It mostly amuses me when the left pretends to be the persecuted powerless minority. Sometimes it irks me, but having a sense of humor helps to get through the slow decline.
Peter Beinart from the Atlantic thought it was necessary to argue that the word Liberal is good. I thought him being a Liberal himself would ‘know’ its a good word. I mean what sane or honest person would right a book titled “The Good Fight: Why Liberals —- and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror Make America Great Again” while simultaneously thinking that being Liberal was bad? Being the contributing editor must be tough, I mean he must be surrounded by staunch anti-liberals. Aren’t peoples feelings about the word liberal pretty clear? Classic Liberalism aside, if you are one you probably respect the word and if you are not, you are probably either apathetic or hate it. Well let’s take a look at Peter’s case.
“It wasn’t always this way. In the first half of the 20th century, “liberal” enjoyed a certain prestige.”
He refers to FDR and the New Deal as the source of this prestige. Of course being a good Liberal he doesn’t spend any time explaining why FDR and the New Deal were good things or why, or how or whom they one over. Well lets look at a Gallup poll from 1935.
The question: “Do you think expenditures by the government for relief and recovery are too little, too great, or just about right?”
Lets see 60% for too great and 31% for about right. Well of course status quo bias took care of that and in the great year 2014 every student knows that FDR and the New Deal saved America or some facsimile. I will admit either response is not surprising. The framing of the question focuses on spending which is usually a negative for Americans. To this day most American’s want to cut spending yet refuse to cut any programs when asked (Social Security, Medicare, Defense etc). This is not to say that FDR wasn’t popular at the time but certainly the New Deal did receive initial resistance as did most of the programs introduced at the time.
Of course the Democrats didn’t stop a the social safety net.
“But by the 1960s, the American right had stopped claiming “liberal” and begun demonizing it. Over the next two decades, being a liberal came to mean letting criminals terrorize America’s cities, hippies undermine traditional morality, and communists menace the world. ”
Peter neglects to mention civil rights legislation, although I’m sure he is aware of it impact. If we look at black votes as a proxy for the transition from Liberal good to Liberal bad, I will explain this in a second, we can see that it wasn’t until 1964 that black party affiliation in the Republican Party plummets to 8% and black Democratic affiliation skyrockets to 82% up from 58% (1960). Interestingly enough though black presidential voting has been solidly Democrat since FDR, when 71% voted for him. Though the Democratic party never broke 80% with blacks until the 1964 Presidential election.
Back to why I chose black voters as a proxy for Liberal getting a nasty name. I would, and I’m not the first, demarcate the 1960’s as the transition point from the Democratic party from a roughly White coalition to a roughly multicultural coalition. This is not to say it was anyone’s friend, but I speaking roughly of who it pandered too and who began to identify with it. It was a different sort of white liberal who took up the torch after the 1960’s and those changes most likely lead to the name becoming dirty.
“The decline of “liberal” into epithet status also coincided with a cultural revolt, especially on sexual issues like abortion and gay rights, which frightened many middle-aged Americans. But today, the people demanding greater cultural liberty—whether they be gay couples wanting to marry or individuals wanting to legally smoke pot—don’t seem nearly as radical. ”
On a side note I’ve always found the idea that gay people frighten middle-aged Americans or any one for that matter to be silly. Disgust, discomfort, disapproval or derision would be more appropriate words. Certainly people made seem to recoil, but they don’t talk nervously they speak in disproving whispers and emotive tirades. I could be wrong but I think this idea stems from the fear/love dichotomy which in my mind is a false one. In addition the idea of your opponent fearing something is just the sort of derisive description a liberal would choose. It implies that they just don’t understand and if they did that they would agree with them. It belies a common problem with liberals which is projection. Back to Peter’s article.
While certainly Peter is partially right about the cultural revolt, I would chalk it up to the slow change in attitude being due to students entering politics after the gay rights and abortion narratives had made their long march through academia.
The majority isn’t demanding more cultural liberty, its been conditioned to accept certain specific ideas. One doesn’t mistake Democrats and liberals for libertine libertarians. As for pot I honestly think that while academia might have had some influence on pot it might just be a grass roots cultural change. I won’t deny this change was made possible by leftward cultural shift but I am uncertain that this was a truly “planned” change.
““Liberal,” in other words, got its bad name because of a series of racial, sexual, and global bogeymen that don’t frighten Americans nearly as much anymore.”
This sentence is just beautiful really. It’s a perfect example of word choice and priming. “bad name” implies that the reputation isn’t deserved, “bogeymen” implies that the fears aren’t real, “frighten” again implies that the opposition just doesn’t understand. While the author points to this Gallup poll to show that “Liberal” is unpopular I would come to a different conclusion.
I see self identified liberals as true believers, rather than status signalers or casual voters. While Peter is right to point out that conservative has a much more positive connotation, many moderates, but not all, are effectively liberal. The number of persuadable voters is actually quite small. Voters simply “stay neutral” by calling themselves moderate to avoid both negative social repercussions and to distance themselves from the fringes of either party. The number of people who don’t identify as liberal probably has more to do with the middle ground fallacy than a negative view of the party/ideology.
On a positive note, though Peter probably disagrees with me.
“One reason may be that “conservative” has positive “extra-political” associations. To many Americans, it connotes “caution, restraint and respect for traditional values,” positive attributes irrespective of one’s views on specific policies.”
Though American’s might be on a long march leftward at least their is still some common sense buried under all that conditioning.