Recently, I had a rather significant political epiphany, quite a declaration from one who is at least reputed to be politically educated and astute. I make a living in this realm, anyway. My epiphany: I seemingly no longer quite understand what it means to be a liberal in America.
Politics in the United States can be described as a pendulum. The pendulum swings variously to the right or to the left, yet always seems to happily end up somewhere in the middle. This is a function that is most certainly necessary to a healthy and balanced democracy. It also has the virtue of better allowing us to understand where one sits on the political spectrum.
Could it be, though, that the so-called “liberal” left has gone above and beyond traditional liberal values, those originally rooted in the philosophies of Edmund Burke – values that we understand today as decidedly liberal and progressive and principles upon which this nation was founded?
During the 70’s and 80’s and into the 90’s, much of America, myself included, followed or described themselves as Kennedy Democrats or the successors to them. Such were folks who believed in a safety net for the poor, welfare to work, a woman’s right to choose, a strong defense, robust and engaged foreign relations, fiscal sensibility and just generally being attentive and good to our friends and neighbors at home and abroad. Most were termed moderates, those who fell in the middle of America’s political spectrum.
My crisis came in the form of an angry Facebook message from a relative. Bob’s anger, let’s call him “Bob,” stemmed from his vehement and emotional dislike of my decidedly pro-Israel posts. He was particularly angry with something I shared that pointed out that liberals are supposed to not like racists, yet many liberals support terrorists like Hamas and hence doesn’t the support of Hamas make people racist. I thought it was a pretty good code to stand by…don’t be a racist and don’t support Hamas.
According to Bob, that and several other of my posts shedding light on various radical views on the extermination of all Jews, the treatment of women, the ISIS flag flying over the White House, etc., suggested that I was a racist and a nationalist. It certainly raised my eyebrows and got my blood pumping.
This confrontation was soon followed by another “sharing” on Facebook of various quotes from Noam Chomsky and others denouncing Israel. Ahhh Noam Chomsky, the Jew one pulls out of the proverbial hat when one wants to bash the Jews and/or Israel. Wherever one resides the political spectrum, it is pretty easy to peg Chomsky as every Jew- and Israel-hating nutter’s go-to guy. The fact is that he only attains any relevance when someone like me rants about him…my apologies. It is important to note that Bob had no part in the “Chomsky affair.” That was someone else calling Israel a “death cult” and urging the destruction of Israel, as well as the subjugation and killing of all Jews.
Does this distain for a fellow Western democracy and the use of terms like racist and nationalist mean that the pendulum is swinging differently in America? Is it swinging wider than it used to? Has the pendulum changed the way we describe ourselves in America? Has this possible new rhythm changed our political landscape?
Taking from my experiences with self-identified liberals, several questions come to mind. Does liberalism in America today mean that we cheer for the underdog, no matter who that underdog is or what he does, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, ISIS and so on? Does liberalism in America mean that we support and seek rapprochement with bad actors on the world stage (including Iran and Russia, just to name a few) because we “all want to get along” and it is “in the name of peace” or “the peaceful thing to do?” Does liberalism in America mean that the government (read that as the tax payers) should support everyone, even those members of our society who are more than capable of getting a job and supporting themselves? Does liberalism in America today mean that we should just ignore threats to ourselves and friends on the international stage, again because it is conceived that it is the peaceful thing to do?
Surely, collectivism, totalitarianism, the religious Islamist ideas of the ISIL, Salafi jihadists, Hamas, and Hezbollah, et al are in direct clash with liberal values. And Israel, even with its loud and boisterous democracy, the rule of law, protection of gay rights, and entrepreneurial spirit, is much more liberal than anything you find in the Arab world.
Perhaps it is time to rename the identifiers on the pendulum that helps us describe and navigate our political system. Today the arc swings more widely and shouldn’t some who identify as liberals, including those mentioned above and their comrades, more honestly describe themselves as Leftist? In a sense, the wider swing of the pendulum is a function of Leftists, providing momentum to more radical views, and actions, conspiracy theories and a nearly pathological distrust of all government, ala South America and Europe.
Rallying against meritocracy, the rule of law, and entrepreneurialism cannot be good for America or Americans. Nor can advocating for cultural relativism, collectivism, totalitarianism, and religious Islamist ideas. If these agendas are being pushed by Leftists masquerading as liberals, and there is every indication that they are, it does not bode well for the United States, our values, and our way of life within the current political spectrum.
Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a consultancy that advises foreign governments, NGOs and corporations in the realms of strategic communications, politics and policy. He is also the former head of Public Affairs and Public Relations for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.