Friday, October 10, 2008

" . . . don't call me a liberal."

by DM

When Ronald Reagan made conservatism 'hip' and new voters of the early-1980s embraced conformity instead of progressiveness, a great rift appeared between left and right. Reagan convinced working people that they did not need a government, that government was wasteful and expensive, and that it just got in the way.

Never in the history of the United States had conservative ideals received such a boost.

Hatred of liberalism became palpable and the movement against open-mindedness was so thorough and effective that today closed-mindedness is de rigeour and liberalism is laughable.

As a leftist, I do not live with a hatred of the Right. In fact, through the few years of liberalism this nation experienced from 1964 - 1976, leftists insisted that there always be a dialog. Right-wingers were never squeezed out of the dialog and books about conservative thinking were never banned. Leftists just don't use these tactics.

In the early-1980s, the mother of an acquaintance referred to me disdainfully as a 'liberal.' I objected and her response was that I was trying to hid my real (liberal) beliefs, because our nation was finally being taken over by real Americans and there was no room for people like me.

I insisted that I was not a liberal, that I was far left of liberal and if anything, she should label me a 'leftist.' She dismissed my differentiation with arms flung in the air and a resounding "Whatever!" and removed herself from the conversation. This dismissiveness is what right-wingers use when they run out of Ann Coulter buzz-words to insult us.

Later in the 1980s, a newly-conservative friend went on and on about the virtues of conservatism and the problems of liberalism (neither of which he understood), and I told him that "if we lived in a leftist society, I would probably be a conservative."

Recently, a new friend said: "I had no idea how liberal you were." In the 20+ years since the encounter with that newly-conservative mother, conservatism is the order of the day and people are shocked when they meet a leftist.

During this conversation, I remembered a line I used in the late-80s: "Right-wingers hate left-wingers because left-wingers get laid, and right-wingers don't."

I believe this is true.

But, back to liberalism. Though I believe in liberal philosophy, the word liberal hardly describes my views of the world, its problems, potential solutions, and the role of open-mindedness in day-to-day life. I am not a liberal.

The October 6, 2008, issue of the New Yorker includes an article composed of letters written by the late Norman Mailer.

I was struck by this entry, and I nicked part of it in my response to my new friend's remark about my political views:

To the Editor of Playboy
December 21, 1962

Dear Sir,

I wish you hadn't billed the debate between William Buckley and myself as a meeting between a conservative and a liberal. I don't care if people call be a radical, a rebel, a red, a revolutionary, an outsider, an outlaw, a Bolshevik, an anarchist, a nihilist, or even a left conservative, but please don't ever call me a liberal.

Thank you, Norman Mailer! I could not have said it better myself!

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Beaverhausen said...

sounds like another liberal rant to me . . .

let me give all my love to your bleeding heart.

(vote schwartze)

Anonymous said...

Al Falafal says:

I've seldom agreed with you more.

Branding the opposition "Liberal" and making it stick is, I believe, one of those ways that "conservatives" have found to control the discourse and define the whole social/political environment, something they are so good at. I guess people on the left, as you say, accepted the label because they couldn't agree on any other catch-all word to describe themselves. After all, they really are just a rag-tag collection of everybody else who doesn't identify as "conservative."

None of these words have any real meaning when used in the political context we are used to hearing them. We might just as well all call ourselves either "apples" and "non-apples." Except that the latter two are at least nouns identifying objects. The words in question are adjectives, of course, that are meant to modify nouns in a descriptive way. What does a conservative [person] have to do with the act of conserving? or conservation?

Beats me.

The best I ever came up with is that a serious conservative [person] is supposed one who idealistically wants to conserve the established order of things. But that's more than just an impossible ambition: it's a ruse, of course. What the neo-cons are about is, If anything, wanting to conserve a way of life that never existed. They seem to believe wholeheartedly in a black-and-white world that only existed on 1950s era TV. Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show and the like that were usually conceived as light-hearted interpretations of the age-old "morality play" that generation after generation had put their own spin on.

Up to then, the 1950s, nobody was stupid enough to take them seriously as a reflection of the real world they lived in. I think morality plays were more often meant and taken as warnings about the consequences of behaving immorally.

When morality plays were translated into the new medium of mass marketed TV and beamed right into everybody's living rooms it must have been a fascination with the new technology combined with a dearth of viewing choices that worked together with other forces to totally re-wire our brains for good.

As unquestioning slaves to our habits we now take it all for granted and the chickens have come home to roost.

Several generations of us have now grown up with TV as the backdrop to our home lives and central point for our day to day distraction, entertainment and news - a dangerous combination to be sure. As TV grew more and more tenacious over the years and more tentacular with each new channel added on, the old-fashioned capitalist idea of competition edging out inferior products and encouraging ever-improving quality, well... that was never the case in broadcast TV.

What happens in the television industry is almost the opposite. When one program format or story idea, no matter how inane, proves to draw a big enough audience all the other TV channels totally mimic them in order to gain viewer share. Routinely, the original idea, as trite as it may be, is apparently deemed too sophisticated for the widest possible audience so they dumb it down further and further until you get... "Deal or No Deal."

And most recently, the one-time only "Sara Palin Show!"