Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

What would be the one thing that you think conservatives fundamentally misunderstand about liberals that you really wish you could get them to understand correctly?


  1. That liberalism is not socialism but falls well within the tradition of free-market capitalism.

  2. That we don't want 'big government,' size is a useless measure. We want good, effective government.

    That most liberals think there are too many laws and regulations, but we would prune them with care and respect because we understand they were created for a need.

    And while we may or may not be driven by religious belief, does not mean we are amoral.

  3. @Anonymous: thank you for raising the level of the discourse.

    In line with Chris' comment on the conservative thread:
    That liberals believe that the free market really is an awesome force, but think that market failures are also real and quite problematic.

  4. This is a hard question because its not clear if the conservative characterization of liberal views is in good faith and there is a desire on their part to understand liberals better. Doing so may not serve their interests (which is less true the other way around). But if I were to choose what conservatives might be forbidden from doing in characterizing liberal views, I would say having to be nuanced (i.e. if their description of a liberal didn't match how a liberal would characterize themselves and not by a long-shot). Thus, describing liberals as being pro-government central control, anti-business, and against economic growth might be forbidden (I'm not convinced that intellectually honest conservatives would characterize liberals in this manner). Thanks.

  5. “That most liberals think there are too many laws and regulations, but we would prune them with care and respect because we understand they were created for a need.”

    Zic, I really appreciate that perspective. The problem is, just about every law was created to address a legitimate need and is reasonable on its face. But when you add them all up, you have a situation where it’s impossible for an honest person to pursue an active life without constantly violating Federal law. If a law or regulation cannot be justified by a significant measurable benefit to society, then we should be prepared to abolish it, regardless of the good intentions of its supporters.

  6. You know. I don't recall needing to do something recently and not being able to because of federal law. Am I that far outside of the mainstream?

    But more to the point. I think the "baby killing" thing needs to go.

  7. That some liberals are conservatives who've been mugged by reality, not only the other way 'round.

  8. Phat, my point is that people violate Federal law every day without knowing it. Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate recently wrote a book about this: “Three Felonies a Day.”

  9. I wish conservatives wouldn't characterize a system of government-subsidized universities teaching to-be-licensed physicians as the "free market" that we only want to regulate because we're Stalinists.

  10. One problem here is that, due to your audience, you're more likely to get the technocratic center-left responses than "real" liberal responses. For example, I've known plenty of self-identified liberals who really did believe big government was a good thing and did not believe there were generally too many laws and regulations. That example isn't really conservatives being mistaken about "liberals," then, so much as it is conservatives mistaking a large group on the left for a smaller group on the far left.

    phat: "baby killing" doesn't result from any misunderstanding, though. Pro-lifers understand perfectly well that pro-choicers don't consider fetuses babies, they think pro-choicers are simply wrong about that. That's not a misunderstanding it's an honest disagreement about what constitutes a human.

  11. That liberal policy prescriptions are not all socialism. That liberal policies are based on the best thinking available, and adjusted based on experience. Liberal policy is a science, not a dogma.

    When conservatives continue to call for "tax cuts and deregulation" to fix every problem under the sun - the nation's experience with 30 years of supply side economics counts.

    They've had an entire generation to test their theories on the country, and only the top fifth have done well, the middle class has been stagnant at best.

  12. couves: can you give me an example?

  13. couves: and, well, I wouldn't necessarily classify the security state as Liberal.

  14. Anonymous: I think "baby killing" implies malicious intent. I wouldn't call that an "honest disagreement". I would call that defamation.

  15. phat: The ABA estimates that there are over 10,000 federal offenses on the books... hard to pick just one ;) If you want to learn more about overcriminalization, there’s plenty of information out there. I'm sorry, but I don't have anything at my fingertips to point you to other than the book I mentioned above.

  16. I'm going to punt on your question. Many if not most modern American "conservatives" not only do not understand liberalism, in any of its aspects, they do not understand what actual conservatism is. Nor do they have much of a relationship with reality.

    We have political debate dominated by self-proclaimed "conservative" leaders who want to undo American traditions that go back the greatest part of a century. We have news cycles dominated by sound bites, and a near-total lack of analysis. We have a corporate controlled MSM that ignores real news for sensationalism and pop culture. We have Republican elected officials who lie repeatedly, continuously and viciously about issues, programs, and people.

