Posted by Charity on September 21st, 2006

(Filed under: Political Thought)

I really want to be a liberal. I really do. I mean, all the cool people are liberals, so why wouldn’t I want to be? I am not really into that whole rebellious thing. I like to be liked. I certainly don’t appreciate being called bad things, like racist and ignorant. Why wouldn’t I want to be a liberal?

It’s hard to be a conservative in Burlington, Vermont. I know, boo-frickety-hoo, break out the violins. I’m serious, though. I always feel like the odd man out. I used to dread school functions where I would have to listen to the other parents talk about how great being a liberal is. It was even worse when my secret got out and they knew that I was a conservative.

No one likes evil stares when they pull up to the school with their Bush-Cheney ’04 bumper sticker on their mini-van, least of all me.

How come no one ever cared that the soccer coach had a Dean for America sticker on his clip board? It just isn’t fair.

I’ve tried to be a liberal, honestly. I listened to Randi Rhodes drone on for hours on Air America. I watched Democracy Now. I read all of the liberal blogs. I tried to understand the liberal point-of-view. I even debated with Bob the Optimizer, taking the liberal side, while he took the conservative side. Well, for as long as we could both keep from laughing, anyway.

I know the liberal line, but I can’t seem to force myself to buy it.

I would have to say the issue that is most illogical to me is the area of economic justice. One would think that having grown up in a single-parent home with a mother who was on and off welfare most of my life, I would be a liberal. I think it was that experience that taught me that the welfare system is a trap that keeps people poor.

Liberals think that the answer is to expand the support programs, but there always will have to come a time when a person has to transition to self-sufficiency. The fear of leaving the safety of government care is what keeps a lot of people dependent on the government. That kind of economic slavery has no place in a free country.

People are more likely to only take the help they really need when they know the people supporting them. That is one of the reasons I prefer private, local, community-based support programs to government bureaucracies.

Their support for government welfare programs is only part of what keeps me from being a liberal. There is also the liberal solution to economic inequality in the private sector. The liberal goal is to abolish the rich/poor divide. That sounds nice, but it is so impractical.

For one thing, we do not all have the same monetary worth. My husband does not deserve to be paid the same as someone who is willing to work longer hours. He is rewarded in other ways, namely time with this wife and children. Someone who went to college for 8 years does not merit the same pay as someone who only has a high-school diploma, in general. A pre-school teacher does not deserve to be paid the same as a police officer because the officer is putting her life on the line every time she goes to work. There is a value attached to each type of work and some types have more value than others.

In the ideal liberal world, every job would pay a livable wage and include full health benefits and everyone would be happy. That is so awesome. Sign me up!

But, wait. Umm, if the guy bagging my groceries, the guy stocking the shelves, and the guy sweeping the floor of the store all make $15 an hour plus benefits, aren’t grocery prices going up?

Aren’t the guys driving the trucks to the store and the guys working in the factories making the goods going to want more money, too, since they have to be able to afford to buy the more expensive groceries? Isn’t their job valued higher, since they involve more risk and, in the case of the truck driver, special training?

And what about the teachers? We can’t have them making the same as a grocery bagger. It just won’t work.

After we raise everyone’s pay and the goods and services go up in price to pay for the higher wages, won’t we be back where we started?

Enter price controls. The liberal solution for rising prices. Let the evil corporations eat the extra expense of the higher wages. After all, they are paying their CEOs gazillions of dollars. They can afford it.

Never mind the fact that price controls will create a shortage, since many business that don’t have gazillions of dollars lying around will not be able to financially sustain the increased cost of doing business coupled with the artificially low prices.

The problem for me is that I can’t ignore the economic reality that government controlled prices do not work in the real world. But don’t just take my word for it.

So, here I am. With liberalism being completely illogical from a practical standpoint (and I didn’t even get into the liberty issues), I remain a conservative. An outsider. An oddball. Shunned by the cool kids. Alone, with no one to talk to about organic oats and the benefits of buying local goods. Because you know, my conservative friends never like to talk about that.

12 Responses to “I Want to Be a Liberal”

  1. I forgot something: Vermonter, if you’re reading this, I promise I will get back to the security discussion. All of that talk about Islamofascists wanting to kill us gets me down. I decided to go for a little levity today.

  2. I think you overanalyze and overcharacterize. At the bare bones, conservatives see the role of government to provide for pretty much defense and infrastructure only (now I’m not talking about religious conservatives here, who are a different kettle of fish, and see government as the enforcer of their religious dogma down to the personal behavioral level). At their bare bones, liberals see the role of government to guarantee basic rights, which they consider to be a more expansive list than most conservatives.

    Neither side is particularly enamored of “programs” or “big government.” I’d go so far as to say both liberals and conservatives feel that government should be as small as possible for it to meet its basic responsibilities. Liberals just see government as having more basic responsibilities, and therefore – purely inceidentally – government has to be big enough to meet them.

    But “big brother” and intrusive government bugs everybody.

  3. I’m not exactly sure what it means to “overcharacterize,” but I do “overanalyze.”

    This was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I obviously believe that the government should not be mandating wages, controlling prices, or providing entitlement programs.

    You said, “At their bare bones, liberals see the role of government to guarantee basic rights, which they consider to be a more expansive list than most conservatives.”

    The problem is that when you use the government to secure that expansive list of rights, you are inevitably treading on someone else’s rights.

