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Posted by on Jun 21, 2015 in Politics | 12 comments

Liberal is no longer a dirty word: Did moderates contribute to that?


The Politico has a piece that focuses on what’s making the buzz in political circles: a new poll suggesting that “liberal” is no longer a dirty word — a word perceived as so dirty that liberals started calling themselves progressive (which they never would if the attack on the word “liberal” had not come about):

Dmocrats have been running away from the “liberal” label for a long time, but recent polling shows that rank-and-file Democrats are increasingly happy to pin the scarlet “L” on themselves. It may seem counterintuitive, but the rise in liberal pride is crucial to liberals building a long-lasting relationship with moderates and cementing a post-Obama leftward trajectory.
“Forty-seven percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents now identify as both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal,” Gallup’s Frank Newport announced on Thursday. That’s up eight points since 2008 and 17 points since 2001. Earlier this year, the NBC/Wall Street Journal polling team deduced that 26 percent of voters overall self-identify as “liberal,” a four point spike since 2011. These new numbers are in line with longer-term trends: last year Pew found a 26-point increase since 1994 in “mostly or consistently liberal” Democrats.


As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama suggested he wished to emulate Ronald Reagan in how he “changed the trajectory of America.” Is this surge of liberal pride evidence that Obama has succeeded in moving the center of American politics leftward? Or has Obama, aided and abetted by the Bernie Sanders road show, unleashed an epidemic of delusion inside America’s deep blue dots?
Former Bush Administration aide Peter Wehner last month argued in a New York Times op-ed that Obama moved the Democratic Party too far to the left. While acknowledging that the country is more socially liberal, Wehner points to polls showing Republican edges on the economy and foreign policy. He touts Republican election wins for the House, Senate and state governments, staking the claim that “the Republican Party is the governing party in America” while Obama is falling short of being a “Franklin Delano Roosevelt-like transformational political figure.”
That’s too dismissive of the liberal revival. Anyone can cherry-pick polls to argue that their side is winning the ideological war. Wehner, for instance, notes that “[s]elf-identified conservatives significantly outnumber self-identified liberals.” But that’s not exactly a new development—it has been the case for at least five decades. And focusing on that data point obscures the fact that, according to the NBC/WSJ poll, “conservative” identifiers have tumbled four points since 2014.
Just comparing “conservative” and “liberal” identification levels leaves out the big kahuna: the “moderate” plurality. The ultimate question is: are moderates increasingly overlapping with liberals, and moving the country left?

My answer? Perhaps — but not necessarily by choice:

–21st century conservatives have been their own worst enemies. Yes, they have power in many states (where they are totally turning off big blocks of voters and are working to change voting laws to make it harder for some who won’t vote for them such as minorities and young people to vote). The dominant wing of 21st century conservationism increasingly seems damaged goods to non-choir members: it is influenced inescapably by tone of the conservative talk radio that later was grafted onto news when Fox News was created. You could say the founding father of 21st century conservatism is really Rush Limbaugh in tone and, often, in the direction members of the conservative base have pressured GOP politicians to take (or else). People (including me) who at one time were Republican conservatives and who (like me) had voted for Ronald Reagan are turned off (and the emails calling me “a liberal Jewish moron” don’t win me over.)

–Why would moderates consider voting for supporting people who are actively trying to purge them from their party? They have declared war on RINOS and moderate in general, and reject the long cherished concepts of aggregating political interests, coalition building, compromise, and consensus.

–The word “liberal” was allowed to become a dirty word because liberals seemed intimidated by the way conservative talkers and politicians used the word. Sean Hannity and other conservative talkers use the word “liberal” as an automatic dis qualifier.

But whoever said it was intrinsically bad to be “liberal” and intrinsically better to be “conservative?” How did it come to be that saying “liberal” with utter contempt and disdain wins an argument? And whoever said that it’s intrinsically bad to be “conservative” and intrinsically better to be “liberal?”

Many centrists and moderates aren’t smitten by how conservatives talk about those who dare not to think totally the way they do. They don’t buy the way 21st centuries negatively define them. Hint to conservatives: demonizing everyone who doesn’t agree with you or dismissively saying their name isn’t the way to win over people who might vote for you if you were offering affirmative, specific policy differences and ditch the tone that he or she who doesn’t agree with you is an enemy.

I don’t find this poll a surprise at all. Nor do I find it surprising that more Democrats now embrace the “liberal” label. Why?

The electorate is changing.

I’ve meet MANY young people over the past five years during two national tours in my non writing incarnation who look upon the screaming, red faced, yelling ideologue as someone who seriously needs to take a deep breath and get a life.

But not all agree with my take. Some argue that Democrats are moving left while calling Republicans right wing. They list a whole bunch of policies.

However, that’s not an accurate take:

1. Yes, a liberal is left wing.

2. Yes, a conservative is right wing.

Conservatives have used the word “liberal” with such contempt — but except to a well-trained choir, members of the audience now need more of an explanation than a word said with a sneer.

Something thoughtful with specific ideas and serious alternatives once in a while might be nice.

The problem with moderates live with is is that in some BOTH PARTIES (uh oh, someone is calling the False Equivalency Police on me) disdain and go after moderates, always insisting moderates are really part of the enemy camp. The most afflicted with this malady as of 2015 is the Republican Party.

So Politico’s piece should not be a surprise.

Younger voters who look at screaming partisans aren’t going to accept that liberals are bad just because Rush, and Sean and conservative talkers and writers try to make the word “liberal” seem like it’s referring to someone who has a sexually intimate relationship with a can of ravioli.

And moderates don’t like being called wishy washy, uninformed, squishy, and closet liberals just because they may tend to want to consider something longer and like part of a one idea but may not like all of it.

P.S. To spare me some of the thoughtful emails I may now get: my computer won’t fit up there.

graphic via