Time for 'Liberals' and 'Progressives' to Get New Labels
August 15, 2012
We need to find a new label for the ideology espoused by leftist Democrats. "Liberal" doesn't accurately describe the party of blinkered intolerance, fanatical certainty, and an eagerness to destroy freedom in order to achieve some dubious utopia. "Progressive" is more historically accurate for ideas that go back to a movement that started in the late 19th century. But it still suggests that lefties are the party of improvement and the future, when in fact they are reactionaries recycling failed ideas about as au courant as a Nehru jacket and a puka-shell necklace.
These labels, moreover, function like newspeak in Orwell's 1984. They suggest that lib/progs are tolerant champions of individual freedom and rights, skeptical of old-fashioned group identity, believers in nuance and complexity, open to new ideas that challenge authority, and respectful of difference and diversity. Liberals fancy themselves the party of reason and truth, their views and ideas the consequence of education and nuanced thinking, and their prescriptions and policies the only viable way to improve human life and eliminate suffering and oppression.
Flip through any newspaper at random and you will find examples that show today's lib/progs are exactly the opposite of those flattering clichés. Take global warming, back in the news recently after the announcement that last year's average temperature was the highest on record. "The science is settled," the lib/progs scold us, and there is a "consensus" that human activity is warming the planet to dangerous levels and causing more frequent catastrophic weather events. Those who challenge this "consensus" are "deniers," either stooges of the oil companies or hopelessly ignorant rubes irrationally closing their eyes to an inconvenient truth.
But as Matt Ridley writes in The Wall Street Journal, this "settled science" in fact reflects a "monopoly that clings to one hypothesis (that carbon dioxide will cause dangerous global warming) and brooks less and less dissent. Again and again, climate skeptics are told they should respect the consensus, an admonition wholly against the tradition of science." Thus the respecters of "complexity" and "science" unscientifically simplify the planet's most complex system, one the mechanics of which we as yet don't fully understand—certainly not enough to assert as revealed truth that increases in a trace gas in the atmosphere can drive the whole system. And the vicious shunning and slandering of anyone who practices the skepticism of received paradigms that has driven modern science, reveals that the champions of "diversity" and "tolerance" of ideas that challenge authority are in fact intolerant and irrational, more interested in ideology than in truth, and slaves to self-appointed authorities.
Similarly, the supposed believers in individual freedom and autonomy are the first to sacrifice both to the coercive power of the state and its bureaucratic minions. The most notorious recent example is the directive from Health and Human Services that Catholic institutions and businesses have to provide their employees with contraceptives including abortifacients, thus violating their religious beliefs. The lib/progs who regularly squeal about a fabricated First Amendment right to view pornography on a public library computer are perfectly happy to destroy that same amendment's protection of the free exercise of religion and religious speech.
But this is just a more visible example of a phenomenon that has become so common that we hardly notice it anymore. Universities and colleges, those supposed lib/prog bastions of free inquiry and freewheeling debate, have been in the forefront of using institutional power to police speech and proscribe anything that violates the lib/prog ideology. The latest offender is the University of Delaware and its "anti-bullying" prohibition. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the university defines "bullying" as "[a]ny deliberately hurtful behavior, usually repeated over time, with the desired outcome of frightening, intimidating, excluding or degrading a person." Examples include "teasing," "ridiculing," and "spreading of rumors." As FIRE points out, "The broad wording of this policy makes it highly vulnerable to abuse, with the potential to silence a great deal of protected speech such as parody and satire (which often ridicule their targets) and political speech."
So the same people who call Republican women "sluts," who accuse the Tea Party of being "racist," who depict black Republican Representative Allen West punching an old white woman, and who imply that Mitt Romney is a "felon," a tax cheat, and possibly a murderer of a little old lady, are so worried that an 18-year-old might be teased and get his feelings hurt that they are willing to gut the First Amendment. So much for the "diversity" of ideas and the "tolerance" of opposing viewpoints, so much for the fealty to individual rights and the value of dissent against orthodoxy.
And here we get to the most illiberal and reactionary dimension of the lib/prog ideology: it is rigidly orthodox and enslaved to received wisdom. Rather than being edgy dissenters "speaking truth to power," most lib/progs are stolid, unquestioning supporters of the reigning dogma, no matter how stale or intellectually incoherent. Look no farther than the Obama campaign's strategy to exploit class envy and resentment and paint Mitt Romney as a robber-baron villain, a Gordon Gekko leering "greed is good" as he ships off jobs to China, kicks widows and orphans out of their homes, and cackles as the fired employees of the companies he's plundered waste away with cancer—Marxist anti-capitalist clichés as old as 19th century melodrama, one already dead in 1946 when Frank Capra used it to create Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. Of course, this is the same Obama whose Department of Justice just gave its mega-campaign contributor Goldman Sachs—over $1 million just in 2008—a pass on its suspected financial fraud related to the mortgage crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. And let's not forget the "green energy" subsidies to political supporters, like the half a billion of taxpayer money bestowed on now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.
It's hard to say whether this double standard reflects cognitive dissonance, the rank hypocrisy of the opportunist, or the corroding power of ideology on the critical faculties. Something must explain why lib/progs think waterboarding a terrorist is a crime against humanity, while obliterating the terrorist and the family around him with a drone is okay. Something must explain why Ann Romney's $900 shirt makes her an out-of-touch plutocrat, while Michelle Obama's $6,800 J. Mendel jacket evokes breathless encomia to her style. Something must explain why the media decried a planned Republican ad about Obama's factual ties to racist reverend Jeremiah Wright, while the aired Democrat ad linking Romney to a woman's death by cancer earns a mainstream media shrug. Something must explain why critically questioning Christianity and its doctrines shows intellectual bravery, even though such criticism has been going on for over two centuries and is risk-free, while doing the same thing to Islam is Islamophobic hate speech rather than true intellectual daring.
We may never know why this contradiction inhabits the lib/prog mind, but one thing we do know: it's not liberal and it's not progressive in any meaningful sense of those words. So anyone have a suggestion for what we should call it?