    It is interesting that you brought up “big brother” government intrusion, because I did not mention that. I was talking about the economic goals of liberalism, specifically welfare, wage mandates, and price controls. When I said “liberty issues,” I meant the liberty issues of forcing free citizens to pay a certain wage or get only a certain price for their goods. And the liberty issues of over-taxation to pay for social programs.

  4. Charity, This is a fantastic post. I’ll talk to you about organic oats anytime.

  5. I’m not exactly sure what it means to “overcharacterize,”

    It’s my nifty new word!

    What, you got sumthin against innovation?

  6. Hi Charity,

    Like with our security debate, I also think you are overcharacterizing things (wha?)…

    But, maybe I’ve mentioned this before, I don’t consider myself a Democrat, though that is where my vote usually goes…

    I believe consider myself an old-fashioned Yankee pragmatist — which means that I think government programs should be smart and fair and based on facts, not ideology.

    I believe in the spirit of the small town where neighbors helping neighbors is the first line of defense against an uncivil society.

    I believe in fiscal discipline. I’m not anti-business, just pro-small business.

    Though, I’m concerned about the amorality that is essential to the running of large corporations. And I don’t buy that a corporation should have all the rights of a person and not all the accountability.

    I believe in giving people a hand-up, not a hand-out (whatever that actually means), but I recognize that some people in a humane world need a hand-out from time to time.

    Basically, I don’t like any societal position that rewards emotionalism over reason.

    And have you ever been to Scandinavia? I haven’t.

    But, despite the recent uptick in Right Wing Racism, those countries are great places to live.

    They have a very high standard of living, support of families and education are very high priorities. They have very low levels of crime and poverty. They got lots of time off to spend with their families.

    Like the U.S. they are social democracies, but they have embraced that concept more completely.

    I’m not sure how it can be argued that they don’t have it pretty good over there…

    Just saying…

  7. I believe consider myself an old-fashioned Yankee pragmatist —

    Me, I’m just a straight-up, full-bore lefty.

    Save the whales!!!

  8. The problem lies with the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” Just far too vague to discribe all but the most un-nuanced political positions.

    Trying to state what “liberals” believe is as impossible as trying to state what “conservatives” believe… I gather from your writings that you would take offense if I was to assume that you shared the beliefs of some of the prominant “conservatives” of our time…

  9. Hey Charity

    I think you’re still a cool kid – even though I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, you’ve at least got ideas and a willingness to express them, and a willingness to engage in debate. That’s cool — even if it makes you an oddball. :-)

    This is your blog, and I respect the ideas you raise here, but I actually think you’ve framed the discussion incorrectly.

    For me, the debate comes down to assessing what the role of the market should be in many of these areas. Too many conservatives have a fetish for believing that the “free market” is the answer to everything.

    Progressives argue that there are many areas where the market should not be the final arbiter of what happens — I think we all agree that things like fire protection, police, national defence, roads, parks, snow plows, courts and a variety of other things are more of a collective (governmental) responsibilty than a market responsibility. (Okay, there are a few hard core libertarian types who think the market should provide those things too, but I haven’t heard you go that far.)

    Progressives tend to go further than conservatives in defining what those common goods are that the market is not necessarily the best provider of — probably the biggest area of current disagreement on that is seen in the health care debate: is access to health care be a market commodity based on ability to pay or a common good that should be guaranteed for all? Beyond such tangible things, we all tend to disagree on some more intangible questoons – is the right to be free from discrimination a common good that should be protected by the government, or should the market (private employers) be free to discriminate (under the assumption that economics and embarassment will keep employers from instituting discriminatory practives)?

    (I prefer the term “progressive” over “liberal,” because the meaning of that word has been removed from the origins in 1800s European political discussion — where “liberal” means the ultimate free-marketeers.)

    Finally, the question becomes: what is the role of government in protecting citizens from the excessive power of the market? That is where the issues of minimum wage/ living wage, preventing monopoly control, environmental controls, fraud regulation, etc come in. In this day and age, my personal belief is that the concentration of capital in the hands of a relative few is a greater of a threat to individual liberty and choices than is the threat of an overactive government.

    I think that challenge that we all (left and right) can actually agree is: how do we organise society in a way that maximises liberty, opportunity and dignity for all people? I respect thoughtful conservatives like you who believe that is achieved by a greater reliance on the market and a lesser reliance on government. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the market alone will not do that, and therefore we need a well-considered counter-weight to the market forces in the form of an activist (but not all powerful) government, accompanied by a vigourous civil society/community sector that keeps both government and the market honest.

  10. By the way, if you’ve never done it, there is a fun web tool to assess your political leanings at:

    What is great about it is that it goes beyond the usual categories of simply left/right, conservative/liberal to look at the multiple ways in which political beliefs shake out. Take the test, you might be surprised where you end up.

  11. Terje, you brought up a lot for me to think about. I read this Saturday night, but haven’t had a chance to respond. I thought a lot about it and I am going to do a post instead of responding here. I haven’t had a chance to be online today, but I hope to get it up tonight or tomorrow.

    I also took the political compass assessment and I was not surprised at all where I landed: libertarian right – in line with Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and the American Libertarian Party (examples given by the website). A while back I took a similar, but smaller quiz on the Libertarian Party website and I was surprised then. I thought it was wrong. I always thought I was firmly conservative. Since then, I have realized that I am more in line with the American Libertarian Party, so I was not surprised this time.

  12. I went back and took the quiz.

    The interesting (or good) is that I came up the same both times, even though I took the test a couple of years apart. Helps to show it has some validity.

    I’m smack dab in the middle of libertarian-left quadrant–

    With Ghandi and the Dalai Lama.