"Liberals are fearless, confident of humanity, outgoing and optimistic, because they believe most people are pretty much like themselves. Conservatives are fearful, mistrusting, angry, bitter and afraid because they, too, believe most people are pretty much like themselves." -- Anonymous
"A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." -- Robert Frost
"[P]ractically every forward step in the life of the country that is now generally accepted by both of our major parties began as a liberal initiative, at first over conservative opposition. Then with the passage of time, the conservatives swung around in support of it. I'm thinking about important programs like Social Security, Medicare, rural electrification, Civil Rights, guaranteed bank deposits, the whole range of things. Let me put it to you this way: I can't think of a single major forward step in the life of this country that didn't begin as a liberal initiative originally opposed by conservatives. So obviously I think what I think we need is a return to a stronger liberal government in the United States." -- George McGovern, November 2005
"You all need some therapy, because somebody came along and said: 'Liberal means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on communism, soft on defense and we're going to tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to.' And instead of saying; 'Well excuse me, you right wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave-It-to-Beaver, trip back to the fifties,' we cowered in the corner and said, 'Please, don't hurt me.'" -- Aaron Sorkin, creator of the TV show The West Wing
"I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends...that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them." -- Adlai Stevenson, 1952
"Is the United States liberal or conservative? So effectively has right-wing propaganda dominated political debate in this country for the past two decades that the question hardly seems worth discussing. Almost without thinking, the majority of Americans -- including many who describe themselves as liberal or progressive or left of center -- would probably answer 'conservative.' In my opinion, they would be wrong. But right or wrong, such dull conformity is a warning sign for the world's most enduring democracy. If only one political perspective is heard clearly, there can be no robust debate and no meaningful democratic choice. At a time when highly partisan and extremely reactionary Republicans control every branch of government, our country needs full, fair, and uninhibited debate that encourages participation -- not a loud, monotonous drone that breeds apathetic surrender. ...Yet the propagandists of the right are still too quick to brand America 'conservative.' Despite decades of angry denigration of liberalism, the American people continue to uphold the same ideals that have always been identified with the progressive tradition, from Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Americans believe in fairness, equality, opportunity, and compassion; they reject social Darwinism and excessive privilege." -- Joe Conason
"[George W.] Bush cited the accomplishment of liberal endeavors -- the women's rights, civil rights, and environmental movement -- to show how compassionate he is, and he took credit for them, along with the rest of his generation. He was right -- in America today women are treated more equally, racial progress has been made, and the natural world is more protected than it had been. But these improvements in American life didn't happen because of people like Bush -- just the opposite, in fact. They happened because liberals overcame the determined, bitter opposition of conservatives. ...[P]rotecting the natural world, like so many other liberal goals that Bush finds personally repugnant but that are widely embraced by the public, is something to which he has pledged support but worked hard to undermine." -- Paul Waldman
"Personally, I have no animus for Democrats or Republicans. But my contempt for the right-wing of the Republican party has no boundaries. The right wing of the Republican Party is, of course, the group that always likes to loudly proclaim its patriotism. But if they had a patriotic bone in their body, which they do not, they, for example, would want the president of the United States, even though he's a Democrat, to do well. Why? Because if the president does well, the entire country does well. But they only want the country to do well if one of their own people is in office. If not, they'll do anything to destroy the president, whether he's Clinton or any other Democrat. ...I should add that those whom I find particularly nauseating and disgusting are the many liberals in the media who cater to the far right -- and therefore, aid and abet their cause -- while quietly detesting them. These physiological marvels are somehow able to sit and stand erect in front of a camera without a spine." -- Vincent Bugliosi
Liberal satirist Michael Moore writes very seriously of America, "It is a very, very liberal, liberated, and free-thinking country," believe it or not. Most Americans have not served in the military and abhor going to war. They support restrictions on firearm ownership. They support labor unions and workers' rights. They distrust corporations and want them overseen. They believe in equal rights for women and support abortion rights. They believe in civil rights and protections for gays. Overwhelmingly, they favor strong environmental initiatives to protect the water, the air, and the land. 80% of Americans believe in universal health care and racial diversity on college campuses. 75% of Americans believe that drug users should not be imprisoned -- 41% of Americans admit to trying illegal drugs themselves. Marriage as an institution is highly regarded, but not considered a necessity for two people to live together -- the number of Americans living together out of wedlock has risen 72% between 1993 and 2003, and 43% of these couples have children. Only around 25% of Americans have joined the Republican Party. Moore writes, "It's hard to think of the US of A as anything but a country that is ruled by a conservative majority, a nation whose moral agenda seems set by the Christian Coalition, a people who appear to be cut from the cloth of their Puritan ancestors. After all, look who's in charge of the White House! And look at the approval ratings he gets!" (Moore wrote this in 2002, when Bush's popularity ratings were skyrocketing.) But Moore has mined a number of large, mainstream polls from 2002 and 2003 for the following data:
Moore writes, "Let's start saying the following. A new Common Sense Majority rules the land. It is common sense to have 75 million people go without health insurance for most, if not all, of the past two years? Of course it isn't; that makes no sense. Is it common sense to let just five companies own all the major sources of information and news in America? Absolutely not. Is it common sense to see that every person has a job and makes a livable wage? You bet -- that makes good sense. ...[T]ake a look around you. You live in a nation full of progressive-thinking, liberal-leaning, good-hearted people. Let's...get to work on fixing the Great Disconnect -- how it is that, in a nation of lefties, the right hand controls everything. They do not represent the will of the people, and that has to change. Start acting like the victors you are and get out there to claim the country that is truly ours."
