My friends and family, most of whom are quite conservative, tend to wonder a lot just how it is that I became "so dern liberal" considering I was raised by very Republican Texas parents who taught me to know better. Therefore, I offer some insight here into why some of us liberals think the way we do.
To me, one can begin to understand the difference between liberalism and conservatism by taking a good look at what’s inside the words themselves. A “liberal” believes that he’s in favor of promoting “liberty” or freedom. That is, freedom from oppression, freedom from old ways of thinking, and freedom from the constraints of mob rule. A “conservative” on the other hand tends to promote “conservation”—not necessarily of nature, as we usually understand the word today, but of change. A conservative tends to believe that because he or she was better off in the past, the less we try to change in America, the better.
Along with those very basic foundations of principle, other viewpoints have been added along the way to these very dichotomous belief systems. Nowadays, conservatives usually promote lower taxes and lower spending, as well as constraints on social activities that they consider to be aberrant from the norm. Most notably, conservatives embrace the old theory of trickledown economics: keep taxes low on the wealthy while otherwise finding ways to keep the rich happy, and eventually they’ll shower their largesse down on the masses.
Liberals, on the other hand, tend to go in the opposite direction. They often espouse a belief in what might be termed “social justice.” Liberals argue that the best way to maintain a healthy economy is to implement systems that inhibit large amounts of wealth from trickling up. To a liberal, economies are driven from the bottom, so the money supply needs to be plentiful near the ground. Liberals also tend to fight against any type of legal pressure to conform to whatever “norms” are commonly approved by the majority. This is why liberals are more likely to support the ideas of gay marriage or medical marijuana. They simply don’t believe that they should have the moral authority to dictate to someone else through law how they should live their lives, unless it diminishes the rights of others in a real way.
Above all, I would say that for me the economic issue is the driving force behind my progressive stance. Both sides of the political aisle want a robust economy, but they each approach it in very different ways. If the economy were likened to a fruit tree, I believe that conservatives would pray for rain while liberals would go buy mulch.
I think much of my political attitude comes from working more than a decade in Human Resources. I’ve spent years dealing firsthand with desperate job seekers begging for a chance to work. I’ve handed tissues to an emotional, out-of-work widow pleading with me to hire her as a cashier for $7.25 so that she wouldn’t have to lose her house. She had already sold her deceased husband’s prized motorcycle and was running out of things to sell in order to make ends meet. I’ve seen the trembling chins of former factory workers, desperate to get a minimum wage job before they end up on the streets. Conservatives often like to make themselves out to be the party of Christian principles, and to me, these are the very people that Jesus told us to care about.
Even the few people that I was able to hire out of the crowds who showed up to my hiring events often remained desperate after gaining employment. As much as I sometimes struggle to cover my own unexpected needs on my single but decent income, how does someone with two children do it while earning only a third of my salary? They may even earn less than that, as a non-skilled worker often isn’t guaranteed a certain minimum number of hours each week. And working a second job can be difficult or impossible to manage when you can’t be sure what next week’s schedule will be.
I believe that conservatives often oversimplify problems, while in reality, situations can be very complex and should be looked at from every angle before approaching a solution. It’s easy to say that a poor person is only poor because they won’t work, because they got pregnant too young, or because they didn’t take school seriously when they had the chance. And to be fair, that’s sometimes true. But to think that the solution is to yank the rug out from under everyone who would dare to ask the public for help does a grave injustice to those that don’t fit the standard consevative accusation of lethargy. For every welfare mother content to crank out another baby to increase the amount of her free government check, there is another who has fallen on hard times and is desperate to get her life back on track.
