Liberals Will Save America

[After the recent NY Times article about the expansive use of what might quite fairly be called propaganda by the Bush administration, I thought it was a good time to revisit a post I originally wrote back in January. It received a good response at the time, but my readership has since expanded, and so I felt it was worth reposting at the top. Hope you enjoy.]

I am tired of hearing that liberals hate America. Making that fallacious claim is a regrettably effective tool of the Right, which is why it has become their most trusted and oft-invoked response to any criticism issued from an even remotely liberal source. While it was initially just an easily dismissed irritant, it has now become problematic to the point of costing us elections, and it’s time we laid this deceptive assertion to rest once and for all.

My immediate reaction to hearing a conservative say that liberals hate America is that the opposite is true. Conservatives in large part resist the very things that America is meant to stand for, including, as their base increasingly depends on the religious, a secular rule of law. Trying to undermine the separation of church and state, the separation of powers, and the democratic ideals upon which the country was founded has always seemed to me indicative of a distaste for what America really is. But the truth is, neither liberals nor conservatives hate America. What they hate is each other’s visions of America.

It comes down to the difference between strength and power, which are two very distinct things. I once addressed this notion in discussing the differences between Kerry and Bush as men, leading up to the election, but it did not occur to me at the time that it stood as metaphor for the differences between two vastly divergent political movements as well.

Bush and his conservative supporters celebrate America as a superpower. Her greatest strength in their eyes is the industrial-military complex, the capitalist model, her strong economy. And there is little argument that America is a world leader in these areas, that each of them has afforded her a position of leadership among nations. But that is not strength; that is power. And make no mistake, power is what they seek. Power, force, might, bring ‘em on, dead or alive—this is the language of the Right. It has little to do with strength, and everything to do with control.

Conservatives seek first and foremost to control ideas, which is why they are not above resorting to propaganda in the form of federally-funded videos masquerading as news stories, payoffs to media operatives to shill on behalf of their education policy, or using a federal agency to promote their agenda regarding its own future. Part of their control of ideas and the public discourse of their policies is continued efforts to control the media, whether through media consolidation and ownership (Fox) or intimidation (CBS). Journalists who ask tough questions are threatened with severed access, which makes for a difficult and uneventful career.

The media, in large part, is under conservative control, despite their constant claims to the contrary—the much ballyhooed liberal slant of the media is, of course, simply part of their ploy to ensure stories favoring their agenda. In the interest of fairness, and in an attempt to deflect criticism of liberal bias, media outlets find themselves in the position of equating a Democrat exaggeration with a Republican lie, in the interest of “balance.” The Right has learned that controlling the media is as simple as making repeated accusations of impropriety, until they are sufficiently cowed as to ignore always-plentiful Republican scandal in favor of searching out Democratic foibles so as to appear to give each side equal scrutiny. The result is that the Right is often left to wreak havoc upon the populace without much inquiry, while the Left finds itself stuck indefinitely under a looking glass.

Control of ideas, control of the media, control of weaker allies by promises of financial retribution to those who join our coalition of the “willing,” control of opposition by infiltrating groups of dissenters, squashing demonstrations, keeping Congressional Democrats out of meetings, and deeming filibusters as somehow inherently wrong…the list goes on and on, each individual tactic serving as an integral function of their primary goal: holding on to their ability to control. They will do anything to stay in power, from undermining elections, to stacking the courts with like-minded judges, to keeping money out of the hands of social service groups that don’t bend to their religious agenda. For Conservatives, it’s not about how you play the game; it’s only about how you continue to win at it.

And their definition of winning is one that liberals will never understand. Winning is not simply having control of all three branches of government, nor is it having the power to impede the steady march of progress that has seen liberals win battles from ending slavery to granting gays and lesbians the right to marry in Massachusetts; they will not be happy until we say they are right. Only complete and total acquiescence to their ideology will satiate them. Having been on the wrong side of every issue since the Revolution—including the Civil War, the New Deal…even rural electrification—doesn’t deter them in the slightest. They will never give up their fight for control until there is no one left to disagree; in other words, they will never give up.

In contrast, Liberals’ vision of America has everything to do with strength and little to do with control. Liberals argue that America’s greatest strength has always been her progressiveness, her awkward struggle for egalitarianism, her existence as a melting pot where all people are meant to be free. The opposite of control, the Liberal view is about personal freedom and finding the balance that ensures the expression of one person’s right doesn’t infringe on another’s.

