Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Are Liberals So Timid?

It must have happened in the 1980’s….

That was when those who profess to be liberals started talking above the buzz; when they started having conversations among themselves that were above the heads of the average citizen.

Historically, Liberals or Progressives were at the forefront of the issues that mattered the most and made the greatest change to our standard of living: Education, health care, unionized labor and civil rights for example.

After the last administration and the greatest financial meltdown this country has seen since the Great Depression the only movement that has any pulse whatsoever is a bunch of anarchists parading under the banner of “Teabaggers.”

These malcontents even claim a direct link to the Founding Fathers!

The Founding Fathers were LIBERALS!

They were directed by, “…A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.” This is also the classical definition of LIBERALISM!

Because the concepts of liberty or freedom change in different historical periods the specific programs of liberalism also change. The final aim of liberalism, however, remains fixed, as does its characteristic belief not only in essential human goodness but also in human rationality. Liberalism assumes that people, having a rational intellect, have the ability to recognize problems and solve them and thus can achieve systematic improvement in the human condition. Often opposed to liberalism is the doctrine of conservatism, which, simply stated, supports the maintenance of the status quo. Liberalism, which seeks what it considers to be improvement or progress, necessarily desires to change the existing order.

The Teabaggers represent nothing more than a populist movement that is focused on the concept of statist; where sovereignty is vested not in the people but in the national state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, the prestige, and the well-being of the state.

If you really think about it they are actually voicing what should be an anger that should be heard from the left. This anger, against what is now obvious to everyone, the unveiling of what 25 years of supply side economics created: The United States of Wall Street!

It was the same anger that drove so many Americans to the polls in November last year to vote for HOPE and CHANGE!

Its time for Liberals to get behind such grassroots campaigns as Move Your Money and the 3/50 Project. Its time for the Liberals to stand up and protest and to do so on the one issue that effects all of us and effects everything: Economic Justice.


  1. When we let them get away with redefining liberal and conservative and reducing all conversation to cramming the other party into one of those boxes, we started to lose.

    When I hear them talk about how conservative Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were, I have to think it's all over but the shooting.

  2. As soon as Liberals realize that this 'anti-government' movement is actually a movement AGAINST government that benefits special interests, such as Wall Street, over the individual THEN liberalism will once again gain the majority that it enjoyed once before...

  3. A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans ..."

    About definitions of human nature necessarily applying to the concept of “liberal,” I am not so sure. Nor would I want to reopen a debate on how concepts of “natural man” drive political theory, i.e. “noble” versus “ignoble” savages. I believe one can argue this either way.

    It is interesting to note, for instance, that Stanley Kubrick, a political liberal, once said this:

    Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved — that about sums it up.

    In other words, here is a liberal attitude that takes an opposite view with respect to the “goodness of humans.”

    Perhaps we should consider George Lakoff’s exposé on Moral Fairness, Moral Self-Interest, and Moral Empathy. It starts with this observation:

    Considering that there are always going to be people who are, in some ways, more powerful than you, you would not want the power differential to result in your being treated unfairly, or in having your pursuit of self-interest squelched (…) And to guarantee that that there will in fact be Moral Fairness and Moral Self-Interest, you have to have the right kinds of [democratic] institutions …

    Perhaps Lakoff is more to the point about a starting definition for liberalism. Of course, my next question is: Why should this line of reasoning be driven solely by liberals, when conservatives often argue similar ideas, at least with respect to Moral Self-Interest?

    But this conversation diverts attention away from more immediate concerns: Yes, absolutely! Move your money. I intend to do it this week.

  4. BTW, (O)CT(O)PUS belongs to the Stanley Kubrick School of Natural Man. In other words, as Octo always says:

    Chicanery and corruption are the default conditions of the human species.

    The scriptwriters who wrote The Holy Bible and Battlestar Gallactica agree.

  5. Yes, Yes, Yes...and that is why liberalism is as debase and corrupt as what the last 10 years showed us conservatism was all about....

