So be it. It needs to be said. By a liberal. Who has been alternately so embarrassed or annoyed by liberals that I've stopped calling myself a liberal and started to call myself a progressive.
And, I'm pissed about that. So, if you're pissed after reading this, it will all even out in the end.
Yes, this is a bit of a rant. Consider yourself duly warned.
This is not going to be about that old canard about liberals being "too broadminded to take their own side in an argument". Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt to prove my credentials.
In 12-Step Programs, they call that "Paralysis by analysis."
And, I'm not a "liberal who has been mugged" - the definition (intended in humor) to describe someone who is conservative.
I'd like to think I'm still a liberal, but for the love of Mike, these days, "liberal tyrants" send me running out of the room, screaming in frustration and anger.
"Liberal Tyrant" sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Words such as liberal and liberty, all trace their root to the Latin liber, which means "free". Indeed, Wikipedia reports that, "One of the first recorded instances of the word liberal occurs in 1375, when it was used to describe "liberal arts" in the context of an education desirable for a free-born man".
Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis)is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property.
Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract, governments must not violate these rights. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with democracy and/or republicanism and the rule of law.I mean, how can you call yourself an American and NOT be liberal, right?
The revolutionaries of the American Revolution, segments of the French Revolution, and other liberal revolutionaries from that time used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Spanish America, and North America. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of liberalism was classical conservatism.
Makes me feel proud to call myself a liberal. Well, it did. Once. That was before the soft underbelly of liberalism began to be exposed in what I believe to be a reaction (vs. a response) to the fundamentalist (AKA "Tea Party" and neo-cons), rapidly growing and surprisingly resilient segment of conservatism.
The 'tyranny' to which I refer is very different from the pundits on Fox News describe, which is more the "tyranny of lawlessness". That is due, I think (at least in part) to the mistaken perception that liberals have no ideology or belief system.
Aristotle defined a tyrant as, "one who rules without law". A "liberal tyrant," for them, is not an oxymoron but, rather, an example of redundancy. To be a liberal is, for them, someone who rules without law. To be a liberal - especially one in power - IS to be a tyrant.
Which is a particularly frightening thing to Evangelical and Roman Catholic segments of conservatism, many of whom are neo-cons or part of the "Tea Party". The combination of the Calvinist notion of the inherent "wretchedness" of the human condition along with the Roman Catholic rigid understanding of "natural law" are two ingredients which lead to a significantly less than positive regard for the human condition, much less the ability to trust the human enterprise with such things as "justice and freedom" much less "the pursuit of happiness".
An example: It drove some of the conservatives in The Episcopal Church absolutely 'round the bend when, in 1994, Jack Spong and 90 bishops and 144 deputies signed the Koinonia Statement which declared sexual orientation "morally neutral". That made perfect sense to many liberals but for conservatives, nothing about morality is neutral - especially sexual orientation.
To the Fox News folks and the Tea Party and neo-cons who feed on their rubbish, Mr. Obama is the natural, nightmare result of liberalism.
He's a socialist. Someone who believes in reform and revolution. Someone who will develop a system of production and distribution organized to directly satisfy economic demands and human needs, so that goods and services are produced directly for use instead of for private profit driven by the accumulation of capital.
They see in him the potential for the destruction of the democracy as defined by "our founding fathers" (to the exclusion of women and people of color) and their understanding of capitalism (which keeps "The Benjamins" lining the pockets of the rich and "trickling down" to the poor at a rate determined by those who know best about such things).
It's not difficult to see a reflection in those who claim "biblical orthodoxy" with those who have a very narrow "orthodox" view of the "history of the Republic" and interpretation of the Constitution.
That's a very simple (but I trust not 'simplistic') explanation of my perspective of things on the other side of the fence from my neighborhood and world view.
That is due, at least in part, to the fact that there is, for liberals, a wide interpretation of the pragmatics and practical application of the principles of liberalism. It's not that we don't have a set of guiding principles. We do. It's that we allow for freedom of expression in their application.
That, at least, has been what I love about being liberal.
I think - across the board and in many aspects of life - we're going through an incredibly challenging time of "identity crisis". Everything is being redefined - "big ticket" items such as what it means to be an American. Or, "Religious". Or, Middle Class. Or "Poor" vs. "Working Poor".
It includes things like Marriage. Gender. Sexuality. Minimum wage vs. Living wage.
Even my beloved Episcopal Church has been swept up by the winds of change. What does it mean - if anything - to be an Episcopalian who is part of the Anglican Communion? A Protestant who embraces parts of catholic liturgy and theology or vise versa? (Some would say this is an Anglican.)
Further, what does it mean to be a religious person who supports contraception and reproductive rights but is conflicted by - and inherently, personally, opposed to - abortion? Or, is a bit uneasy with abortion but draws the line firmly at late term abortion?
Can you be pro-life and pro-choice at the same time?
Can you be a liberal with conservative leanings or is that better described as a moderate conservative?
What are we to make of those who refuse to identify as 'religious' and insist, rather, on 'spiritual' - as if the two are mutually exclusive?
Mind you, none of these questions keep me up late at night. I rarely, if ever, consider such questions.
My, my, my.
At first, I was as distressed as everyone else about her remarks. However, as the controversy dragged on and on and on and as more and more companies were dropping their endorsements of her, I said "Enough!"
I called for a boycott of all those who had dropped their endorsement of Paula Deen, and posted it on my FaceBook page.
Like I've got the power or influence for that to be effective! It just felt right to say it. Blowing off steam, is all. I never thought anything would come of it. And, in fact, nothing has. No surprise here.
Look, I'm all for holding people - especially public celebrities - accountable for their actions. They - and the media they have at their command - are a powerful force to shape and form our culture. That's an amazing currency, the worth of which is inestimable.
"To whom much is given, much is expected".
But, Walmart? Really? Are they a bastion of concerns for social justice? Or Smithfield Foods - which is now in hot water for wanting to sell their company to China. And, Target and Little Cesar's Pizza? Really? Last time I checked, their employees were barely making minimum wage, much less a living wage. Their CEO's however, are multimillionaires.
Regular giants of justice.
Oh, Home Depot dropped her, too, but because they also were early supporters of domestic benefits for LGBT people and Marriage Equality, I apparently angered some folks.
Have you ever been to Home Depot on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon? It's "church" for many in the LGBT community. You can pretty much find the lesbians in the 'power tool aisle' and the gay men in the 'home and garden aisle', literally kneeling before saws and seed spreaders.
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! It's a BUSINESS deal, people!
Yes, of course, I'm glad when companies do things to shed a positive light on LGBT people, but you have to know that the major competitor of Home Depot is Lowe's and you have to know that the CEO of Lowe's is a stanch, conservative Republican whose annual salary and compensation is more than $11 million. He would never EVER endorse "marriage equality".
Ka-ching! (For Home Depot) I know I must sound cynical and jaded, but really, folks! It's pretty clear that this has become all about money. Not social justice. Not race.
That's what I was objecting to. This issue was no longer about racism and more about corporate greed. Yes, let's hold Ms. Deen accountable for her words and actions, especially since it seemed pretty clear that while she reported, under oath, that she had said the words 30 years ago and had ceased from using it, racism continued to infect her business, which was being run by her brother.
Oh, and if you read the deposition, so did sexism. In fact, there were more incidences of sexism than racism in the deposition. Not that that makes one better or worse than the other or excuses any of it.
And, apparently, racism continues to infect her dreams of a fantasy "Traditional Southern" wedding. Yes, let's hold her accountable for that. Absolutely.
All that having been said, in my estimation - and that of a lot of others - the media had taken it too far. It was now a media "goat rodeo," roundin' up the pretty little lady as their scapegoat.
No matter how often I said that, I was not to be excused or forgiven by some of my "liberal" friends for their sense that I was, somehow, "supporting Paula Deen." Or, confusing them because I was "taking it so personally" (An updated version of the sexist, "Don't worry your pretty little head.")
Here's where the 'liberal tyranny' comes in. It goes a little something like this:
Paula Deen said and thought some racist things.At least, that was the inference. And, if not a racist, then clearly you have a problem with racism. And, oh, by the way, your liberal credentials are called into serious question and are in danger of being revoked. Apparently, calling for a boycott of those who dropped their endorsements of her was seen, even in a small way, as supporting Paula Deen.
Paula Deen is a racist.
If you support anything about her, you are racist.
Let me be just a tad vulgar in order to make myself perfectly clear: Bullshit!
Not that I don't know what a racist looks like.
Are the KKK racist? Absolutely.
Aryan Nation? Nationalist Movement? Phineas Priesthood?
Check, check and check!
Does having said the 'n-word' or having a fantasy about a 'traditional Southern wedding' complete with African American servants make you a racist? I think it makes you a person who has not done the deep anti-racism work required of a person in the public spotlight with a responsibility to do that difficult, often painful work.
Call me a liberal but I think there is a middle ground between being a racist and not having completely recovered from a bad case of racism. (Insert your own 'ist' / "ism" for other applications)
One person said that she considered herself a racist and that, as far as she was concerned, "we should all be wearing a scarlet letter" of racism.
I appreciate the sentiment. I do. The only way for racism to end in this country is for people of privilege to do the deep anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural work required to live in the present realities of "the land of the free and the home of the brave".
Accordingly, I do believe we ought to call out racism - or any prejudice, bigotry and/or oppression - whenever we see it. And, hold people accountable for it. Especially celebrities.
As I have been carefully taught in feminist liberation theology, it's important to first do a power analysis. You begin with voice: Who is talking? What are they saying? Who is not talking? Whose voice is not being heard? Why? Who is speaking for them?
And: Context. Context. Context.
Because I am a liberal and a feminist, I saw in Paula Deen a woman who struggles with her own racism - just like the rest of us - who admitted to having once said and thought some really stupid, inappropriate stuff which revealed that she - just like the rest of us - has been infected with racism.
I saw the media beating up on her as they did, in another context and on another issue, to Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton.
Was Martha Stewart found guilty of financial misdoing? Yup. Did her time, too. Did she do anything different than hundreds of men are doing every day? Nope. Does that make her less guilty? Nope.
Is Hillary Clinton a strong woman? Yup. Does she stand up to men? Yup. Does that make her a "nut cracker" or a "ball buster"? As a liberal and a feminist, I think you know my answer.
And, if it's a slow news day.
Because it is also about the media as an industry. People actually make this their life's work. And, they get paid for it.
Somebody has to feed the machine.
That's why I responded with, "Enough!"
It wasn't about supporting racism or a "racist"
It was about supporting a sister - not her racism - who was clearly being excoriated in public - because she is a woman - by male-dominated corporations with track records that provide clear evidence that they have no concern for any social justice issues.
I was saying enough to the hypocrisy. Enough to the duplicity. Enough to the scapegoating.
And, here's what I'm saying enough to right now, with this post: I'm saying enough to the kind of liberal tyranny that pretends to embrace diversity of opinion but, if you disagree, devalues, demeans and, if they're feeling particularly generous, simply dismisses what you say.
I'm saying enough to all the - you should excuse the language - "black-and-white" thinking. Last I heard, liberalism is not about absolutes. It's not about either/or. We strive, when it is possible, for both/and. That kind of thinking is typically found in the Tea Party and neo-con segments of conservatism, not among liberal.
I've also seen this black-and-white, rigid, fundamentalist thinking shape and form the changes to The Episcopal Church's Title IV canons which deals with clergy misconduct. It is clearly a liberal over-compensation for the wrongs of the past which now presumes the clergy guilty until proven innocent. It dangerously places even more power in a Very Powerful episcopacy and has ruined innocent people's careers and, oh by the way, is patently un-Christian.
I'm saying enough to the inference that there are degrees of "goodness" to being a liberal and that I or anyone else is a "lesser liberal" if they don't meet your standards or expectations. Liberalism is about casting our philosophical net wide and including - and honoring - differing views.
I'm saying enough to the "white liberal guilt" that masquerades as concern and care for the oppressed and those who experience prejudice and bigotry. White liberal guilt, in the final analysis, is about white people who are more concerned with how they are being perceived than the plight of people of color. It is insulting to the intelligence of people of color who can tell the difference.
Feeling guilt about your past racism? Good. Do something about it to promote justice for the oppressed - locally, systemically, politically, legally, globally. Wearing a hair shirt and publicly thumping your breast in contrition is not convincing anyone that this is really about justice. It's all about you and your guilt.
In the final analysis, it's a power trip. As a co-worker in the city of Boston, MA once said to me at a soup kitchen, "Don't be surprised when the people you serve here do not appear gracious and appreciative of your 'generosity'. Whenever you place a poor person in the position of feeling that they need to say 'thank you', that's not about your generosity, it's about your power."
She has been described as "inarticulate", "hostile" and "thuggish". That was when they were feeling generous.
If liberals don't stop wasting precious energy and time beating each other up, we'll never get on with the work of repairing the damage done by SCOTUS to the Voting Rights Act.
We'll never make any progress on eradicating racism in our society.
We'll never get on with the hard work of anti-oppression work.
We'll never be able to organize effectively to set forth the organizing principles of what it means to be a liberal:
Respect for and trust in the human enterprise in all of its diversity.
Liberty and justice and equality for all. And, all means all. Even those with whom we disagree.
As a dear liberal friend once said to me, "You have the absolute right to wave your hands as wildly as you want. That right, however, stops at the end of my nose."
That, for me is a great definition of the philosophy of liberalism.
And, and, and ..... we've got to work to stay in conversation with people "across the aisle" but especially with people like Paula Deen who have fallen from grace. Repentant sinners who experience forgiveness are so filled with gratitude, they often become the best allies in the struggle for justice and equality.
Let's take off our hair shirts, get our heads out of our butts and get on with the work of justice.