The Liberal Who Didn't Like Liberals

Copyright (c) 2016 by Kenny Felder

Because I'm going to spend most of this essay trashing liberals, I feel the need to start by establishing my liberal credentials. If you want more, I wrote an essay in 2008 in which I tried to articulate the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives in the US. Then I rated myself, and I was actually surprised at how consistently I found myself on the left.

But with all that, I find it increasingly difficult to call myself a "liberal." I read stories and editorials from mostly-liberal media sources, I watch Facebook posts from my mostly-liberal friends, and I find myself wincing. Occasionally I voice my disagreement, more often I remain silent. (Believe it or not.) So here I'm going to lay out some of the things I see from liberals—over and over—that just don't make sense to me.

The trends I am about to discuss do not characterize all liberals all the time. Every time I use the word "liberals" in this essay, please understand that I mean "many but not all liberals." But these trends are so common, and so characteristic, that I find it harder and harder to identify the left wing as "my side."

Privilege-Baiting and Racism-Baiting

The ultimate liberal answer to any argument is "That's easy for you to say, you white male straight privileged Protestant middle-aged middle-class American-born Eurocentric abled cisgendered cishet, you, you person, you!" Many readers may want to hurl such epithets (or worse) at me throughout this essay.

Of course there's a lot of truth to it. Most of those words do apply to me. Those categories have given me benefits that I did not earn in any way, and have helped shape the person I am and the views I have.

But none of that invalidates my opinions. Even a little. If you disagree with my opinions, you have to argue against them, not against me. Again and again (and again and again and again) I see liberals playing "privilege" as a trump card. Part of the reason is that attacking the speaker on purely demographic grounds is easier than refuting arguments. But this goes beyond even that—for an increasing number of people, the demographic attack feels more substantial than the issues themselves.

After you call me privileged, the next step is to call me racist. (Or sexist, homophobic, etc, but I'll focus on racism as my example.)

Once again let me start by acknowledging the truth here: racism is very real, it has always been very real, and it's a huge problem. One form of racism, Islamophobia, seems to be precipitously on the rise. It is a Good Thing and an Important Thing for us to seek out and combat racism in all its forms.

But I frequently see accusations of racism being thrown around as complete non-sequiturs. For instance, when one of Obama's detractors called him a "crybaby," people screamed that this was terribly racist in the tradition of infantilizing black men. I Googled dozens of other examples of politicians calling their opponents crybabies, spoiled children, whiny brats, and so on. These metaphors are used by Republicans to describe Democrats, and by Democrats to describe Republicans, of every possible color and creed. Such a tactic may be unsportsmanlike, but it's not about race. A lot of issues are not about race.

I recently posted the following question to Facebook: "Please 'Comment' on this post with your favorite evidence that Donald Trump is racist and/or sexist." Here are some of the answers I got that don't seem like evidence. (Yes, I'm cherry-picking: some of the answers did seem to me like good evidence, and I'm not quoting those. My point is just to show how often people see racism and sexism where I don't.)

I could go on and on—maybe I already have—but let me sum up. For many liberals today, "You're so racist" and "You're so sexist" are the easiest ways to win any argument. No matter how irrelevant those accusations are, they give the speaker the high ground, put the opponent on the defensive, and conveniently sidestep any facts or issues that may have been brought out.

I keep re-reading this section and thinking about how people are going to misinterpret what I'm saying. I desperately want to be clear here. Privilege is real and unequal, and it should be acknowledged. Racism is real and destructive, and it should be fought.

But I see liberals doing three separate-but-related things that really bother me.

  1. They attack the speaker as "privileged" or "bigoted" as a substitute for actually showing why he is wrong.

  2. They find racism and sexism in a host of issues that, it seems to me, have nothing to do with race or sex.

  3. The net result is that, for many issues that deserve rational and respectful debate, they instead wind up in a self-righteous mud-slinging contest.
Most of us would never say to someone "You are a liar" unless we had a really good reason to believe that this person tells lies. It's a serious accusation, and it should not be made lightly. But "you are a racist" is just as serious an accusation: it means "you believe that people of another race are inferior to people of your race, and should not be given equal treatment." That's ugly. By all means say it if it's true, but don't throw it around every time someone disagrees with you.