    Its why liberalism was able to bring us the social programs it did during the Great Depression, its why liberalism could bring us the civil rights movement....and today it cannot do a thing for healthcare, for people losing their homes, jobs, and retirements, and its why the gays cannot expect anything from Liberals today...

    The purpose of one person one vote was to equalize each and everyone of us in regards to our political system. This gave those who found themsleves unequal economically and or socially, equal in regards to government and it is why our laws had the impact they once did...

    Not anymore....

    Liberals killed liberalism...

  6. I don't quite see it this way. American style corporate capitalism is one culprit; and there are politicians who sold out; but I wouldn't call them "liberal." You can't kill the immutability of core values. One must reclaim them.

    Furthermore, let us not underestimate the role of Reagan's legacy in framing today's politics. What I see is a struggle to establish a new paradigm (which is not going very well so far).

  7. Yes...its time for a new paradigm...

    Barack Obama, the candidate formulated the paradigm around HOPE and CHANGE...

    I think that the concept of CHANGE and the Teabaggers are directly related and could be built upon to establish this whole new paradigm.

    BUT it has to start by making the connection between Reagan, the idol of the teabaggers and the situation we find ourselves in today...

    Its time for Liberals to quit defending this pathetic crap in Congress and to start striking out and demanding more....

  8. Our most widely read bloggers are liberal in the best sense of the word. They take Congress and Obama to task for continuing the occupations. Failing to enact true health care reform and other things.

    I've jumped Obama and the Congressional Democrats as well.

    We've come to a point though that we realize that defeating incumbents and the party picks is near impossible so we have to live with what we have. Like it or not, I'd rather have Harry Reid in charge of the Senate than John Boner.

    Plus, outrage subsides quickly. Or is turned to other outrageous things. This post was at the top for a day. Now Captain Fogg has the floor. Tomorrow this will be forgotten.

  9. Since I happen to be thinking too much about Shakespeare these days, the following from everyone's favorite melancholy Dane might be appropriate:

    "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pith and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry
    And lose the name of action." (Act 3, Scene 1)

    It's easy to act when one never thinks before acting, but those who think before they act tend to experience something like "Hamlet's problem." Anyone who acknowledges how complex and delicate the fabric of domestic political and social life is (not to mention foreign policy's diabolical ins and outs) is very likely to appear weak and indecisive at least some of the time. I can sum up this line of thinking with an Oscar Wilde quip:

    "Only the shallow know themselves."

    But seriously, it seems to me the best way liberals can show some backbone and decisiveness is to stand up and speak out for causes and legislation they firmly believe will benefit everyday working people -- there's a long progressive tradition that has done so, with varying degrees of success over the decades. We still have a few brave souls in Congress who stay true to that heritage without rendering themselves hopelessly naive about results. Our political life would be poorer without them.

  10. A generation of Americans grew up on Reagan-style conservative ideology, in part, because there has not been a liberal leader who can reframe the language of governance as well as Reagan. I find it ironic that Clinton, for all his flaws, actually fulfilled some of Reagan’s ideas, but he did not leave behind a legacy or a new consciousness.

    It starts with language. Cognitive linguists will tell you that language informs thought. Once a frame or metaphor is created, it has an internal logic, irrespective of facts, and assumes a life of its own. Reagan worshippers have raised him to near mythic status, crediting him for words that were never realized in deeds, for deeds that were never accomplished, and a reverence that is undeserved. Conservatives are much better at creating legends, frames, and metaphors than liberals. And while conservative policy ideas stink, their framing has sticking power.

    Reframing does not mean countering "A" with "NOT A." That is a sandbox logic, and it does not reverse the thinking of folks raised on Reaganism. Any business consultant will tell you how difficult it is to change a corporate culture. One almost has to clean house and start from scratch, and democracy doesn't quite work that way.

    I thought Obama, for all his oratorical gifts and sensitivity to language, understood this. And maybe he will yet have an opportunity to reframe the language of governance with a new paradigm. To date, lets just say, I am disappointed.

    In any event, yesterday’s neo-liberals are today’s neo-conservatives, and both are first generation Cylons.