    I wish conservatives would learn to think instead of swallowing pre-digested talking points from Fox and Rush. I wish they would get facts instead of believing lies and misrepresentations from the million decibel right wing noise machine.

    I don't care so much about them misunderstanding me as I do about them misunderstanding history, economics, civics, the law, and their own side of the political spectrum.


  17. I can't stand getting lectured by Conservatives about history, specifically American history. Conservatives are no more disposed to studying history than liberals are, but they seem to think that not only do we not understand history, we don't even care that we don't.

    Just because I don't subscribe to an "Originialist" interpretation of the Constitution, doesn't mean I don't know anything about history or don't care - it means I have learned from history, not romanticized it, and I don't want us to repeat it.

  18. phat: I'm calling BS on you. First, "killing" is already a neutral term, "murder" is what implies malicious intent. Second, you're setting an obviously impossible standard - what would you prefer they say, "baby dead-making-happen"? You could just call that defamation as well.

  19. That we are motivated by pragmatism rather than by "hatred."

    Almost every time you see conservatives characterize liberal thought they work in the idea of hatred. "Why do liberals hate freedom? Why do liberals hate the free market? Why do they want to kill grandma while replacing my gun with broccoli and arugula and a nice vinaigrette?"

    Liberals have identified some problems and want to solve them. Not because we hate anyone but because these situations are messed up, and we would like to fix them.

    Our climate is changing. That seems bad. Real scientists tell us bad things are going to happen. We would like to address this problem. Note that this is not our cherry picked "liberal" scientist community. We don't have an analogue of the conservative side where there are like 5 guys on any issue who are the "conservative scientists" or "conservative historians." We just listen to the mainstream scientific community.

    Wall Street managed to blow up the world economy. That seems bad. We would like them not to do that again. We would like to make laws to protect the world economy.

    Banks are treating their customers poorly in ways that generate big fees for the banks at the expense of most American consumers. That seems bad. We would like to help American consumers. Especially by requiring the banks to be both honest and fair.

    Health care in America only works well for old people and people with a good employee health plan. Only about half of employed people have a good employee health plan, and that percentage is shrinking fast. Also, as a country we pay way too much for what we get. That seems bad. We would like to fix that.

    This is really the way most liberal positions work out. We see problems that are affecting the country or world and want to fix them. It is not because we hate anyone and generally not because of ideology unless you characterize fair treatment of everyone as an ideology.

    It really feels to me like the left is not the mirror image of the right. The right seems to filter everything through ideology first, and doesn't seem to care very much whether the real world fits the ideology. The left cares more about the real world than ideological filters.

  20. That we do not care about the culture war:

    That we are not trying to stop people from being religious.

    That Liberals are presently utterly uninterested in gun control. And that gun control laws are not just about taking things away from conservatives.

    That we are ready to use the military if it is actually necessary.

  21. I think it would definitely encourage conservatives to revisit their views on the role of the government. There are two divisive ideologies at work here, but aside the political demagoguery, and if we just put aside our fixed views it is not difficult to conceive that government, and our hard earned tax dollars should be put to use on making every element in our country consistently improve. Government should be accountable, transparent, and open to engaging in public discourse. The number one solution in making these leaps and bounds in making government more accountable is by providing internet access for everyone. By enabling everyone to participate in the civic process, we will revitalize our country's spirit for creative decision making.

    check out this petition to support San Franciscans in their effort to gain citywide internet access!

  22. As a conservative, it is interesting to read liberals defend themselves. I would think that most people would support the written comments above, but the problem occurs when you try to implement all the good intentions. As far as I can tell, the actual laws and regulations that liberals support are not the same as the intent described by liberals. Actions/Laws speak louder than words, and the actions/laws of liberals are full of hate. Hate for traditional America, individual freedom and personal responsibility. Hate for the Constitution and the limits it places on the Federal Government. Hate for anyone who disagrees with the commands from liberal high command. Liberals simply hate America the free. Your actions, and your leaders beliefs speak much louder than your comments here.

  23. The problem is not their misunderstanding of what liberalism stands for.

    It is rather the fact that they never debate the issues in good faith and purposely lie about the liberal positions.

  24. @Anonymous: I really don't understand what you mean. Please give example of a liberal proposal that "Hate[s] traditional America, individual freedom, personal responsibility,..."

    You have to understand that you are projecting this image on liberals because you personally identify with their opposition.

    If you like personal responsibility why are you against it when our leaders call for everyone to buy health insurance and end free rider-ism. Republicans really hate this instance of personal responsibility.