No matter what we do in terms of public policy, there will always be a certain subculture that takes pride in finding ways to avoid self-improvement and labor. These are the people that we might agree to call “bad": the ones that find unscrupulous doctors to certify imaginary disabilities so that they can simply stay home. If we were to suddenly eliminate the support system for all these deadbeats, which would probably be fair to do, how would they react? Would they allow themselves to starve? Could we expect that they’d all suddenly go out, apply for jobs, be interviewed, and get hired within a week or two? It’s more likely that they would turn to crime, as crime is often the final resort of the desperate. It is my belief that if we were to completely eliminate welfare or severely reduce it, no one would be happy living in the world that this would create for us. Even as today there are certain parts of any major city that you would prefer to avoid for the sake of your own safety, in the world after welfare, entire swaths of the urban landscape would become off limits for the well-to-do. Better that we find ways to incentivize work and punish dishonest doctors than to take the easy way and just cut everyone off.
As for getting welfare recipients to work, I’ve conducted hundreds, if not thousands of job interviews during my time, and I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that some people are simply unemployable. An executive at a company that I used to work for once told me, "When the unemployment rate is below 5%, that means everyone that's worth a damn already has a job." There are some out there whose personalities, skills, and intelligence will never allow them to become successful earners. If we don’t ensure that they have at least a basic existence with food on the table, they may end up taking things from random sources through force and violence. When “nothing” becomes the answer to “what have I got to lose?” it becomes very easy for one to consider in seriousness the more nefarious means of survival: theft and violence.
Even most conservatives will admit that some good people will actually need a little help from time to time. To get aid to the genuinely needy poor, many conservatives argue that rather than taxing the wealthy, we should let the rich keep their money so that they can give to the charities of their choice. This is a disingenuous proposition, for anyone willing to be honest would have to admit that the wealthy simply would not usually donate in the amounts needed. Neither would the middle class. If your taxes were cut, do you believe that you would really go down to the food bank every month and write them a check for $500? If I’m to be honest, then I have to admit that I doubt I would. Most of us are simply not capable of that level of altruism when it means cutting into the things that we could instead provide for ourselves: a bigger television, a nicer sofa, a new pair of shoes, and so on. This is why the government must do it for us.
As for trickledown economics, the main reason I believe this theory is dead wrong is that many of the wealthiest among us simply don’t dig very deeply into their hoards of wealth in order to spread it around by spending it. Sure, cutting taxes on the wealthy makes capital available to start new businesses, but how many of them actually do? Conservatives oftentimes say that they’re all in favor of helping the small businessperson, but who is that really? I think it’s the guy down the street trying to run a convenience store while keeping it safe from robberies, or the woman who just took out a small business loan to open a new diner in a small town. Increasing the wealth of the truly rich through tax breaks will not help a typical small businessperson in any way. The wealthy are already gassing up their giant cars at convenience stores, eating at expensive restaurants, and paying someone to mow their lawns for them. On the other hand, if you increase minimum wage and otherwise find ways to put more money into the hands of the poor, then they will begin to eat out and gas up their vehicles, whereas before, they simply couldn’t afford to leave the house. This opens up new markets and leads to new businesses, and eventually, greater wealth for the rich and the middle class.
You see, the poor usually pump their money into the economy because they have to. If we start the money flow from the other end of the wealth spectrum, it tends to get plugged up somehwere near the top. The wealthy often just use their extra income to buy a bigger mansion or more stocks and bonds, causing the money supply to largely remain between them and the banking system. It's a cruel deception when Republican politicians tell conservative followers that the wealthy should be catered to because they are job creators. Why create new jobs if the employees that you hire are going to get paid to stand around with no work to do? There's no incentive to invest in new business unless there's a customer base that requires it, and jobs will not get created until current employees can no longer handle the work load.
It bothers me to know that the bottom 50% of our country only controls 2.5% of its wealth. Yes, statistics are easy to pick from when you need evidence to support your side of the argument, and conservatives do this all the time. They love to point out that the top x% pay y% of the tax burden, and so on, but they never check to see how much income x actually earns or just how much wealth x already has. The US has one of the most inequitable distributions of wealth in the civilized world. So the bottom half of the country pays no taxes? Well, most of them simply can’t. I’d like to do my part to help them get to a place where they can.
So now you have some idea as to why I'm as liberal as I am. With any luck, a few conservatives might read this and begin to come around to my side. Doubtful.