(Editor's note: As a rule, I eschew reprinting poll numbers, as they tend to be quite mutable -- see the aforementioned popularity ratings of George W. Bush, which as I write this, in late 2006, are plummeting below 30%. But the polls cited by Moore, and delineated in the appendix of his 2003 book Dude, Where's My Country?, measure Americans' feelings on bedrock issues, and while they can be expected to fluctuate, they are generally accurate over the long term.) -- Michael Moore, augmented with multiple mainstream polling sources
"The continuing schism between progressive public opinion and conservative political domination is an indictment of the way we conduct and finance our elections. Yet liberals still face a vexing question: If so many Americans endorse progressive ideas, why are so few willing to call themselves liberal? Why is the L-word anathema to politicians, including undeniably liberal Democrats? Why are liberals constantly on the defensive? Why do self-identified conservatives outnumber liberals by twn or twenty percentage points in national surveys? Here is one answer: After decades of relentless disinformation from the right, Americans associate the word liberal with a series of negative stereotypes: spendthrift, immoral, unpatriotic, 'politically correct,' and elitist, among others. Right-wing demagoguery has convinced more than a few people that liberals are essentially no different from Communists or terrorists. Without real Communists around in sufficient numbers to frighten anyone, the right focused and intensified its attack on liberalism in recent years. The effect of this campaign, bolstered by hundreds of millions of dollars from tax-exempt conservative foundations, has been devastating. Demonizing liberals is a conscious strategy of the Republican right, where such demagoguery is not only a political style but a career path. It's a vicious technique that dates back to Joe McCarthy and the early Nixon, and it hasn't changed much since then. As a conservative analyst boasted recently on Fox TV not long ago, their aim is to make Democrat and liberal synonymous with socialist, Communist, and Marxist." -- Joe Conason
"If you listen to a lot of conservatives, they'll tell you that the difference between them and us is that conservatives love America and liberals hate America. That we 'blame America first.' That we're suspicious of patriotism and always think our country's in the wrong. As conservative radio and TV personality Sean Hannity says, we liberals 'train our children to criticize America, not celebrate it.'
"They don't get it. We love America as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America the way a four-year old loves her mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a four-year old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.
"That's why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well. We also want it to do good.