  11. Its comforting to believe that somehow, overnight, Reagan stole the language of politics and because of that a whole generation of Liberals have lost their ability to communicate...

    What did FDR and Reagan have in common? Both of them were comforting father figures in very discomforting times...

    Their language defined the times and set the tone...

    Whenever Obama speaks he does the same thing....

    But he needs to speak to a higher idea, he needs to talk about "Fear" like FDR did, about "a chicken in every pot" like FDR did, he needs to speak about "the city on the hill" like Reagan did, or that "a rising tide" like Reagan did.

    The trouble is that now we have made politics a science with all the polls and focus groups....we have lost sight of the normative...

    The science of politics is what gives money and special interests their importance today and thus why we no longer have leadership...

    We have brokers....

    How do you broker a vision?

    Right now we are sitting here with the ruins of supply side economics all around us and yet we continue to want to rebuild the same thing for the future...

    Sometimes the difference between success and failure is not the choosing the most correct path but rather the strength of ones convictions to a path...

  12. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is not the choosing the most correct path but rather the strength of ones convictions to a path...

    I so agree! It's the "convictions" that are the strength behind every man, every movement. If those convictions can be motivated, then the course could be set. And I say this for Conservatives, too, because I feel they have lost their way, just as you feel Liberals lost theirs.

    Can you just imagine if BOTH Conservatives AND Liberals find they way again...we MIGHT get our balance back!

  13. "This post was at the top for a day. Now Captain Fogg has the floor. Tomorrow this will be forgotten."

    Hell, I think I've forgotten already.

  14. Well, its now yesterday's tomorrow, and I have not forgotten this important post.

    We cannot let this notion be forgotten. We have allowed the right wing to re-define liberal as a dirty word. Let's continue to remember:

    They were directed by, “…A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.” This is also the classical definition of LIBERALISM!

    I see big banks, big oil, big media outlets, big health care insurance companies, as arbitrary authority. They are part of an economic system that crushes the individual and leaves no chance for personal freedom let alone upward mobility.

    Sound-bites of anger from the liberal side won't erase the damage that has been done. But, talking slowly and deliberately, engaging in systematic dialog with well meaning conservatives, hopefully can move us more towards more justice than the United States of Wall Street currently provides.

  15. I would hesitate to toss the 'Merican founders in the class of "liberal". For one, the Federalists such as Madison and Hamilton were quite different, politically and philosophically speaking, from the anti-Federalists--led by like Mason, the Lees, Clinton, and Jefferson (though TJ was in France during the Rat. of the US Con., and sort of lying low).

    The anti-Federalist-whigs and Jeffersonians were generally following Lockean ideas and individual rights, etc. But the Whigs were usually sort of merchants as well, and one might say libertarian--even tea-bagger like in terms of opposing taxation and big govt. Jefferson himself, supposed liberal, did not care for the Hamiltonian federalist schemes, and did not want a supreme court, or standing military ,initially. And there is of course the problem of slavery. The southerners while promoting liberty, rights, etc. generally opposed abolition (not all. Even RH Lee, RE Lee's great uncle, supported abolition). One doesn't have to be a marxist to realize that Jefferson, like his mentor Locke, scores near Champion-level on the Hypocrisy-o-meter.

    Southern, states-rights types were opposed to the monarchy, or aristocratic ideas, which they though Hamilton and Adams represented. Yet most of them also wanted the right to conduct business anyway they wanted to, without govt. interference--including the business of plantations. So, really I would say in some sense the states-rights crew were proto-tea baggers and "populist", even though most of them were nominally democratic. Populism may apply to links oder rechts.

    Modern political terminology does not fit either faction that well.

  16. Yes, indeed, it was a liberal movement: whigism that led to the War for American Independence. "Conservatives" (more like reactionaries) have perverted many concepts to bizarre versions of what they were conceived.

    For example, the Second Amendment was to protect us from the establishment of standing armies:

    The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people.
    Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1890--91

    Why does the peaceful nature of the Constitution get lost these days?

