Democrats have moved so far to the left in recent years that they should no longer be called “liberals,” unless the true liberals among them start to stand up to the leftists who have taken over. The term is misleading, giving the impression that Democrats support individual freedoms and accept people of different viewpoints, when increasingly they do not. The word “liberal” gives yet more power to those who seek to take more of our liberties.
Right-leaning publications often use the term “liberal” when “leftist” would be better. On the other hand, left-leaning newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times like to use the word “liberal” to describe their own illiberal political views. It obfuscates how Democrats and their media allies have become more extreme, supporting censorship, authoritarianism, and racial division: Twitter staff who denied conservatives their right to free speech and eagerly complied with censorship demands from the federal government were described by the Post as milquetoast “liberal employees.” MSNBC says those pushing the tyranny of wokeness are just naughty-sounding “liberal rascals.”
To see how so-called liberals view themselves, we can look at The New York Times review earlier this year of Michael Walzer’s book “What Does It Mean to Be Liberal?” The book concludes the word is “an adjective, describing a state of mind common to people who think of themselves as liberals: ‘open-minded, generous and tolerant,’” according to the review.
It’s almost laughable. Does “tolerant” describe people who try to “cancel” those of different views, shouting them down, encircling their homes, and calling them disparaging names? Is it “open-minded” to try to force people to use so-called preferred pronouns as part of a transgender agenda? Or to block or hide conservatives’ social media accounts? Crisis pregnancy centers have been firebombed. A Christian cake artist in Colorado is still defending his right not to make a cake that celebrates transgenderism. Conservative scholars have even been physically attacked on college campuses. Last week, students at Stanford University disrupted a conservative judge’s speech with heckling.
It’s correct that the dictionary defines “liberal” as “open-minded” and “broad-minded.” But that’s hardly the right word for people who do not tolerate conservatives’ views on Covid-19 policies, abortion, climate change, transgenderism, and much else — this despite the fact there’s a growing consensus that state-mandated lockdowns don’t work, and that plying children with cross-sex hormones and cutting off their body parts is bad for their physical and mental health.
Walzer notes that so-called liberals don’t always manage to achieve their aspirations to be open-minded and tolerant. The Times’ article acknowledges, “That’s the idea, anyway, but we live in a world in which the illiberal right — and increasingly the left — no longer accept difference as legitimate.” But the conflation here is a lie; the right isn’t pushing for censorship or shouting down campus speakers. And it’s not just a few extremists within the ranks but the leadership of the Democrats who are condoning intimidation tactics and destruction of property — Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer among them.
Democrats Headed Further Leftward
As the Times notes, the left is “increasingly” intolerant. Part of why “liberal” no longer works to describe Democrats is the party has moved leftward, as many have noted, including The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, comedian and commentator Bill Maher, and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in her State of the Union response.
Since at least 2020, Noonan wrote, Democrats “have aligned with or allowed themselves to be associated with … the identity politics-wokeness regime. (It’s amazing we still don’t have an agreed upon word or phrase that fully captures this program.)” That regime consists of transgenderism, climate alarmism, and so-called anti-racism. “The Democrats are the party of the left. Progressive pathologies morph into Democratic ideologies, tagging the party as radical. Why do the Democrats allow this to continue? Why don’t they push back, hard — as a party?”
Maher makes a similar observation: “There is that faction of the left, that we will call woke, who’s gone off the deep end,” as he described it. As Maher told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week, the woke “want to shut down debate,” and that’s how they differ from his idea of a liberal. The woke “love diversity except of ideas.” Asked to define wokeism, Maher said, “I think it’s this collection of ideas that are not building on liberalism, but very often undoing it.”
Maher, Noonan, and Sanders all use the word “woke” to describe leftists, but it’s too vague a term. Noonan notes that term doesn’t quite nail it, and Maher says it’s “broad.” Meanwhile, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says “woke” is still considered slang and has two definitions, one that a leftist would consider positive and another negative. The first is “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)” and the second, “disapproving: politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.”
Dems Are Not the Dictionary Definition of ‘Liberal’
The term “liberal” has some additional definitions that also don’t fit Democrats. Liberalism “emphasizes individual autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the protection of individual rights (primarily to life, liberty, and property),” the Encyclopedia Britannica explains. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines liberals as “standing for the protection of political and civil liberties” and “not bound by authoritarianism.”
Should those Americans who have supported censorship, lockdowns, masking, and vaccine mandates be described as protecting individual autonomy and rights?
On a simple level, “liberal” sounds like the related word “liberty.” It shouldn’t be used to describe those who are against basic rights. Of course, “liberal” already has a negative connotation to many, but it still has many positive associations.
On a philosophical level, the word “liberal” is a bad fit for Democrats because the evolution of its meaning creates confusion. When the term was first used in politics in the 18th century, it referred to what we now call “classical liberals,” who regard the state as the primary threat to individual freedom. (Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, recently characterized himself as a “classical liberal.”) “Liberal” is also confusing because it has little in common with laissez-faire “economic liberals,” who want limited regulation of the economy. That’s why some people specify that they’re “social liberals,” not economic liberals.
‘Leftist’ Is a Better Term
In contrast, a “leftist” is “usually characterized by desire to reform or overthrow the established order,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. This is an apt description of the divisive “critical race theory” and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” that teaches a misreading of our nation’s founding and society and is infiltrating schools, universities, and the workplace.
This definition also describes those who are breaking down our society with a transgender ideology that erases the boundaries of male versus female, requiring females to compete with biological men who identify as women and to share bathrooms and locker rooms with them.
“Leftist” sounds like the climate alarmism being used to radically restructure our society, and the push to take away parental rights in schools.
Another definition of leftists, from the Cambridge Dictionary, says they believe “wealth and power should be shared between all parts of society” and “governments should provide a higher level of social services and support laws to bring about greater economic and social equality.”
Democrats under President Biden have massively increased government spending, contributing to record national debt. They have tried, but failed, to create universal preschool and expand government housing. They are pushing for student loan forgiveness.
Hard to Capture in One Word
“Leftist” is a better descriptive than “liberal,” but it should be noted that political beliefs don’t really exist on a neat spectrum of “left” and “right” and are difficult to capture in one word.
In addition to “woke,” “the left,” and “radical,” Noonan used the word “progressive.” It’s not as good a word as “leftist” because it implies progress is being made. In fact, Democrat politicians have increasingly been using the word “progressive” to describe themselves.
The donkey in the room here is that we call Democrats by that name, giving leftists a word associated with democracy, a word most Americans see in a positive light. But dropping “Democrat” as a term is not as easy as with “liberal,” given its use by the Democrat Party.
Freedom-loving Americans should not give leftists the power of the word “liberal.” Even the term “leftist” is generous to describe people who want to silence those with whom they disagree.