Protection from Dangerous Ideas

In 1978 the ACLU defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, where many Holocaust survivors lived. They stood for a free market of ideas—an ideal that used to be considered extremely liberal.

But today's liberals, especially on college campuses, consider conservative ideas too toxic to be spoken or heard. They want to make sure that conservatives are never hired as professors or brought in as speakers. Some comedians (such as Seinfeld) have publically said they will not work on college campuses because the students are too intolerant. Liberal students around the country are demanding their right to be shielded from opinions they might deem racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive.

I think this is absolutely terrifying.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is a (thank goodness) liberal who has spoken out on these issues, first at and then in a follow-up at I urge you to read both articles, but in case you don't, here's a remarkable statistic: "30% of academics said that they would be less likely to support a job seeker if they knew that the person was a Republican."

Despite my ACLU opening, I don't frame the current issues in terms of the first amendment and free speech. No one has the constitutional right to be hired by a college, as a professor or a speaker. But I believe that conservative ideas should be discussed and debated, not silenced, on college campuses. I believe that college students are not so delicate that they will be permanently damaged by hearing controversial ideas. More importantly, I believe that college should help students engage with controversial ideas. I would like students to be able to soberly consider the strengths and weaknesses of Mein Kampf—while never forgetting the horrors of the Holocaust. Aristotle said "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Today's colleges are doing the opposite, methodically training students to be ever more offended, frightened, and intolerant. It's deliberate anti-education.

Immigration (specifically) and Feel-Good Platitudes (more generally)

Immigration is not a "Kenny" issue. I know it's important, but—like health care and many other big issues—I don't have a solution or a strong opinion of my own. I want to talk about it here as a specific illustration of the liberal approach in general.

You're very likely to hear some or all of the following bon mots any time the topic comes up.

"We are a nation of immigrants." (or "We all immigrated from somewhere" or some cute remark about illegal European immigrants who shoulda been kicked out by the Indians 500 years ago.)

"Immigrants make diversity, and diversity makes America great."

"No person is illegal."

And of course, "Anyone who wants to crack down on immigration is a racist."

Some of these arguments don't address anything at all, and some of them would be fine arguments against "We should never let anyone immigrate to our country"—which no one is saying. None of them answers the questions at hand.

So let's talk about the questions at hand. As I see it, we have four options.

  1. Open up the borders completely. Anyone who wants to come here, and who can get here, is welcome. I think this would have consequences that would be particularly uncomfortable for liberals: a glut in the labor market would lead to higher unemployment and lower wages. Of course I may be wrong, but don't jump there because you want me to be wrong. Are you really that confident? Are you willing to live with the risk?

  2. Have some restrictions on immigration, but don't really enforce them. After all, those poor people just want a chance, etc. But be aware that you really mean "those poor people who are lucky enough to live in or near Mexico." The poor people in Turkey also just want a chance, but it's a lot harder for them to sneak in. Lax enforcement means we cannot decide who to let in based on their skills, desperation, diversity, or any other criteria other than physical proximity. It is very fundamentally unfair.

  3. Try our best to enforce the immigration restrictions at the point of entry—but once you're in, you (or maybe just your children who were born here) can stay and become citizens. This is perhaps where we are now, and it may be the worst of all possible worlds. Tell a desperate mother than you will do everything in your power to keep her out, but that sneaking in will guarantee a better life for her children, and what's she going to do? She's going to hide in an oil barrel on a leaky boat, she's going to pay her life savings to a "coyote" (an immigration smuggler) who may betray her, she's going to do anything and everything—no matter how dangerous—to get in.

  4. Get draconian. Strict laws, enforced as strictly as possible, with rapid deportation for anyone discovered and no amnesty. This means sending people—good, hard-working people who are contributing to the American economy while raising their wonderful children—back to countries where they may well starve to death.
Once again I'm thinking about how this might be misinterpreted. The most obvious leap would be "Kenny is trying to corner me into seeing that Number 4 (draconian enforcement) is the best or only option." Totally wrong. If I had to choose right now, which I'm glad I don't, I sort of lean toward Number 1 (wide open borders). But that isn't the point either.

My specific point is that, whether you agree with my description of the four options or not, I'm discussing the issue. The platitudes I listed before my four options do not discuss the issue. They do not shed light on our options or their consequences. And yet they come up with monotonous regularity.

