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On the heels of yet even more about how Democrats don't have a strong, unifying message... and a very timely, very thoughtful counter to that, I decided to weigh in with why I, personally, am a liberal.

I first started writing this during the South Dakota abortion ban. The main thought going through my head was this: The pro-life crowd is tremendously short-sighted about what "life" means.

You already know this, being progressives; but life is much more than mere presence of lives. Life is also about hearts, minds, and souls.

Though you'd never know that, to listen to the pro-life crowd.

It's ironic that for all the religious right's hostility to evolution, and for all their spiritual pretensions in general, their take on the meaning of human life is the most animal of all--holding uniquely human qualities secondary to procreation and mere existence.

How utterly lacking in divine inspiration.

And the pro-choice crowd could use a bit more vision clarity itself when it talks about quality of life.

Almost nowhere do I see any discussion from pro-choicers about pathways of life... which, in my opinion, is completely irresponsible.
Oh, I do see some eye-opening profiles of the typical woman who gets an abortion, and the typical reasons she does. I do see plenty about the mother's health. And I even sometimes see a woman's personal account of her abortion... of a life potentially disrupted by an unwanted pregnancy, of her decision to take control.

But in my opinion, this doesn't go far enough.
Pro-choicers, you cannot, and I mean cannot, have a proper discussion about quality of life without talking more--a LOT more-- about pathways.

One of the things that frightened me the most about non-free societies, was the sense of having your entire life planned for you at an early age. A limited number of acceptable pathways; and if you find yourself off one of them for whatever reason, you are permanently in the underclass. (Not that the "upper class" really had it all that much better, though; remember what was expected of good Aryan women in Nazi Germany. No one escaped this basic lack of control over your own destiny.)

And it's shameful that America is growing slowly, inexorably, toward this kind of non-freedom. There's been a creeping sense of shrinking windows of opportunity in life... and for quite a while.

In one way, we squandered what was good about the Clinton years. This sense of limitation was not yet institutionalized as it is in the Bush administration; but it was already socially acceptable and widely practiced.

I think of youth sports, of how competitive and even violent they've gotten; how kids are starting younger and younger. There's even a DNA test prototype for athletic prowess: "[S]oon a mouth swab will be interpreted to tell the world whether you have the genetic makeup for a career in professional sports. In Denver, we're grateful the test wasn't around 20 years ago, or Earl Boykins, all 5 foot 5 inches and 133 pounds of him, certainly wouldn't be playing guard for the Nuggets. "[*]

I think of many upper-middle-class social circles, particularly in the South. Start training for cheerleading at five years old. Cheer in middle school and high school, and join a sorority in college. It's what girls in such circles believe is their best shot at the upper class and a good marriage. (I'm curious; how many rich Southern women who made good marriages did not follow this pattern? How many have been--God forbid--liberals?)

My old friend Marcine was chubby and non-athletic in elementary and middle school. About 13 or 14, she discovered she liked gymnastics and dance. She made the pom squad in high school, and was even then still stocky... she was always at the bottom of those pyramids. But she had the energy and the moves down pat, and she got gradually skinnier the longer she was a Pom. Skinnier in a healthy way, too--never anorexic.
Very healthy late-blooming cheerleading pathway, in my opinion. But I fear that today, nobody would give her a chance. She just isn't in the same league as those hyper-competitive girls who started gymnastics or ballet in kindergarten.

That last example is small, and may strike some of you as silly. But I feel it's one that beautifully illustrates the problem we now have with pathways. In the spirit of improving performance, we're closing off more and more of our options.

We have to be kind to late bloomers. We must keep late-blooming from becoming impossible. We must remain free at all stages of life to change course whenever we choose-- within financial, logistical and emotional reason, but without severe consequences. We must minimize the number of life paths that are set at an early age. We must mean it when we say yes, you can start over.

Otherwise, we cannot truly say we are free.

I was slower to grow emotionally and socially than I was academically. I have a college degree, an upper-middle-class background, and many diverse interests.
But I have never played team sports. I've never had a successful, long-standing, close-by romantic relationship (though I have had two long-standing long-distance relationships). I've never worked a well-paying job in my life. And I've had too much association with overly solicitous mental-health workers.

Many days I'm filled with despair and regret over the bad choices I've made. I was a good kid. I didn't get pregnant as a teen, didn't do drugs, didn't binge drink or smoke, made decent grades.
I just failed, repeatedly, to take life by the tail and give it a good shake. I failed to take risks when I should have taken them. I let myself get spooked.

I look at Cate Edwards, at Karenna Gore Schiff, at Eli Pariser. I wonder; will I ever become a better version of myself; become more like them--joyful, influential, actively enjoying their part in the struggle? I fear that those who are to become winners, real progressive movers and shakers; have already had years of experience at being winners.

I'm not very comfortable talking about my strengths and weaknesses. I'm much better at talking about my passions. Because, first of all, how can I be sure I'm going to perform strongly on a task I may consider a strength, especially under stress? And especially according to someone else's evaluation?
Second, you simply cannot afford to be weak on social and emotional skills anymore... even if you didn't start out strong there.
Third, I know from experience that the practice of sticking only with your strengths--heavily encouraged by employers, therapists, and life coaches--can go terribly awry. I tried that when I was younger..."I'm no good at the social stuff, so I'll stick with solo projects; I'm no good at sports, so I'll just stick with school"... when, in my 20/20 hindsight, if I'd pushed through those weaknesses instead of living with them, I'd be a much more joyful and capable person today.

Because this is still America, I still have hope that I can be victorious against my mediocrity-filled past, unproductive habits, and mood disorder. I still have hope that I can become more athletic, get a successful career, and leave no one any doubt that I am socially and emotionally strong even with my obstinate, maverick tendencies.
Because it's still America.

I am now in my late twenties--what most people consider their prime-- and in some ways I already feel over the hill. Because it's still America, I have hope for transformation.
But I fear the trends in motion. I fear that we're permanently losing something that could be considered the purest freedom of all: the freedom to be oneself.

If only early bloomers need apply... what kind of future will we have? I shudder to think.

* "Pushing kids too fast in sports", Rocky Mountain News, December 24, 2005,

Originally posted to MonteLukast on Tue Apr 25, 2006 at 04:22 PM PDT.

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