Proud to be a Liberal

The Democrats’ problem is not that they are too liberal, but that they are not liberal enough.

By Bob Burnett

Recent polls indicate that only twenty percent of voters describe themselves as “Liberal.” I’m one of them, proud to be a Liberal.

In the run up to the midterm elections, many Democratic candidates avoid the liberal label. Some even deny the accomplishments of the 111th Congress. On Face the Nation, CBS Correspondent Nancy Cordes noted, “Not only are [Democratic congressional candidates] running away from President Obama, they’re running away from being Democrats.” Shame on them! I’m proud of what President Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress have done.

The Democrats’ problem is not that they are too liberal, but rather that they are not liberal enough.

Robert Reich observed that embedded in the fabric of the American ethos are two hopeful stories: Liberal myths.

The Triumphant Individual “is the familiar tale of the little guy who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame and honor.” This is the story of Abraham Lincoln and, more recently, Barack Obama. It’s one of the cornerstones of American liberalism.

This narrative presumes a level playing field where every man or woman who wants to get ahead, provide a better life for themselves and their family, can do it. Liberals believe in the importance of individual responsibility, it’s up to each person to take the steps necessary to move forward. Nonetheless, Liberals also support equal opportunity: an individual shouldn’t be held back because of their gender, race, ethnicity, or what side of the tracks that were born on. Liberals believe that all children need to be brought up in safe households with enough food to eat and access to quality schools and medical services. We believe that government must set limits, proclaim that all Americans have inalienable rights that must be guaranteed.

Liberals believe in government as a force for good. It is the US government rather than the corporation or the church that guarantees our human rights. It is the government that levels the playing field. And it is the government that protects us against the excesses of capitalism, against those who engage in fraudulent business practices, charge excessive interest, abuse their employees, or pollute the environment. Liberals believe that the government must provide a social safety net to protect Americans’ human rights.

The Benevolent Community is the second cornerstone of American liberalism. “The story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good.” One of the early mottos of the United States was E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.” Liberals believe in citizens working together to better our communities: to ensure quality schools, safe streets, comprehensive transportation and energy systems, and clean water and air.

While Liberals emphasize individual responsibility, we also promote collective action. We’re in favor of unions and cooperatives. We don’t believe that wealth and power should influence democratic process and we don’t accept that corporations have the same rights as do individuals. We believe that a healthy public enterprise is a vital and essential part of our democracy.

The United States is struggling through the worst recession in 80 years. In January of 2009, the Obama administration intervened with a stimulus package. It was the right thing to do and kept the US from sliding into a terrible depression. Unfortunately it wasn’t sufficient; the US is stuck in a flat recovery with high unemployment. Liberals contend the US needs an additional stimulus package to create jobs.

Liberals believe that all Americans have the right to a decent job paying a living wage. When the market fails, Liberals expect the government to intervene.

Meanwhile, the environment continues to deteriorate and 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. Every day we hear news of global climate events ranging from floods to massive forest fires. Liberals believe that to protect the common good, to preserve the precious resources of the United States, we must drastically reduce our carbon consumption and take steps to remedy the environmental damage already inflicted on our communities.

On June 26, 2009, the House approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act but the GOP blocked similar legislation in the Senate. Liberals want a strengthened version of this bill passed in the 112th Congress. We believe that our children and grandchildren should live in a healthy environment.

Liberals believe in comprehensive campaign finance reform, reducing the influence of moneyed interests and lobbyists. In June the House passed campaign finance reform legislation that would have alleviated the impact of the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling; Senate Republicans blocked this legislation. Liberals want a strengthened version of this bill passed in the 112th Congress. We believe that in a Democracy each vote should carry the same weight.

These are only a few of the reasons I’m proud to be a Liberal, to stand up for values, visions, and legislation that strengthen the American dream.

I invite you all to join me: Get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, “I’m proud to be a Liberal and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and retired Silicon Valley executive. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2010

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