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The BG News
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November 30, 2023

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Liberalism: what an idea

I’ve been finding myself struggling with the “L” word a lot lately. Some days I just want to scream it, but most of the time I’m shy and reserved about using it, saving it only for just the right moment with just the right person. But now, more than ever before, I find myself wanting to tell someone, anyone, the frightening “L” word. It’s time that I came clean.

And so, I am going to take a deep breath, gather what little self-confidence I have, and announce it right here and now:

I am a liberal.

I’ll pause now for the public flogging.

It’s not easy being a liberal — what’s more, an open one — especially when you consider that I come from a strictly conservative backwoods corner of the state and spawned from the loins of notoriously conservative parents. Since telling my parents of my political orientation, they’ve continued to hope it is just a phase that will be outgrown or some rebellious stunt.

What my parents — and most others — don’t realize is that we liberals aren’t necessarily the bleeding heart, idealistic hippies that we have the reputation as being. The American Heritage College dictionary defines “liberal” as “favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broadminded.”

“Broadminded” is a term often obscured in American politics. I’m a liberal, but I don’t shun conservatives. Many liberals, such as Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama, are fighting for the unification of the left- and right-wingers. But liberals, believe it or not, have contributed considerably to American history.

We seem to have forgotten what the urges for reform and progress have brought. In the 1850’s, those crazy liberals stormed up an idea so outrageous, so out-of-touch with the moderate society, so ludicrous, that it sparked heated political debates, divided the country, and even fueled one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

That shocking liberal concept? Emancipation. You know, freeing the slaves?

Today’s conservative politics seem to forget the necessity of change and progress. It was not by conservative, moderate values that we became a free country. Nor was it moderation that brought us women’s suffrage and equal rights. How soon we forget that it was audacity and boldness and taboo that brought progress to America.

Most of us wouldn’t be at this university with the rights and liberties we have were it not for liberal concepts. You wouldn’t be reading this column — it would have been moderated and censored. I wouldn’t be here; I’d be at home cooking up dinner with a baby on my hip (which is scary, since I have been banned from using the oven at home because I burn things).

I do believe that just like us warm fuzzy liberals, conservatives want what is best for our country. While I think many conservative ideals are wrong, their hearts are in the right place, for the most part. Relaying back to my reference to equal rights in the 1850’s, giving equal rights to blacks was considered to be different. Wrong. But we made progress. We made reform. And we now look back to the Civil Right’s movement and realize what was “different” was actually racism and bigotry.

Today, gays and other groups want rights, and we call this different and wrong. Is this unlike what we faced nearly 50 years ago? History repeats itself, as we have seen time and time again. Do I expect a super hero with a big “L” on his chest to come flying in and save the day? Come on, have at least that much faith in my sanity.

At the core of liberalism lies not close-minded idealism, but rather, an optimistic hope for the possibilities. These days, liberals like myself are practically shamed into hiding our political views, or pigeonhole ourselves into a more politically-friendly category like “progressivists.” But we should hold our heads up high, wave our big “L” banners, because what was once “liberal hooey” has become the very base of our democracy, and a prominent position in our nation’s history.

Obama is one of the best advocates for the liberal cause. In his address at the Democratic National Convention, Obama countered the conservative viewpoint that liberals are unpatriotic. “There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq,” he said, “And patriots who supported it.”

In his speech, Obama united the country, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, red and blue. Even Republicans in Illinois are digging this cat. Obama reminds us that liberals and conservatives should all be here for the best interest of the country. What we need now, more than anything and more than ever before, is unity.

Not bad for a bleeding heart liberal, huh?

Liberalism isn’t about patriotism or lack thereof, and liberals shouldn’t have to be spurned and burned for our desire for change. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong — it’s about progress. And in realizing this, I am no longer afraid of the big, bad “L” word.

Ohh, I feel so exposed.

E-mail Chelsea with comments at [email protected].

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