Filed Under (Politics, Rants) by Sean on February-9-2009

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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