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Why Is “Liberal” a Dirty Word…And Does It Matter?

Posted By Steve Turner On March 21, 2007 @ 2:32 pm In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

A recent AP/Ipsos poll asked the question: Are you a) very conservative, b) somewhat conservative, c) moderate, d) somewhat liberal, or e) very liberal? The results: 14% very conservative; 27% somewhat conservative; 34% moderate; 15% somewhat liberal; 6% very liberal. If you lump together the results you get:

Conservative 41%

Moderate 34%

Liberal 21%

Yet, when Americans are polled they overwhelmingly support liberal policies (universal health insurance, social security, education, gun control, minimum wage, etc). Apparently, people are afraid to self-identify themselves as liberal. Clearly, the right-wing has won the branding wars. “Conservative “ has a positive connotation which people are eager to identify with (fiscal discipline, strong national defense, small government). “Liberal” is a dirty word because progressive’s have been unfairly stereotyped as tax and spend, anti-military, I-hate-America bureaucrats. Now throw in the incendiary social wedge issues of guns, God, and gays and you begin to understand the poll results a little more clearly.

Does any of this really matter? Absolutely. This sort of fearfulness has a direct effect on public policy and here’s why: if liberals are timid we tend to nominate safe “centrist” candidates (i.e. the 2000 era Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, and the 2004 version of John Edwards).

So. Problem number one is that Democratic centrist candidates lose a lot of elections. Problem number two is that liberal candidates who move to the center to get elected have already compromised their ability to govern progressively. The conservatives are not interested in meeting in the middle. If liberals unilaterally move to the center then, by default, the right has succeeded in fighting the battle on their terms. By the way, the only time you see conservative candidates moving to the center to get elected is when it is part of a bait-and-switch strategy like “compassionate conservatism.”

C’mon folks. If you want to see progressive policies enacted then we need to elect progressive candidates. People who give lip service to progressive policies, but won’t enthusiastically support openly liberal candidates, are playing right into the hands of Karl Rove. Progressives need to be more bold and less submissive. We need more Russ Feingold’s and fewer Joe Lieberman’s.


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