I’m a liberal.
I want to say that upfront so conservatives drawn to my title don’t think this is going to be another satisfying diatribe on how liberals hate America and want to kill God or any similar nonsense. And I apologize in advance to any liberal reading this who thinks the title refers to how we need to be ideologically pure and even more insufferably militant. Because I’m not getting into any of that.
The problem with liberals is that we’re our own worst enemy, in pretty much every way possible. We’re socially repellent, we’re too cool for our own good and we somehow turn what should be universal principles into narrow niches.
Everyone in the world wants clean air, a steady paycheck and a good education for their children. But you’d never know that by listening to many Americans’ political opinions. They think a clean environment is an impediment to commerce. They call for tax breaks on employers on the off chance that it might eventually trickle down to their own shrinking paychecks. They see public education — the greatest achievement of any civilization — as just another failing business. I could go on and on. How did we as Americans become so self-defeating toward our best interests?
At least part of the answer, I think, is that liberals suck at reaching out. Oh, we make tons of noise and we’re definitely committed to our principles, but a lot of it is, frankly, a circle jerk. True change comes from integrating practices into everyday lives; that happens when people not only are able to effortlessly do so, but feel compelled to act. They see value in what they’re doing and feel like they’re making a difference. It’s hard enough to motivate the average, apolitical person to improve their lives — it’s harder when their role models are trust-fund kids and/or activist stereotypes. Because the fact is, most people are too comfortable and/or apathetic to make any kind of change without the additional mental block of associating that change with, say, becoming a dirty hippie.
The downfall of many liberal activists is that they’re too righteous to be relatable. It’s annoying to go out to dinner with someone who spends the entire meal telling you why you’re an unethical person 12 times over for eating your hamburger. Conservatives, for all their faults, are able to chill out on occasion. And that’s no small thing. Guilt plays a huge role for both sides — liberals have too much and conservatives don’t have enough. Conservatives fiddle while their cities burn, whereas liberals won’t even pick up the fiddle until every trash fire in the world is snuffed out. That aspect alone draws away many people who otherwise might identify with us.
There’s also the contrarian factor. I suspect the George W. Bush presidency had a lot to do with this. We’re so used to opposing everything on every level that it’s a habit we can’t quite shake. We’re used to a president and a united Congress who get everything they want, when they want it. And what they want is always in their best interests, not ours. Good news was few and far between, and usually had an angle that canceled it out. Good news is Kryptonite to liberals, because good news is not good news unless all other news in the world is good. And it never is, thus there’s no need to ever feel good about anything. Which is why Joe Biden can go on TV and express support for full gay-marriage rights, and half of us will link it in Facebook and say, “Fuck Joe Biden.”
And forget about supporting President Obama. Ever. Any positive development is just a reminder of how much terrible policy he has yet to reverse. And because he hasn’t yet reversed them, he is obviously in full support of them. That makes him as much of a bastard as his predecessor. Actually, Obama’s worse, because ... something. I realize that Bush set a new standard for a president doing whatever the hell he wants. But I remember us thinking that was a bad thing, at least until Obama took the oath.
Which is why I suspect that much liberal activism is like the meaner side of feminism — it’s not about equality, fairness and diligence; it’s about having your turn to be a dick. That’s a turnoff to those of us not inclined to revenge. On the flip side, those earnestly interested in change are often too single-minded to draw wide interest. We have to address both problems before we can collectively effect a lasting legacy.
The truth is on our side. Let’s all be on our side too.