Saturday, October 14, 2006

What it means to be a liberal

A centrist friend of mine posted a link to an article written by Geoffrey R. Stone called "What it Means to be a Liberal". I responded to the article in this way:
Part of the problem is that liberals have failed to define themselves and to state clearly what they believe.

Shades of Barack Obama looking for Democrat core values.

OK, time for the pot shots -- but you knew they were coming, didn't you?

1. Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.

He might want to check with David Horowitz and Students for Academic Freedom on that one.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.)

I'll say this for liberals: they have succeeded admirably in convincing people that affirmative action is the natural outgrowth of being "tolerant and respectful of difference."

I would have liked to have seen a bit more explanation for the parenthetical comment. If all he's saying is that liberals aren't all of the same mind in their beliefs, well, gee!

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; "one person, one vote;" limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech.

He wanders all over the map on this one. I can swallow the "right and responsibility" part, but to suggest that campaign finance reform and "a more vibrant freedom of speech" belong in the same ballpark, much less the same sentence, is getting to the swallowing a camel stage. "More vibrant"... is this guy a fashion consultant on the side?

4. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as "conservatives," share this value with liberals.)

The libertarian position is that "reproductive freedom" is a matter that should be left to the individual states, certainly not something that liberals share with libertarians.

As far as freedom of the press, he's being awfully vague.

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.

Interesting way to encapsulate the function of government. He has transmogrified "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity", into "affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality, and dignity of each individual." Breathtaking.

6. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to 'promote the general welfare.'

Again, breathtaking. Those programs he mentions that do all of this promoting take up roughly 25% of the national income. I wonder what he thinks the ideal proportion of the national income would finally allow us to say that our "responsibility" has been carried out fully.

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith.

No, indeed! They have all sorts of non-sectarian faiths upon which to act! Environmentalism, socialism, massively centralized government, campaign finance reform, socialized health care...quite a vat of Koolaid, there.

Sorry, I'm going to skip #8 because #9 is so interesting.

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

This sounds more like apologetics than a firm commitment to national security. The "fairness and individual dignity" trope just sounds so bizarre when we see beheadings on video and planes crashing into buildings. This sounds like an answer Kerry would have given to a debate question on "What would you do as President to defend this country from further terrorist attacks?"

10. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: 'Those who won our independence ... did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.'

Again, more apologetics, and using a quote from Brandeis is particularly cheeky. Those who won our independence gave up life, liberty, and property. Mr. Stone does his best to make it seem that a liberal does not consider anything worth giving up those things anymore. "Our country right or wrong" isn't good enough for him, not unless we respectfully consider the issue of fairness towards those that hold alternative world views and who seem to be somewhat fervent in their adherence to courses of action that, well, result in unpleasantness.

No comments: