Thinking About Being a Liberal

I participated in the Democratic caucus yesterday. In Minnesota it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party. Because Minnesota now has a presidential primary in addition to the caucus the primary function was to select delegates for the next level of party nomination and platform-setting business and to solicit resolutions for the party platform.

This has prompted me to think about what it means to me to be a liberal. For me, it really comes down to this quote from Paul Wellstone. “We all do better when we all do better.” I believe through government we can most efficiently pool our resources and provide equitable assistance to everyone so all have an opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our constitution allows us to make the government whatever we want, being of the people, for the people, and by the people. So, we should be able to make it work for all.

This does not mean that I think “half the people should get a bunch of free stuff while the other half works hard so the government can take their money and give it to them.” This is a condemning description of liberalism I have seen floating around social media. I don’t know any liberals who believe this. This is built on a false assumptions going back to the “welfare queen” stereotype of the 80s and 90s. I don’t know anyone who would choose to live in poverty on limited government assistance just so they didn’t have to work. And I bet you don’t either if you really think about it. If this were the case there’d be a lot more wealthy and middle class individuals who’d give up their daily grind of work to live the life of luxury of a “welfare queen.” It isn’t a life of luxury. Plus, (nearly) everyone wants to have purpose and be useful.

Yes, no matter the system there will always be those who commit fraud and try and milk any system involving money–from welfare cheats to hedge-fund managers. But we shouldn’t deny a safety net to all because of the illegal activities of a few, just like we shouldn’t suspend trading on Wall Street because a small percentage engage in insider trading.

I do believe that it is unconscionable that in a society with our collective wealth and resources that we have individuals going hungry, without shelter, proper education, or health care, and therefore not able to participate fully in the “American dream.” In this country the top 1% holds about 38% of the wealth, the next 9% holds an equal amount, leaving the remaining 24% to be shared by the remaining 90% of individuals. This kind of inequity is unethical and unsustainable. Currently, a significant segment of our population lives paycheck to paycheck and maintaining shelter, having minimal food, and access to healthcare is a day-to-day, all-consuming struggle for survival funded by piecing together sub-standard paying, part-time employment. Working full time should provide enough income to live comfortably and with dignity above the poverty line.

I believe that we still have significant racism in this country and systemic racism still contributes to wealth and resource inequity and we have a responsibility to work to correct for the fact that this country was in large part built by slave labor on conquered land. This doesn’t mean I think I’m a bad person because I’m white and benefit from this systemic inequity. It does mean that it is wrong to ignore or perpetuate this inequity.

I believe in gun control, meaning I believe in the second amendment as written, not as interpreted currently. I think that the word “regulated” is there purposefully. Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to come and take your guns. However, I don’t accept that we are all going to be safer when more of us are conducting our daily business packing heat. I think we have the right as a society to decide that we want to regulate and control who has access to weapons designed for one purpose–to kill fellow humans. We regulate how many shells a duck hunter can put in their weapon. We should provide victims of mass shootings the same chance for survival as a duck.

Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to abort pregnancies and kill fetuses. My preference would be that there is never another abortion. But, I do believe a woman should have complete control over what happens to their body. I also know that we reduce abortions most effectively by preventing pregnancy and providing proper reproductive healthcare to all, not by criminalizing it. And I don’t know any liberals who support practices as has been described by President Trump of delivering a baby and then deciding if it should live or not, or even late-term abortions purely for reasons of not wanting to continue the pregnancy. For God’s sake, we’re not monsters.

And speaking of God, I believe all have the right to pray whenever and wherever they want (even in school). I also believe in the right to not pray or worship a specific God at the behest of the government. Freedom of religion means complete freedom to practice or not practice a religion. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to use one’s religion to discriminate against or mandate behavior and practice to another.

I believe that no one succeeds all on their own. Those with tremendous wealth have (possibly) earned it, but have done so within the system of our government, economy, and infrastructure which has contributed to that wealth acquisition. Our capitalist democracy contains many significant aspects of accepted socialism. We should embrace those that enhance everyone’s pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness and reject those that do not. I believe that we will all do better when we all can do better and fully participate in the economy. I believe economy trickles up, not down.

Being a liberal means I believe that we have a moral responsibility to care for one another and treat each other with dignity, respect, and humanely. We all have the same value as a human beings despite the circumstances and place of our birth, upbringing, or cultural origin.

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