A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

‘Liberals’ come in from the cold

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 16, 17 or 18

A decade ago, when a reporting colleague suffering his newspaper’s short-sighted retrenchment heard that my son planned to major in journalism, he said, “What are you telling people instead? That he’s opening a meth lab?”

Likewise, there was a time when conservative Republicans bullied some Americans into hiding their political preferences except in the privacy of the voting booth, so folks became reluctant to say they were liberal or progressive.

Times change.

Americans have, too, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Progressive values also are gaining acceptance in the campaign rhetoric of Democratic presidential candidates Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and even Hillary Clinton. But none of them – nor any Republican presidential candidate, for that matter – is drawing the crowds that self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is attracting to his appearances across the country. Some right-wingers (and lately, Clinton surrogates) are warning Sanders and progressive supporters that the Democratic Party is moving too far toward the left.

However, as recent Gallup shows, it’s not these politicians – nor liberal stalwarts such as Elizabeth Warren or Keith Ellison, much less a few U.S. Supreme Court Justices– who are leading the charge.

Americans themselves have changed.

EverydayAmericans are worried about income inequality and climate change; oppose discrimination and money’s influence in politics; want improved Social Security and public education; favor restoring meaningful regulations on Wall Street and Big Banks; support reforming immigration and law enforcement; don’t worry much about marijuana use or others’ religious faiths; are suspicious of trade policies and foreign military adventures; don’t think pre-marital sex, homosexuality or divorce is damning…

A Gallup poll released this spring confirms this shift.

For the first time since 1999, when pollsters starting tracking public opinion on such social issues, the percentage of Americans self-identifying as “liberals” equaled those who called themselves “conservatives.”

Apart from the reality that many self-identified conservatives also share progressive values concerning topics such as financial wrongdoing, privacy issues and equal pay for equal work, the increase is dramatic.

Sixteen years ago, Gallup polls showed that “conservatives” outnumbered “liberals” two-to-one, some probably shying away from the stigma of the term, an attack created during the post-Reagan Bush years (including “New Democrat” Bill Clinton’s administration).

But people evolved, or maybe just started standing up and owning up to their preferences, caring more about certain issues than about what trolls or other critics say.

Poll results that show that most people aren’t totally permissive when it comes to pornography, or comfortable with abortion, or advocate spendthrift economics aren’t proof of hypocrisy or inconsistency as much as a reflection that many Americans are less ideological than logical, or empathetic.

John F. Kennedy in 1960 described a liberal as “someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties.”

Many self-described conservatives also fit that definition, of course. However, the extremists who control conservatives’ main media messages – from talk radio and Fox News to leadership on Capitol Hill and the Ship of Fools that carries the 15-and-counting GOP presidential candidates – don’t look to be appealing to regular Americans. Instead, they seem to be competing for the most-conservative label, outdoing each other to see who can be the best-funded (if least electable).

They’re trying to be More Conservative than Thou to ingratiate themselves to billionaire campaign contributors, or to appeal to Republican primary voters, who in many states can be disproportionately religious and socially conservative. It’s “a Republican electorate that isn’t necessarily where the rest of the country is – or is going – on religiosity and social liberalism,” said Charles Blow in the New York Times.

But the polls demonstrate where we’re at, so – as it’s said – “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

[PICTURED: Illustration from]

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