If most liberals are like me, liberals don’t stand a chance in the November elections. I’m already beside myself about the results, complaining to liberals like me. I don’t like to lose, but I seem to derive ongoing pleasure from complaining about losing. The winners are so wrong about so much they make me feel good about myself.
I’m dimly aware that all liberals, thank goodness, are not like me. Liberals don’t look, think, or believe alike. Those of us who attach the label to ourselves are hybrids as jerryrigged as that kettle of vultures who squawk right-winged noise. Liberals wonderfully are black and white and green and pink, and we’re rich and poor and so-so, Christian, agnostic, New-Aged and elderly, gay, straight, sane, weird, unemployed, overworked and who knows what else. The liberal kettle is full of strange big-eyed fish stew.
But we generally share some hard-core bleeding heart beliefs. We believe, for example, not in Big Government but in self-government leading to pretty good government. We believe that when individuals and businesses behave and share we’ll have fewer laws. We believe in potlucks, not handouts. We apply family values not only to close kin but to those who have commitments to long-term close relationships. We try to be color-blind, non-sexist, non-homophobic and unbigoted, and we’re persuaded by facts suggesting that unbalanced budgets result from greed reeling insanely out of control. We are generally decent folk, inclined to think a lot about right and wrong, and we don’t try to save everybody’s soul so it looks like mine. We believe that good schools and vibrant neighborhoods are vital to the health and prosperity of society. We want to end our wars and find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We pledge allegiance to the flag. We pay our taxes. We love our mothers, baseball, and apple pie.
Right-wingers––certainly the generals if not the privates who wage political wars on their behalf––win races because they have head start programs that have nothing to do with preschools. They enjoy professional advantages their entitlements routinely provide. They have recruited thousands of preachers to fuel the virtues of greed with the fires of religious zeal. They own and control the important financial, corporate, and media empires that pass on their operating costs and losses to the rest of us. A few of them have more money than God and the rest of us combined, and they invest it wisely for themselves in foreign lands and in public servants who serve them. For decades they have carefully spent billions shaping propaganda infrastructures––think tanks, publishing houses, PACs, pundits, websites, ad agencies, journals, grants, “universities” and professorships––that railroads their re-election ambitions. They don’t run out of gas, or money, running for national or state offices, or for school board, zoning commission, and dogcatcher. They’re often unopposed by liberals like me. They have mastered the ability to think big, long-term, narrowly, and routinely dishonestly, while convincing millions that their political agenda is both red, white and blue and Bible-based.
Their adversaries, liberals like me, are their greatest asset. We’re amateurs. The strength of who we are as liberals is our Achilles heel. Our best qualities make winners of them.
We lose elections because we put family above politics. When I can choose between spending time in a room full of opinionated people trying to organize a voting drive or a few extra hours at home gardening, or at the farmer’s market, or at the library with the kids, I put first things first.
As a liberal I’m also social, polite and tolerant, and these virtues are vital to my self-esteem. Politics, perhaps inherently, diminishes my best sense of self. Political parties represent parts, not the whole, of the body politic, and political parties are not called parties because what they do is usually fun. Parties stand for what divides rather than unites us. Party participation requires me to be partisan. If I’m a Big Picture person partisanship runs against my better nature to be inclusive, as do polemics, like this one. Good liberals sidestep political activity because they prefer not doing unto others what’s being done to them.
The problem has an aesthetic side to it. Political campaigns are conspicuously nasty, brutal and long. Their length deepens their ugliness. Political campaigns are dominated by negative ads, intellectually dishonest talking heads, personal attacks, and appeals to what is base in us. The gas exhaled with the noise of political campaigns has the stench of the world, flesh and devil in it. The promotion of ugliness by right-winged strategists is also an effective campaign tactic, calculated to diminish voter turnout of disaffected minorities likely to vote against their candidates. Young people, inclined to be more liberal on social issues than older folk, particularly find politics far below the dignity levels of their idealism and innocence. It’s easy to see why so many liberals plug their noses and ears and look the other way.
One way good liberals avoid politics is by doing good deeds. They, often alongside good conservative folk, whip up batches of cookies and banana bread for bake sales at churches and schools. They volunteer at food shelves and the PTA. As lawyers they do pro bono work. As mothers they coach the kids’ soccer and volleyball teams. As fathers they hold the hands of depressed teenagers. As teachers they chaperone the senior prom until 4 a.m. This work especially wearies those who also have eight-hour working days. But their good deeds often have obvious and immediate benefits.
The politics of greed, of course, creates more dysfunction in society, and more opportunities for liberals (and good conservatives) to volunteer their time to do damage control for broken communities and individuals in distress. This work is so pressing that political work in comparison seems abstract and compromised. In a busy day it’s hard to do both.
Good liberals also lose elections because they’re civil and willing to do their little bits. They’re willing to take their share of the hits. When politicians want to balance budgets by cutting Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit for poorer families, Medicare, worker compensation benefits, food stamps, welfare subsidies, road and infrastructure improvements, funding for higher education and public schools, or by gutting environmental and banking regulations, nursing home and health care benefits, and school lunch and Head Start programs––liberals step up and say yes, let’s all give a little, I’m willing to share the pain. They’re also willing enough to suffer a tax increase, put up with cutbacks to social programs, or ignore legislation that increases the wealth of the absurdly rich. Their commitment to tolerance, good behavior, community and family values keeps them from kicking back when almost everyone’s down. So they don’t organize door-knocking campaigns or neighborhood voter registration parties. They don’t write letters to the editor, or occupy some nearby Wall Street, or just scream loud enough for someone else to hear that it’s time to throw the bums out.
A good liberal prefers rational discussion instead, and when one liberal complains it’s usually to other members of the liberal choir. When politicians don’t behave like rational human beings, liberals turn to people rather than political power. They don’t believe in the triumph of the will, in lording it over others who disagree with them. They don’t want Big Government telling them what they can and can’t do in their bedrooms. They take care of their own business, not somebody else’s. Because they understand the corrupting influence of power, they are inclined to let others run for school board, county commissioner, zoning board, and dog catcher. Good liberals take good care of their own pet dogs.
The basic weakness of liberal politics is this: Liberals like me believe that the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence are self-evident, and that they are so self-evident they shouldn’t have to be reaffirmed, squabbled over, or explained to a next door neighbor who doesn’t agree. The life and death of self-evident principles of democracy and basic decency should not be dependent on money-driven election campaigns. Don’t they get it, those wingnuts on the other side of the fence, or to all those good folks just sitting on it? Why should I have to explain things again, and again, and again to them?
My Toyota gets pretty good gas mileage. Why shouldn’t I be left alone to my pursuit of happiness in the comfort of my living room?