"When liberals look back on history, we see things we're very proud of. And we also see some things, which might have seemed like good ideas at the time, but turned out to be mistakes. And some things we did, well, they were just bad. That doesn't keep us from loving our country -- it's part of loving our country. It's called honesty. What do you think is more important in a loving relationship: honesty or lies?" -- Al Franken
"Liberals have been smeared as America haters. We don't hate America. We hate the lunatics who have taken it over. 'Liberal' has been made a dirty word by conservatives precisely because liberal ideas work for ALL Americans. Liberalism unifies the country and creates peace and prosperity. And exactly for these reasons, conservatives have worked hard to make the word liberal an insult. Conservatives are not interested in creating a peace dividend. They are interested in war profiteering. Conservatives fear open government, equality, a free press. Most especially, they fear and loathe participation in government by the government's own citizens. They like to steal and cheat in private without all the questions. Citizens should be seen and not heard! Secrecy is how they get away with enriching themselves at everyone else's expense. Who profits from war, tax cuts in a time of war, and a divided America? Not you. It's always easier to steal when no one is looking! Ask Halliburton, Bechtel, big oil and gas, OPEC, United Defense, Raytheon, Custer Battles, or whoever got the missing $9 billion in Iraq. Ask Dick Cheney. He'll tell you to go f*ck yourself. Ask Rummy. You won't get an answer but your phone might get tapped, and I guarantee you you'll be smeared by Fox News. I have been called a traitor, an America hater, Osama bin Randi, Randi Hussein, and my personal favorite, Tokyo Rhodes, all because I had the nerve to ask questions and propose solutions that didn't involve defense contractors." --Randi Rhodes
Author and sociologist Frances Fox Piven describes some of the fault lines threatening to divide what has been seen as a monolithic, lockstep "bloc" of Republican votes and policy interests, though many of them share and repeat the same kind of "vengeful moral rhetoric." Christian fundamentalists and libertarians find themselves butting heads, as do tax cutters with supporters of the military establishment. Bush's immigration policy proposals are anathema to many conservatives; while many business owners like the policies because the requirement for employer certification for temporary work permits give them power over the low-wage immigrants they employ, many other conservatives are outraged at the idea of even temporarily legalizing immigrants for any reason. Fiscal conservatives are angered and frustrated at Bush's ballooning of the deficit and of government spending. "As I write this in late winter 2004," Piven notes, "cracks are beginning to show in the base. Still, the anxieties and passions aroused fire by the war on terror, then the war on Iraq, and conceivably continuing indefinitely into the future as the war on evil proceeds, tend to smooth over those divisions in the Republican base, at least as long as the sense of national emergency remains strong." -- Frances Fox Piven
"[I]t is no accident that it is always primarily the liberal who tries and succeeds in planting such mortally dangerous modes of thought in our people." -- Adolf Hitler
"Liberals love misery. It makes them feel necessary." -- Rush Limbaugh, quoted byFrontline
"Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason.... Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy." -- Ann Coulter
The term "compassionate conservative" is coined by Marvin Olansky, a born-again professor at the University of Texas. Olansky and his wife have become famous for their "Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center," which billed itself as a provider for alternatives to abortion. Women who went to the clinic expecting medical help and advice were, in Laura Flanders's words, "bombarded with anti-abortion propaganda and fake promises;" women who had been promised help in raising their babies were merely given information on applying for welfare." --Laura Flanders
"This 'compassionate conservatism' has a great ring to it, and I've really worked hard to figure out what it means. And the nearest I can tell, here's what it means. 'I like you -- I do. And I would like to be for closing the gun show loopholes. And I'd like not to squander the surplus -- you know, save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation. I'd like to raise the minimum wage. I'd like to do these things, but I just can't and I feel terrible about it.'" -- then-president Bill Clinton, 1999
"Every program that ever helped working people -- from rural electrification to Medicare -- was enacted by liberals over the opposition of conservatives. When people tell me they don't like liberals, I ask, 'Do you like Social Security? If so, then shut up!'" -- George McGovern, July 2004, quoted by Eric Alterman
"Liberalism's most enduring domestic achievement is the Social Security system, another popular program that conservatives have always opposed and undermined. [Editor's note: It is unsurprising that the first major thrust of the second Bush II administration is to privatize Social Security, shrilling about an 'emergency' that does not exist and that can only be fixed by essentially destroying the system. What problems exist with Social Security have largely been created by the systematic and under-the-radar looting of the program during the first four years of the Bush II administration.] Created by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the patron saint of liberalism, Social Security embodies American values of community and fairness. Despite enormous publicity campaigns in recent years by right-wing organizations questioning its solvency and urging its privatization, public support for Social Security as a mandatory system of public pensions remains adamant." -- Joe Conason
"Social Security is about security, not getting rich. It was created to alleviate poverty among seniors. The idea was that no American after a lifetime of work should be forced to live in squalor. It's an insurance policy, not a wealth-accumulation program.
"But Bush and his party understand that Social Security is the keystone around which public support for federal programs is built and sustained. While the government does many things whose benefits are universally enjoyed -- national defense, clean air, and public parks, to name a few -- Social Security is the only one that, eventually, sends a monthly check to every citizen of the country. The fact that the system is pay-as-you-go -- meaning that current workers put in money not for themselves but for current retirees, with the understanding that when we retire our children and grandchildren's generations will pay for us -- maintains the idea of mutual obligation. Instead of paying taxes only for our own gain, we collectively contribute to a system from which we all benefit. Consequently the most far-reaching threat of privatization is not the enormous debt it will create or the individuals who will lose out when their stock picks or timing aren't quite right, but the renunciation of the notion of mutual obligation that it represents." As Bush himself said in a May 2000 press conference, his plan to privatize Social Security "is a step toward a completely different world, and an important step." It is not a step towards a world that most Americans would wish to live in, however. -- Paul Waldman
"Even what are claimed to be fundamental principles of political philosophy can easily be discarded [by conservatives]. The Bush administration's actions on issues like medical-marijuana clubs and assisted suicide, in which they sought by fiat to overrule state-government policies enacted by voters, give the lie to conservatives' alleged devotion to federalism, the notion that state power is always preferable to federal power. When he was inaugurated as governor of Texas, Bush proclaimed, 'I will use every resource at my disposal to make the federal government in Washington heed this simple truth: Texans can run Texas.' But when he became president he was quite pleased to have the federal government assert power over the states as long as it did so in service of a conservative goal. In contrast, liberals never argued that there was something inherently superior about the federal government. They took the side of the federal government over the states in the significant clashes of the past because those conflicts found the federal government attempting to accomplish liberal goals. So when the federal government moved to force desegregation in the South, liberals argued that desegregation was the right thing to do, while conservatives tried to hide their support of segregation behind the canard of 'states' rights.'
