Wednesday, November 09, 2005

liberals - what does it all mean?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the word "Liberal".

First there was this column written by one of my favorites, Leonard Pitts.

And then there was the West Wing debate where Matt Santos went off on Arnie Vinnick for Vinnick trying to repeatedly slam Santos as a liberal.

Which reminded me back to this "Non Sequitor" comic strip from several years ago (I wish you could read it -it's all about how Obviousman is telling the story of a good little word that people who didn't fit it's description worked hard to change it's meaning). I showed this to a very conservative friend at church and she told me she didn't think that was what liberal meant at all. I've since come to realize she actually has no political opinions of her own - she is simply very good at repeating whatever Rush or O'Reilly or Hannity or Carlson (locally) tells her to think.

So now I am thinking: What do conservatives actually think 'being liberal' means? Heck, what do LIBERALS think 'being liberal' means? What does it mean to be a "liberal"? says:
Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

Synonyms include:advanced, broad-minded, enlightened, flexible, free, general, high-minded, humanistic, humanitarian, impartial, interested, left, lenient, magnanimous, not close, not literal, not strict, permissive, radical, rational, reasonable, receiving, receptive, reformist, tolerant, unbiased, unbigoted, unconventional, understanding, unorthodox, unprejudiced

What's so bad about those? Those seem mostly positive to me. Still, being labeled a "liberal" is seeming to become an increasingly negative thing.

Pitts writes about those who use the term liberal with contempt and disdain:
"No, I don't mean that those who use it are bigots, but rather, that it has come to be used in much the way racial epithets are used, connoting not a political philosophy but a state of inherent defect so obvious as to require no further explanation. "

And in a specific example:
"For him, as for so many others, "liberal" is the catchall explanation for Everything Wrong, one-size-fits-all terminology for Those Who Disagree. And this holds even when it does violence to logic. "

Is that true? To me, being a liberal has always meant being willing to change in order to make things better. Being a conservative is therefore saying things are as good as they can be, and therefore, don't change. I guess I don't see how someone is either one or the other. I mean, I look at something like slavery. Clearly we needed liberals to come along and lead to that being changed, but now I don't want to change the status of it anymore.

What does "liberal" mean to you? What SHOULD it mean?