Speaking yesterday to a friend of mine, they said, "If you were running in a general election I'd vote for you, but not in the primary. I'd want someone more middle of the road."
I got to thinking about what that comment meant. They were talking about electability, of course, and in specific how liberal issues and causes have become a third rail for American office seekers. The left runs to the middle to avoid being tarred by the right, while the right runs unashamedly further to the right.
In effect, this is the true legacy of Ronald Reagan -- he and his strategists succeeded in redefining the spectrum, moving what is thought of as the center far, far to the right. Go back and look at Richard Nixon some time. I'm not talking about the insanity for which he is best remembered, but at his actual governance. That Republican created the Environmental Protection Agency. Think about that for a moment. (And no, I come neither to praise Nixon nor to bury him, just to point out how much things have changed in the decades since. Try to imagine any contemporary Republican politician doing such a thing.)
So one of my frustrations as a liberal and a humanist is that our causes have become dirty words in public discourse, frightening our politicians and donors away from running on what we really stand for. The right seems free to agitate for prayer in school, medical restrictions on women's health (I won't dignify that anti-abortion movement with it's soi-disant label, since by so many common sense metrics they are very much against any reasonable right to life), the narrowing of public discourse and the closing of the American mind the name of distorted interpretations of Christian thought -- you name it, they're out there in the media, the pulpit, the school board meeting, the mall and the voting booth calling for it.
But let a moderate or a liberal talk about gun control or a rational healthcare finance policy or global warming or reproductive sanity, and we are lost.
I want our side to stand up as vocally for what we believe in as the other side does, for the simple reason that we are right, and they are wrong. Don't want an abortion? Don't have one. Disapprove of gay sex? Be sure to date outside your gender. Solutions to their fears are encompassed within our solutions. The reverse is emphatically not true. The solutions of conservative America have increasingly become exclusive of, even punitive to, anyone who falls outside their fold.
At the heart, it's a matter of permissiveness as opposed to restrictiveness. "Permissive", like "liberal", has been turned into a dirty word these past decades.
It's not. Permisiveness means freedom. Permisssiveness means choice. And my liberal values permissively include conservative ones, however wrong-headed I might personally find them to be. The conservative movement does not extend me the same courtesy, at least not through their choice of elected officials, party platforms and public rhetoric.
To put it more simply, when presented with a disagreement, a liberal will generally say, "You know, you might have a point." The conservative says, "I know, you're wrong." In our society, certitude sells. As a nation, we don't do nuance.
And so electability has come to mean a turning away from our beliefs and core values, a catering to the hatred and fear and paranoia that have become pervasive in Bush-era conservatism. Their hate and fear will always shout louder than our permissive, inclusive ways.
It's long past time for us to proclaim our own message, with pride, with volume.
(For what it's worth, without exception my conservative friends are reasonable, thoughtful, humane people. Yet somehow, those characteristics in them individually have been completely lost in the expression of their votes and their ideology.)