"But prominent Republicans love to argue that the government, particularly the federal government, is incapable of providing services efficiently, causes nothing but destruction when it attempts to regulate, and restricts individual freedom with its every step. Few sound this note louder than George W. Bush, who campaigned for office by repeating endlessly that his opponent 'trusts the government' while 'I trust the people.'
"The antigovernment rhetoric has the rhetorical advantage of simple-mindedness. Liberals are going to continue to lose the argument on the role of government until they decide to make the argument instead of running away from it, engaging the other side and calling them on their ridiculous, simplistic rhetoric. When former House Majority Leader Dick Armey says, as he often does, 'The market is rational; the government is dumb,' someone should ask him who built the road on which he drove to work that morning." -- Paul Waldman
"[T]here are many things that government does well, and there are many more than only government can do. Legal segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the South didn't end because people looked into their hearts; it ended because the federal government stopped it. The interstate highway system and the Internet weren't built by entrepeneurs; they were built by the government. Private industry didn't bring electricity to America's rural areas; the government did. Before Social Security, old age was synonymous with abject poverty; it isn't any longer, thanks to the government. A generation of young men who served their country got to go to college, thanks to the government. All of those things happened despite the opposition of conservatives issuing dire warnings about the heavy hand of government interfering in our lives." -- Paul Waldman
"In thirty years of nonstop right-wing attacks on the very concept of government -- government can't do anything right, privatize everything, the free market works best -- we think the greatest loss may be our sense of 'us-ness.' Government has done great good for the people of this country over two centuries. To now pretend that it is a villain, that all institutions that have been built up so slowly over the years should be shredded in favor of some for-profit entity, strikes us as idiotic. ...[I]t is time to become alarmed. This administration has gone far beyond anything they ever talked about in the 2000 campaign and far beyond anything that was ever voted for by us, or even mentioned to us. Our country, our government, our representatives, our responsibility. Government has become 'them,' 'those people.' Those people in Washington, those people at the state capital, those people who take your money and never do anything for you." To say that you are not politically active, you don't care, you can't do anything, is to let others control the very essence of your life. "Politics is not something you can stand off and look at as though it were a television program or a painting on a wall and decide you really don't much care for it. This is the warp and woof of your life: everything from how deep you will be buried when you die, to the textbooks your kids study in school, to the qualifications of the people who prescribe your eyeglasses or contact lenses, to your health, education, home insurance -- you name it, what doesn't government touch or set the rules for (or set no rules for)? ...The programs that help people are the ones being dismantled by ideological zealots. The programs that help corporations at the expense of the taxpayer are being left in place. 'Un-American' is not a word we are given to tossing around, nor is 'fascism' -- we have spent years making fun of humorless liberals who hear the sound of jack-booted fascism around every corner. But there is something creepy about what is happening here, and the creepiest thing about it is that no one is talking about it. Mussolini said, 'Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.' That's pretty much what we're looking at here, and the results are not good for the people of this country, no matter what it is called. ...[We are all] in big trouble. ...Time to raise hell." -- Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
"Let's say the question is whether inmates should be given drug treatment, psychological counseling, or job training. The liberal says yes -- not only might this individual be personally redeemed, but when he gets out, as most inmates eventually do, he will be much less likely to commit more crimes, instead having a good chance at becoming a contributing member of society. That protects everyone -- you don't have to have sympathy for the inmate to see that it's the most practical thing to do.