Liberals want each person to have the freedom to develop his or her individual strengths, in the interest of making America as strong as it can be. Such a position requires nuance that is lost on our opposition. Take, for example, the debate over guns. The NRA sides consistently with Conservatives, who were quite content to let the ban on assault weapons lapse, which endangers us all, particularly our police who are most likely to come face to face with one of the previously-banned weapons in the hands of someone willing to use it. Liberals believe in a balance—allow the sporting rifles and handguns desired for hunting and self-protection, and ban the weapons that have no functional use other than the indiscriminate slaughter of other people. It is a reasonable position that seeks to ensure the protection of some while not impeding on the recreational and safety concerns of others. Yet this stance has been demonized by Conservatives as a backdoor attempt to undermine the Second Amendment—a fabricated bill of goods designed only to malign an idea that is in opposition to theirs, which is, once again, on the wrong side of the issue.

Liberals’ desire to facilitate personal freedom in a spirit of mutual cooperation extends to their views on providing a safety net for Americans, including access to affordable health care, workers’ rights, and Social Security. Taxation is a vital source of federal revenue to provide such programs, and the Conservatives’ inexhaustible barrage of complaint about taxes is not only tiresome but counter-productive. A society at the mercy of ill, unemployed, and/or destitute masses is not a strong society, and there but by the grace of the fates go any of us. Directing federal funds to keep the most vulnerable among us from falling off the edge is in all of our own best interests, for humanitarian and practical reasons. This is, unfortunately, an argument lost on much of America, the Conservatives having successfully denigrated this position as “tax and spend liberalism,” a waste of taxpayers’ money on those who deserve whatever lamentable fate befalls them.

Similarly misconstrued is Liberals’ position on religion in the public sphere, which came to a head during the holiday season, when it was repeatedly claimed that Liberals were trying to ban Christmas. Recognizing that there are significant numbers of Americans who are not Christians, Liberals want to acknowledge that perhaps the public sphere (i.e. government property) is not the most appropriate place for celebrations of Christmas. Asking Christians to contain Christmas to the private sphere (i.e. non-taxpayer funded arenas) does not demean Christmas. It simply does away with the notion that the government endorses one religion over another. Despite Conservatives’ suggestions otherwise, America was not founded as a specifically Christian country, and although the separation of church and state only provides for a prohibition on State-sponsored religion, compelling the use of taxpayer dollars for acknowledgement of one religion’s high holiday and not another’s is close enough to warrant concern. And one’s relationship with God (or lack thereof) should have no business dictating the flow of federal funds; if a Christian-identified group does good work for the poor, let them receive any and all appropriate grants, and if an atheist-identified group does the same, let them receive the same benefit.

Liberals do not want Christians to be unable to practice their religion; in fact, we want them to be able to practice their religion in any way they see fit…until, that is, it infringes on the rights of non-Christians to practice their religion, or non-believers to not practice religion at all. It is possible for all to coexist, so long as each is respectful of the others’ rights.

My rights end where yours begin. It’s such a simple but powerful concept, yet it is anathema to Conservatives, because it necessarily excludes their desire to control and force their dissenters to succumb to their will. It isn’t enough that they can change the channel when Queer Eye for the Straight Guy comes on; the show must be taken off the air altogether. It isn’t enough that they can put up Nativity scenes in their churches and in their homes and on their lawns; there must be one at City Hall, too. It isn’t enough that their children can pray and learn about creationism at home and at church; they have to be able to do it at school, too, and so must all the other kids, irrespective of their families’ views. It just isn’t ever enough.

And that is their vision of America—a country where their views are imposed upon everyone. (Differences among their own ranks, making this implausible even were all Liberals to disappear, do not register.) Only having rid the country of minorities, gays, feminists, evolutionists, atheists, pacifists, abortionists, stem cell researchers, the poor, the needy, the infirm, immigrants, environmentalists, animal rights activists, non-Christians, and anyone else who disagrees with them could they be happy. Or such is their claim. But without anyone upon whom to pass judgment, I wonder how long such contentment could possibly last.

In the end, most Americans love what they think America can be, whether that vision is of an oasis from racism, a world leader in humanitarianism, a capitalist beacon, a theocracy, or anything else. But there are two main views—that of a country full of opportunities for control and power concentrated in the hands of a few, or that of a country full of opportunities for individual freedom, from which a collective strength can be drawn.

The Conservative view ultimately benefits a very small minority; the Liberal view benefits us all. That’s why Liberals are right, and as soon as we learn to effectively communicate that message, it’s why Liberals will save America.

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