    On the topic of individual freedom, we can talk about republicans trying to roll back reproductive rights, ban contraception in violation of current supreme court rulings in Alabama, their promotion of anti-sodomy laws, denying rights to certain people because of what they do in their bedroom. Republicans are not interested in a limited government when it comes to people who aren't them.

    The biggest expansion of federal power in the past 40 years is the war on drugs - a conservative project - which subverts police power, the last and most important domain states had control over. The next biggest expansion of government was Bush creating the department of homeland security.

    Don't give me that sanctimonious BS about liberals hate 'traditional' America - that's like saying they hate 'real' Americans, who's 'real' and who's 'traditional'? Traditionally, at America's founding, rich people owned slaves and poor people were put in debtors prisons or released into the Georgia country side. So get specific, I gave you some specific examples of republican policies designed to promote dependence on the status quo and are detrimental to freedom and traditional lifestyles, now you get specific with your allegations

  25. The entire liberal entitlement society is an infringement on my personal liberties! You are not entitled to my production. Medicare, Medicaid, and SS are all direct infringements on me as a free individual and remove my ability to provide for myself through vast over-taxation. I have ~6% of my income stolen just to support these programs.
    If what you feel entitled to requires the theft of someones production/wealth, then you are against individual freedom and personal responsibility. I do not exist to provide for your wants or needs.

    As far as forcing people to buy insurance so that we "end free rider-ism"? Most people who don't have insurance are not free riders. I went years without insurance and never once left an unpaid bill. Forcing me to pay thousands of dollars for a product I don't need and is more expensive than I can afford is not promoting personal responsibility.

    Reproduction occurs at conception. After that, it is a human life that deserves protection, even from the mother if necessary.

  26. "The biggest expansion of federal power in the past 40 years is the war on drugs - a conservative project - which subverts police power, the last and most important domain states had control over. The next biggest expansion of government was Bush creating the department of homeland security."

    If Democrats were any better on these issues, I might just join you guys ;)

  27. "It is rather the fact that they never debate the issues in good faith and purposely lie about the liberal positions."

    Comments like this sure are disheartening. And the word "never" in this sentence is ridiculous.

    It's a bit of a bummer to see that, while half the comments on this entry are genuine attempts to clarify understandable misunderstandings, the other half are just generalized swipes like this one. Even some of the more thoughtful comments posit some disparity in how seriously the two sides take each others' positions. I'd suggest that anyone who's using this question as a springboard to say "the only problem with conservatives is that they don't make any effort to understand our positions" has missed the point of the question and revealed the extent of their own bias, to boot.

  28. phat, here is an article to answer your question:

  29. @Anonymous

    If you believe paying money in taxes is an infringement on your freedom or demonstrates hatred for traditional Americans, then your issue is not with liberals but the US Constitution, specifically the 16th Amendment.

    The interesting thing about taxation and freedom, is that as you look around the world, the countries with the lowest taxes are typically the least free. That's because when people pay money in taxes they have a stake in their government and they pay attention to whats going on, and will reject corruption and tyranny. The less the government taxes (the more its buying off its people to look the other way) the more freedom it has to do whatever it wants.

    You are also entitled. You feel entitled to live in a safe, secure, free country with a modern economy but you also feel entitled to 100% of your "production." I don't. I know that I would not have a job, an education, or live in a safe neighborhood mostly free of old or disabled people dying in the streets without giving up some of my income, though I've never felt less free for doing so.

    So I guess the point of this whole conversation and the question this thread is about is: I wish conservatives like Anonymous understood that its not about liberals "feeling entitled to your production/wealth." Its about living in a civilized society. If you want to keep 100% of your labor, then don't participate in the economy, be self sufficient and build, grow, or gather from nature anything you'd have needed to buy. Then you'll have no income and pay no sales taxes or payroll tax, you'll be functionally emancipated from the law and merely enslaved to the land.

  30. @ Couves
    "If Democrats were any better on these issues, I might just join you guys ;)"

    The biggest expansion of "states rights" in my lifetime is Obama's DEA's policy of not enforcing federal law on medicinal marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state laws.

    Also the waiver policy in the ACA which allowed Vermont to go single payer. I think this is modern marble cake federalism at its best.

  31. Hi Jason:

    Obama’s policies here are mixed:

    I’d also note that some folks in CA are not entirely on board with his law enforcement priorities:


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