looking for a false balance, or worse yet they’re repeating the talking points of the Tea Party, who think anybody to the left of Limbaugh is too liberal. Ask them what specific acts or positions of the Democratic Party are "too liberal". Understand your history, and the history of the progressive movement, where we’ve been, what we’ve done, where we are and where we’re going. Facts are the defense against fallacies and misinformation.
Now, there is a necessary place in our society for conservatism, just like there’s a place for moderates. Conservatives act like a governor on the engine of progressivism. There are people in both camps looking to exploit political power, and without the restricting influence of conservatives, change can go too far and too fast, and you wind up with the Terror of the French Revolution, or the October Revolution, or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Conversely, without the influence of progressive liberalism in the mix, nothing would ever change, or things would become regressive. Slavery would continue, Fascist regimes would rule on the foundations of faith and nationalism, and technology would stagnate.
We need moderates as well, to facilitate the compromises between left and right, to find the genuine balance on the issues where a balance truly can be found. It’s great to have moderates in the gun control debate, for example, to provide a balance between total banning of all firearms, and an AK-47 for every high-schooler. There must be a balance between static conservatism and dynamic progressivism, and in order for that to exist, you must have people willing to be actual progressives. If you are resolved to be one of those progressives, you have to know why you believe what you believe, or else the balance will shift in the conservative direction like it has been, and suddenly the midpoint is between conservative Democrats and the Tea Party. If you talk to the media, it’s a balance between Blanche Lincoln and Orly Taitz, and that’s just insane. Own progressivism, and sell it too, and we’ll keep dragging humanity forward into the future.