"A conservative like George W. Bush, on the other hand, considers things like drug treatment and job training to be doing the inmate a favor. Since he committed a crime, he is unworthy of any such benefits and instead should simply be punished in the most unpleasant way possible. The efficacy of treatment and training in preventing recidivism is simply irrelevant. This is why, despite the common belief that liberals are starry-eyed idealists, liberals are often more practical than conservatives. Liberals are willing to examine causes and effects and weigh them in making policy divisions. Conservatives are much more likely to divide the world into good people and bad people. Bad people -- whether pot smokers, fornicators, or welfare recipients -- deserve only public disgrace and scorn." In 1999, Bush sums up his feelings on the subject: "Incarceration is rehabilitation." -- Paul Waldman
"To deflect attention from [the Republican Party's support of the] plutocratic elite, the right deploys a barrage of abusive verbiage about the alleged elitism of the left. Somehow those cliches remain perpetually fresh, at least in the minds of those who scream them. There are 'limousine liberals' and 'Hollywood liberals' and 'eastern establishment liberals' and 'liberal eggheads' and 'liberal academics' and 'privileged liberals' and 'upper-class liberals' and 'Upper West Side liberals' and 'Harvard boutique liberals' and 'liberal snobs' -- as well as 'liberal elitists' and, of course, 'elitist liberals.' It is an old theme that can be traced back to Joe McCarthy's vituperative assaults on the 'striped pants' Democratic diplomats and liberal intellectuals from Yale and Harvard. ...It gathered greater force when Richard Nixon vented his enduring resentment of the Kennedy family, which eventually mutated into an attack on his 'elitist' opponent George McGovern, a prairie Democrat who was nothing of the kind. It persists in Rush Limbaugh's daily tirades against Hollywood liberals and the 'rich Democratic presidential candidates,' a 'bunch of vastly wealthy multimillionaires' trying to disguise the fact thay they, too, are 'elitists.' ...[Nixon's] few close friends were all millionaires, and his campaigns were financed by corporate fat cats with suitcases of cash. But Nixon's skillful exploitation of class, cultural, and racial resentments brought him the support of 'hard hat' labor and middle-class Americans who felt threatened by radical students and rioting blacks. Republicans who learned their lessons from Nixon, such as the Bush family, know that if they had to rely solely on the people whose interests they actually represent, their share of the electorate would be tiny."
"With coded racial appeals having fallen out of favor, they have turned increasingly to what sounds like class envy. By attacking left-leaning actors and movie directors with lavish lifestyles, New York City newspaper publishers, college professors, and other figures remote from 'normal Americans,' conservative propaganda encourages resentment against such people and their politics. Such sniping is meant to prove that liberal Democrats are spoiled, insincere, and out of touch with ordinary people.
"...The essential fraudulence of such right-wing populism could be glimpsed in Cigar Aficionado's profile of Rush Limbaugh. Interviewed for the luxury magazine by a fellow epicure, the radio talker felt free to drop any pretense of resembling the middle-class 'ditto-heads' who worship him. Although his trademark theme is the polarizing struggle between 'us' (conservative, hardworking middle Americans) and 'them' (liberal Democrat elites), the private Rush is actually a ridiculous snob in matters of wine, cigars, hotels, and all the other pleasures of upper-class life. Unlike the late [Paul] Wellstone, Rush Limbaugh wouldn't ever show up for lunch in the kind of cheap restaurant that set up a 'Rush Room' where diners could listen to his broadcast. He informed Cigar Aficionado that his favorite Bordeaux is Chateau Haut Brion '61, though he allowed he would settle for the '82 vintage. (For those who may not know -- perhaps including the typical Limbaugh fan -- a bottle of the exceedingly rare '61 Haut Brion retails for around $2,000. That isn't much to a 'regular guy' who earns upward of $20 million a year.) Name-dropping wine vintages is a standard if unsophisticated snob behavior. Still, for a xenophobic rabble-rouser from Missouri, Limbaugh's cultural aspirations are very refined. Much as he professes to dislike big city liberals and perfidious foreigners, he loves living in New York City 'for its culture and restaurants.' He doesn't vacation at Disney World or Six Flags with his fans, either. When this man of the people takes a few days off, he prefers Paris, San Francisco, or London -- and whenever he pops over to London, he stays at the Connaught, one of the oldest, priciest, snootiest joints in town. What he buys in London, Paris, and Saint Maarten are Cuban cigars, regardless of legal embargos and the vileness of Havana's Communist dictatorship. As a cigar snob, he doesn't let principle get in the way of a superior smoke." -- Joe Conason
"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different...More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history." -- evangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson (note that in 2005, polls show that over 80% of Republicans and nearly 60% of Democrats consider themselves Christians)
"The 'wall of separation between church and state' is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned." -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist
"Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you've hurt the Republican Party much more than the Democrats have." -- Barry Goldwater, to the right wing of the Republican Party, shortly before his death