Thanks to Shakespeare's Sister for pointing out the editorial Geoffrey R. Stone, law professor at the University of Chicago, has in today's Chicago Tribune. The majority of the article is a list of ten things that are central to Liberals.
1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that "time has upset many fighting faiths." Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.Stone acknowledges at the beginning that not every Liberal will embrace all of these tenets and that setting ten as the number is an arbitrary limit. Liberals embrace many varied and on occasion conflicting positions.
2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.)
3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; "one person, one vote;" limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people."
4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as "conservatives," share this value with liberals.)
5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, persons accused of crime and the outcasts of society. It is liberals who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the right to due process of law and the principle of equal protection for all people.
6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare."
7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support government funding for stem-cell research, the rights of gays and lesbians and the freedom of choice for women.
8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.)
9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.
10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. It is liberals who have demanded and continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of innocent people in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: "Those who won our independence ... did not exalt order at the cost of liberty."
Stone ends his editorial with this:
Consider this an invitation. Are these propositions meaningful? Are they helpful? Are they simply wrong? As a liberal, how would you change them or modify the list? As a conservative, how would you draft a similar list for conservatives?I would add this:
- Liberals believe that being a responsible world citizen, both individually and as a nation, furthers life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness both domestically and among all the people in the world.
- Liberals believe that future generations should not be shouldered with the costs of our lives today. Sustainability, protection of the environment, wise use of resources, and the responsible use of public funds is essential to the continued success of our nation and our world.
- Fundamentally, Liberals believe in the absolute equality of individuals. A person's worth is not defined by their wealth, their status, their lineage, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their religion or their nationality. The opportunities, rewards, services and protection of government and laws of the lands must be applied evenly and fairly across the entire population. It is the responsibility of the government to reach out to People and populations that are under-served by the government, to ensure that the people of America are treated equally by both government and in private enterprise.
If by a 'Liberal' they mean 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 - someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad; if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal,' then I'm proud to say I'm a 'Liberal.'Oh, for a Democrat that could stand up and say that today...
Liberals Geoffrey Stone