Saturday, September 27, 2008


I haven't blogged in quite a while; teaching, dissertating, and job searching has pretty much taken up all my time. But I'm moved now to speak to those 2 or 3 people who may listen. Or at least, I'm moved to figure something out through blogging.

I'm a liberal. Here's what I think that means: I believe in a liberal viewpoint of the world, that is, weighing sides, thinking critically, slowing down my knee-jerk reaction and culturally coded responses to seek some kind of beneficial "truth" in the world. It means believing that there is not one kind of American that deserves the promise of America: ALL Americans deserve justice, equality, and equal rights guaranteed by the law. I believe in the separation of church and state, though only to the extent that one's religious beliefs should not be forced on another. Our morals are a key part of how we live our lives, so of course one's values should guide one's decision making. And in that vein, I support large social programs funded by the federal government: I value all people's health and prosperity, and so I value programs that help people gain these things in their own lives.

A famous and highly intelligent conservative, George Will, put it this way: conservatives value freedom to the detriment of equality; liberals value equality to the detriment of freedom. I agree. Though I'd also like to add that equality creates a state in which freedom is much more equally gained. In other words, I believe everyone should have equal access to the amazing resources of this nation.

But George Will has said something else, and it gives me pause; he argues that modern liberalism assumes that most Americans are duped into "false consciousness" due to their ability to be manipulated by political and corporate interests. Here, he defines what he sees as the agenda of modern liberalism:

"First, the consent of the governed, when their behavior is governed by their false consciousnesses, is unimportant. Second, the public requires the supervision of a progressive elite which, somehow emancipated from false consciousness, can engineer true consciousness. Third, because consciousness is a reflection of social conditions, true consciousness is engineered by progressive social reforms. Fourth, because people in the grip of false consciousness cannot be expected to demand or even consent to such reforms, those reforms usually must be imposed, for example, by judicial fiats."

I can't deny that there is some truth to this in the philosophy of liberals I know. Often, liberals assume that Republicans are such because they don't know any better. I must say, some of my experience doesn't refute this: when I canvassed for Barack Obama, most answers to "Who do you plan to vote for?" were something like, "Not your guy!" and were given with real hostility. When I asked what issues were for them most at stake in their vote for John McCain, most couldn't answer. Most answered that he was republican, and there you go. Now, much of my canvassing was in low-income neighborhoods where a liberal agenda would, in fact, benefit the constituents (higher wages, pro-union values, pro-head start and other early education programs for the poor).

But I also need to find some way to recognize that while it may be true that some of these "Not your guy" responses were based in a campaign of fear and prejudice, I need to also realize that there are many who choose a conservative agenda because it is their true outlook on the world: perhaps they feel that social programs denigrate the individual by offering hand-outs, not hand-ups; perhaps they feel that support for big business and corporations keep America's economy strong globally; perhaps they believe that there is a way to win the war on terror and thus send a clear message to all who may threaten the U.S.; and perhaps their values maintain that a fetus must always be given the chance to live.

In other words, it's time to refute, not dismiss. And I do refute all of that. The individual is honored through programs that support strong education and jobs. The real way to keep the economy strong is to keep people working, not businesses investing overseas. The war on terror is a diplomatic one more than a military one: it cannot be won militarily alone and we must involve all nations through an attitude of cooperation and openness, nit unilateralism and stubbornness. And the value for human life must extend into and beyond the uterus, to support womens health programs across the board.

So I write this because the charge of elitism might not always be an empty one: despite the fact that Obama was raised by a single mom, and went to Harvard on his own, and not his father's legacy, and despite the fact that he only recently paid his student loans off, it is the perception that George Will speaks of that gains him the charge of elitist: that progressive social programs must be enforced, because the people just don't know what's good for them. How do we fight this charge? How do we instill a progressive agenda that benefits everyone without this assumption that government knows better? For me, the very values of liberalism affirms the values of those conservatives as thoughtful and understandable. That's what it means to be a liberal. And the more each person is given a hand-up at an early age with early childhood education, the more everyone's values can be heard and honored.

Is this a contradiction? All I know is that it is the right thing to do to support an agenda that supports the health, prosperity, and safety of everyone. Even if that sacrifices the freedom of a few CEOs to make a billion dollars. I'm OK with that.

1 comment:

Jaymie said...

Thank you for a very thoughtful post. It made me feel proud to be one of those bleeding liberals. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts on the presidential debate! Call me when you can spare some time. I miss you!