  17. The term "liberal" was lost in the storm a long time ago and it's pointless to search for it. I think "conservative" went down with the same ship.

    Actually so much of our language has been lost to the propagandizers, peddlers and Limbaughian blowhards that we can't even discuss what it means now in our new century without courting bitterness. But in the 18th century, to oppose the divine right of monarchy was definitively and treasonously and hereticaly liberal -- and a capital offense.

    Yes, yesterday's most radical seems now to be not so radical after such risks were taken and lives and fortunes lost over the advancements they made, but to say that Jefferson was not, relative to his time and place, a "far left Liberal" is a dainty sidestep worthy of Manolete or El Cordobes. The difference of course is that, unlike the argument of J, a matador is evading the bull, and the bull is evading the point.

    Jefferson was, as we all know, fully aware of his hypocrisy and was not quite brave enough to risk financial ruin and criminal prosecution to free his slaves. (they were collateral, of course, and he was over his head in debt) but so what? He did have the courage to assert his liberal beliefs by excoriating Christianity and the religious establishment. Madison was even more virulent, of course, and that alone makes him sufficiently Liberal to be called such over 200 years later.

    Keep in mind too, that "Liberal" is a term not only relative to an era but to particular circumstances. As much as the self-styled conservative of today would like you to think, people are far more complex than that and can be very conservative about some things and very much the opposite with other things and so can not so easily be pigeonholed as is customary with those using strategic dichotomies.

    Then too, one has to remember that politicians, when writing such things as the Federalist Papers people like to quote so often, are selling something and the sales pitch does not always reflect the true views of the salesman.

    Sorry to sound so condescending, but this is aimed at a "conservative" audience, you see.

  18. Jefferson--plantation owner, as well as politician-- may have been liberal for his time, perhaps, and the religious conservatives considered him a Jacobin, but he wasn't completely supportive of the Jacobins, and at times sounds quite like a dixiecrat (even Madison freed slaves)-. Tobacco growers as a rule were (and are) fairly sleazy.

    Ben Franklin probably closer to modern liberalism (though still in favor of the free market, like all of them).

    And while Jefferson did oppose fundamentalists, he wasn't an atheist per se, more like a unitarian. He may have been a great man in a sense, but with great flaws (as was Locke). I don't think modern liberals quite understand the Founding fathers (then most haven't read say Locke's 2nd Treatise of Civil govt. either).

  19. For those who haven't noticed yet, this post was recommended on Mike's Blog Roundup, at Crooks and Liars, one of the most read liberal blogs in the country.

    Well deserved, and I hope the mention will lead some more people to your thoughtful and very worthwhile website.

  20. "may have been liberal for his time, perhaps,"

    Well, whose time did he live in? As I said, the word Liberal is neigh useless as countless arguments begin and end with convenient and ideosyncratic definitions.

    But it's nice of you to grudgingly condescend to reality although trying to sneak in some little gem about Liberals not being in favor of free markets is a low and somewhat clumsy blow. Freedom from excessive regulation is part of a standard definition of Liberal, but perhaps your definition is engraved on silly putty tablets?

    Are you dismissing the idea that it takes rules to keep a market free; that Man was made for markets rather than markets made for Man? The only difference between civilization and the world of wild animals, of course, is the presence and enforcement of rules, but we won't go there today.

    Jefferson did far more than to criticize fundamentalists -- perhaps you haven't read him.

    "He may have been a great man in a sense, but with great flaws"

    God has flaws, so what's your point?

    "(then most haven't read say Locke's 2nd Treatise of Civil govt. either)."

    Which fact, if it is a fact, has less bearing on understanding Jefferson that reading Jefferson. Jefferson, inter alia, was Liberal enough to have been imprisoned for his far left views had he been caught and many of his words are still radically left in today's parlance. You can't make that go away by insisting he was a product of his time and not as enlightened as you present yourself to be. It's a fallacious argument right from the start.

    I don't know what "modern Liberals" are, but I suspect in this case that you refer to an ad hoc assemblage of old clothes and stuffed with straw for burning -- alas.

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