It's time to reclaim the hijacked term
"You're just a liberal!"
"You watch too much MSNBC."
Whether you're an actual liberal, or a centrist who asks questions about or utters challenges to the common tropes of the political right, someone has hurled one or more of the above pejoratives in your direction.
When that happens, it says more about the conservative speaker than it does about you. Because in order to elicit such reaction, you don't need to offer an opinion. Just ask a question the other person doesn't want to answer, and you'll get it.
At this writing, I'm a few months shy of 58. For the first 40-43 years of my life, I didn't consider myself anything. And for the record, no one had assigned to me any particular ideology.
At times, I've been called an idealist, a centrist, level-headed and, occasionally, confused. I don't see any of those as pejorative. They're fair, if not entirely accurate, descriptions.
But liberal is one I did not accept the first time I was called that. For many years, it annoyed and sometimes angered me. The reason is because it was intended as an insult, a demeaning comment whose purpose was to discredit anything I said, and even invalidate me as a human being, a U.S. citizen deserving of a chance to be heard.
The ordeal began when Butch, a former best friend (we spent two years on the same ship while in the Navy), started sending me chain emails of stories that interested him. The stories weren't necessarily political. But these being chain emails, they usually had some commentary from the originator. That commentary either criticized news media for being liberal or pushed a conservative spin on the item. Most of these were simply annoying, but I found some of them insulting.
I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, so I asked Butch if he would delete the commentary and just send me the links to the stories. He continued including the commentary. Until finally, one message seemed to be a cheap shot toward those who serve in the Army and Marine Corps reserves. When I said that to Butch, he got angry. And that began a series of bitter exchanges between us, a series that later shifted from chain emails to Facebook.
In many of those, I never expressed an opinion about the subject of the story he shared. And when I did answer his question, "What do you think about this?" the response was all me, based on my experience as a journalist, understanding of history, awareness of current events and some things I was taught in school. And for that, Butch would attack me as a "liberal," or say I watch too much MSNBC.
Fact: I have never watched MSNBC. I am aware of some programs and personalities, a few of whom I admire because I've read about them, seen them as interview guests or video clips of their commentaries. But I have never watched their programs.
So on the one hand, there was this belief that if I didn't toe the line on Butch's viewpoint, if I were skeptical of anything he said, he took it as proof I'd been brainwashed by MSNBC.
I would eventually get that same reaction from a few other conservatives.
I don't know how pervasive this is on the right. But conversations I've had with people like Butch lead me to believe the collective mindset is that anyone who doesn't agree with them is a mindless liberal who can't think for himself. More than one of these people have used the term "sheeple."
For several years, I resisted the "liberal" label. It made me angry. Because the people using it intended to hurt me, to diminish my value as a contributor to American society. I resisted because "liberal" has been hijacked by conservative talk radio, Fox News and the people who subscribe to such programming. To them, a liberal wants abortion on demand even paid for by taxpayers, free stuff from the government, unmitigated immigration (and not just immigration in general, but specifically immigration from Latin America), and to take everybody's guns.
I don't agree with any of those things. I don't know anyone who does. Not even the Democratic, or liberal, politicians.
I resisted because I've always thought of myself as liberal on some things, conservative on some, libertarian on a few, and mostly independent on everything else.
Over the past year, however, I've leaned toward accepting the term. Several friends have posted memes or other messages as reminders of things liberals stand for: clean air and water, access to quality education, fair and equitable wages, voting rights, civil rights, the separation of church and state, protection of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (which you paid into if you've ever had a paycheck), a free press and an end to institutional discriminatory practices.
I believe in those things.
If that makes me a liberal, so be it.