Filed Under (Politics, Rants) by Sean on February 9th, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I felt it important to write this quick post about what I believe it really means to be Liberal. I always find it amusing that the people who use the label pejoratively seem to be somehow divinely knowledgeable about its definition. They like to use definitions that frame it as an ideology that is counter to their own. They use it to be divisive. I’m here to say they’re dead wrong.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition:

lib·er·al (lÄ­b’É™r-É™l, lÄ­b’rÉ™l)  adj.

    1. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
    2. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
    3. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
    4. Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.
    5. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
    6. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
    7. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    8. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
    1. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
    2. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
    3. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    4. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  1. Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
  2. Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.
    1. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    2. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  1. A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
  2. Liberal A member of a Liberal political party.

[Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin līberālis, from līber, free; see leudh- in Indo-European roots.]
lib’er·al·ly adv., lib’er·al·ness n.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Read it over. Carefully. Especially read the first definition. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.

Read it again. THAT is what being liberal is all about. It is ruthlessly independent. Not trying to apply the same policies and ideas to differing situations and different contexts. Different realities require different approaches.  This is the core of being liberal. Being liberal is not about “big government” or “welfare society” or anything like that. It is not about confusing correlation with causation. It is not about using rhetoric and divisive labels to plant prejudicial narratives in people’s minds. After all, there is nothing inherently bad about big government any more than there is something inherently bad about a large gun; though, to be honest, I still don’t know what the hell big government means any way. To me it’s kind of like saying, “Big football is bad. Big companies are bad.” Uh, sure. It’s intellectually dishonest and lazy. It’s pandering. How easy it is to paint such a broad stroke and completely discount the human element within. How easy it is to ignore the complexities of reality, of systems, of chaos, and simply say it’s all bad because it’s easier that way. Instead, what being liberal is about is doing what works given the situation. It’s about critically thinking about issues in context, applying analysis and some semblance of scientific method where appropriate, and crafting policy to put action behind the hypotheses derived from those activities.

Dogma is this: you have a square peg. There may be a square hole, in which case you’re in good shape. You may have a round hole, in which case you still try to fit the square peg through it. In case that doesn’t work, you take some C4 and blow a big enough hole so you can insert the square peg. This epitomizes GOP thinking. It’s all about laissez faire, no government, no regulation, the market is divine arbiter of all things good, blah blah blah all the time, no matter what is happening in the world around them. Being liberal is to say, “Hey, we like the Friedman school of economics so long as it applies to the macroeconomic realities surrounding it.” BUT, when you have zero percent interest rates and economic stagnation and a domino effect of economic collapse going on, you dust off the book from the Keynes school and start applying the lessons learned there. It’s balanced. It’s not about big vs. small government or any of that, so much as conservatives love to play those frames over and over and over again. It’s about doing what’s required given the situation. Finis.

Tuam libera mentem.

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Comments
karoli on February 9th, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

Resounding applause! A standing ovation, even. Well said.

Bryan Brooks on February 10th, 2009 at 8:58 am #

I think a lot of the problem here is the subjectivity of labels and their failure to truly capture the true views/ essence of a person. I know many people who label themselves liberal who believe they are more like the stereotype you are debunking. I also believe that any label that we assign ourselves or are assigned by society has this power over us. We start to play a role based off our understanding of the label. It’s difficult for our minds to break out of the contextual trap in which they get stuck.

As always thanks for the read. I was enjoyable.

Dr. Ding on February 10th, 2009 at 9:52 am #

Damn right.

KAB on February 11th, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

“Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of…”taxpayer money, to fund pork programs that waste our money, and without question from the almighty Democrats.”

Sean on February 11th, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

@KAB oh yeah you bet. Guess you get your news from Fox? Get a real news source, or better yet, do your homework and read the bill and stimulus line items yourself since you can do that sort of thing now. Also note the new regulations to go and fix the TARP where the last congress gave a blank check to Paulson without oversight or transparency. But again, those are complicated things and nuances that require a worldview that understands them and doesn’t see everything as black or white. I suppose you could also make a case about the trillion dollars plus that has evaporated down a black hole and in bank accounts of Bush cronies from Iraq without question from the almighty GOP . . . .

Mike Murphy on February 11th, 2009 at 5:40 pm #

Got it.

Liberal = Good, nice, generous, caring.

Conservative= Bad, mean, stingy, heartless.

Oh, and the answer to the fiscal ails brought on by a trillion dollar deficit is… spend another trillion. Brilliant!

Mack on February 11th, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

Wow. You censor your comments and delete the ones that don’t agree with you? That, more than anything defines “liberal” to me.

mac on February 12th, 2009 at 10:07 am #

So why does a liberal always jump on an opposing view with ‘Guess you get your news from Fox?’ And why won’t liberals adhere to the definition ‘free from bigotry’? Or is it just monkey see monkey do?

KAB on February 12th, 2009 at 1:21 pm #

Sean…get a grip. The trillion dollar black hole is because of Barney Frank and Clinton from the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which actually started with Carter, another one of your gods, by letting the banks give home loans to people without jobs. Where do you get your news…CNN, right? Grow up. I don’t watch “Fox” or anything else except Bloomberg financial, because I have to work for a living to pay for Democrat giveaways to people who refuse to get a damned job.

Sean on February 12th, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

Mack – to which censored comment are you referring, exactly? I post all comments (that aren’t spam) regardless if I agree with them or not. Always have, always will.

Sean on February 12th, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

KAB- nope, don’t watch CNN either. I think most MSM are news “spectacles” that miss all the nuanced details of good reporting because they lower the bar to the least common denominator consumer audience to garner advertising dollars. Most of my news comes from trusted sources or research/homework I do myself. The closest thing to MSM I get news from is NPR and the BBC.

Matt Bramanti on March 12th, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

“It is not about using rhetoric and divisive labels to plant prejudicial narratives in people’s minds.”

And what exactly was the “C4″ comment?

Sean on March 12th, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

@Matt – It was a methaphor with a touch of hyperbole that is perfectly appropriate within the context of that paragraph. It is not a label whatsoever.

808blogger on May 29th, 2009 at 2:09 pm #
Sean on June 8th, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

@808blogger Yup, read that post a few times. It’s so chock full of fallacies I honestly don’t know where to begin . . . almost textbook libertarian (i.e., “high brow” conservatism) talking points, complete with Hitler analogies and all . . . . at the end of the day, it’s the same old square-peg-round-hole dogma to me . . .

808blogger on June 8th, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

“It’s not about big vs. small government or any of that,”

It sort of is about small government. The orthodoxy of 1000′s of years has been for bigger government and more control of people . A liberal (IMHO) should fight for a smaller less restrictive government. The dogma of Left/Right in the USA is just a farce and why “liberals” (modern variety) are not liberals at all.

Sean on June 9th, 2009 at 2:58 pm #

@808blogger “More control of people” is simply a paranoid conspiratorial schizophrenic sentiment. Again, if you want to know what “liberal” is, consult the dictionary. Period. Anyone trying to attach arguments about the size of government completely miss the point, IMHO. Somalia has limited government, for example. Ceteris paribus, an argument about the size of government is merit-less and a waste of time.

808blogger on June 9th, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

Not to drag this debate to death but I want to know why you think the government is not growing and is not trying to control the population more. How is that conspiratorial?

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