Don't get me wrong, my family was by no means a bunch of conservative A-holes (okay, some of them are). There were a fair share of off-colored jokes thrown out and the N-word was not unheard of. My uncle taught us what it meant to sit in the "back of the bus" and my father cursed every African American sitcom on the three stations our television got. We bitched about taxes and politicians and city-folk. We complained about Welfare Queens and drag-queens, and my father would have had a stroke if we'd played any music by Queen. But when it came to REAL LIVE people, you've probably never met a more welcoming and unbiased group of people. It didn't matter if your were black, white, brown or purple. It didn't matter if you were married, divorced, or 'living in sin'. It didn't matter if your past was littered with felonies or drunken excursions. When it came to REAL LIVE people what really mattered was the smile on your face, the sparkle in your eyes and the willingness to work hard and be kind to others. As conservative as they were, my family would be the first to stand up for the 'little guy' or speak out about some injustice (great or small). As conservative as they were, my family was surrounded by dear friends of different races, different backgrounds, different finances, different relationships, and very different opinions.
So when the crazies start flapping their yaps and throwing the world "liberal" around as a stereotypical insult it leaves me very torn. Today in America, "liberal" has become a term used to define anyone who thinks the government should fix things for the people. Which is not to say it's an untrue definition. Liberal viewpoints often do center around the government's involvement in making the lives of the people better. Affirmative Action, government funded health care, and same-sex marriage are often hot topics of liberals pushing for equal rights and equal opportunities. My problem is not the 'factual' use of the term. My problem is when people use the term "liberal" (or "conservative") to lump perfectly normal people into a category based solely on the fact that they don't agree with another opinion. I'm often called a liberal. And I admit, I have several liberal opinions and viewpoints that I'm unwilling to compromise. However, on the grand scheme of things, I'm not really as liberal as you most people believe. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for the fact that I have a great fear of the extreme conservative's point of view, I actually lean more towards the conservative side of most topics.
Let's break it down (you may be surprised where I stand):
No shock, it's almost a perfect tie. Throw in the few topics I'm on the fence about and it'd probably split 50/50. It doesn't surprise me one bit actually. In truth, I'm much more astonished by people who are certain they are 100% to one side or another. Because all I really see are the hypocrisies on each side. Namely, how can Conservatives believe government control should be limited and yet believe they should have control over your sex-life, your womb, and your personal privacy? And how can Liberals think that letting the government control EVERYTHING could turn out good? It's utterly BAFFLING to me!
There's one thing that is far more confusing to me than the topic of liberal vs. conservative. We lump people into these categories of liberal and conservative with the stereotype that liberals are sissy's and conservatives are brutes. That liberals are progressive and conservatives are stagnant. That liberals ideas are crazy and conservatives are old-fashioned. We take for granted the fact that this country was founded on the compromise of these two extremes. Without both sides of these debates we would never truly progress as a nation or a society.
Every person in this country who is NOT an English-born, wealthy, white, male owes every freedom they have to Liberals! The very existence of this country owes itself to Liberals! No exception to that. I'm sure when we picture our Founding Fathers we think "conservative" and "old-fashioned" but in their time they were the liberal thinkers. They were the progressive vision! Our very constitution is written on the liberal presumption that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL! A liberal movement abolished slavery. A liberal movement gave women the right to vote. A liberal movement put a man on the moon and every scientific, medical and technological advancement today began as a liberal idea in the mind of someone who dared to think beyond the confines of our tradition views!
And yet America is a country rooted in tradition! It is those time honored traditions that have held us together through two World Wars and countless conflicts. It is the patriotism, the honor, the pride and the determination that this is a country of great minds and great ideas that have made America what it is today. Without some element of conservative thinking we would have flashed like a fire-cracker and burnt ourselves out long ago. Without some element of conservative thinking we would have never expanded this nation to the greatness it is today.
No doubt the Founding Fathers of our country did not all see eye to eye on every topic. They were both Liberals and Conservatives. But they believed in this country. They believed in the core values of how each man (and woman) should be treated. They believed in one vision so strongly that they were able to find a common-ground on which to make the foundation of our nation! Each undoubtedly compromised a bit of their own personal beliefs in order to work together towards a common good.
It is my greatest fear that we will never again see such greatness in this country. It is my greatest fear that we will forever be a nation torn between "Liberals" and "Conservatives", Republicans and Democrats until we are so far from a middle ground that we tear the country we all love right down the middle.
Every great change in this country is the product of great compromise. Slavery may have been abolished in an act of war but it took great people making great compromises to change the mindset of an entire nation and reach the point we are today. The same can be said for women's suffrage and any other progressive movement in history. And for each change, today you will still find extreme liberals who say we have not yet progressed far enough and extreme conservatives who cannot accept the change. Yet for the most part we are a stronger, more united nation because of the compromises made by each side.
So the next time you think about throwing out that stereotype or judging people based on a difference of opinion perhaps you should take a moment to consider your own ideas. Chances are you don't fit the mold of one side or another. You may be Pro-Life but perhaps you support Gay Marriage. You may totally hate the Welfare System and those who abuse it, but believe we should support our public schools. I challenge you to take one step (even if you can only manage a small step) towards that middle ground. I challenge you to do whatever you can to bring an end to this division that tears our country further apart each and every day.
Author's Note: This post was inspired by the fact that I was not "offended enough" by a picture of someone walking on the American flag. While I was offended and admitted it was disrespectful, I stated it was that person's right to be an asshole and his actions could not diminish what the flag stood for. Based on this statement I was deemed a "Liberal" who didn't stand for anything. While I understand the outrage at his actions I do not understand why people lash out at others who see things differently. I do not understand why we allow one person's actions to create such a rift between us and anyone who doesn't think exactly the same way we do. My love for my country, the military, and what the American flag stands for is no less than that of the other person. Essentially we have the same values. And yet because I viewed it as the act of one idiot being disrespectful rather than being appalled by the disgrace to my nation (it is a reflection of the person, not my country, my flag, or the soldiers) there is now this unnecessary division between us. We need to stop allowing petty differences to divide us as a society. We need to focus on the core beliefs that hold us together and not allow the ridiculous and stupid actions (and words) of fanatics to divide us further apart.