Why? Because they frame the issue as "liberals care about the poor and the dispossessed, and conservatives don't." That's my general point, and immigration is just one convenient example. Maybe liberals are more broadly compassionate than conservatives—more willing to help people who are not like themselves, don't look like themselves, are not in the same situation as themselves. Maybe. But even if that's true, stop smugly congratulating yourselves about it and start making your case.

Transgenders (specifically) and Over-the-Top Self-Righteousness (more generally)

Here is the liberal position as I understand it. (If you are a liberal who believes that I am mischaracterizing the consensus, please let me know. My goal in this part is to be fair and accurate.)
The Position: If a person declares "I am a woman" then that person is a woman. That person may have a y-chromosome, a penis, and a beard. That person may be no more capable of bearing or nursing a child than of hatching an egg. That person may or may not have gone through hormone treatments, reconstructive surgery, or implants. Absolutely none of that matters: once the sentence "I am a woman" is uttered, that's a woman, and must be treated as such in all personal, business, legal, and governmental ways.
You might be surprised to hear this, but I don't have a particular problem with that position. It's fine with me, pretty much. What I have a huge, huge problem with is the attitude that generally accompanies that position. (This part is not entirely fair: I'm deliberately exaggerating/caricaturing to illustrate how you sound to me.)
The Attitude: People have always had the right to declare their own sex at will, and I just can't believe anyone would be so discriminatory as to try to take that right away. It's one of those fundamental rights, just as important as the ones guaranteed in the Constitution—hell, it probably is in the Constitution somewhere. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a bigot who secretly cheers for the Westboro Baptist Church.
I saw much the same attitude when gay marriage happened, more or less overnight.1 It confounds and bewilders me.

As far as I know, the right to declare your own sex has never been recognized by our society, and has been recognized by incredibly few if any societies in human history. If it's a good idea, we should rush forward to embrace it as new progress toward utopia, a futuristic vision like self-driving cars. When people object, we should try to get them to see how great it would be to have such a liberal society. We should not cry aghast "How could you possibly think that?" We should not accuse them of believing things they do not actually believe. We should not compare them to Nazis.

Joyce made a fascinating point when she read an early draft of this essay. Let's say you're talking to a moderate; someone who can't quite decide which bathroom a biologically-male-but-female-identified-person should use. If you call that person a bigot, you lose any chance you might have had of swaying that person to your side. You shut down the discussion, and all your well-honed arguments will be lost. You help the other side.

I brought up the transgender thing to make a more general point about self-righteousness. But as I look back, self-righteousness is the underlying theme of this entire essay. I didn't realize that when I started.

If someone says "black people should not be given a good education," I hope I will be the first to call that person out as a racist.2 But if someone opposes affirmative action I am not outraged or offended, although I might try to explain why I think affirmative action is important. In other words I distinguish between "terrible racist comments" and "positions I disagree with," and I don't treat them the same. I don't assume (or pretend) that "I want college admission to be color-blind" is actually a secret code for "I want to keep black people down."

And I try to make sure I'm responding to what people actually say—or even better, to what they do—rather than to something I'm making up. Like the made-up Donald Trump comment I quoted earlier, which I'll bet you've heard before, that all Mexicans are rapists. Doesn't Trump say enough actual bigoted, mean, and stupid things that we don't need to make up extra ones he didn't say?

Hillary isn't immune to the same tactic. Black Lives Matter protestor Ashley Williams disrupted a fundraiser to say "You called black people super predators" and "I am not a super predator, Hillary Clinton." I think Ms. Williams knows that Hillary never said any such thing. She called gangs predators. (Not even all gangs, but some gangs.) You can read her actual quote in this Daily Kos article. But you'll also see that this same article, which clearly quotes what she actually said, nonetheless accuses Hillary of tagging all "urban youth" as predators. Apparently the Daily Kos thinks all urban youth are gang members; shouldn't we be offended?

Once again, I'm mentioning these examples because they typify a strategy I see every day: quoting words that someone never actually said, and then calling out the racism or sexism of those imaginary words. The attitude seems to be "I know you never actually said that, but I could tell you meant it." That's not only ugly; it also makes me suspect that you have no real arguments.

As I'm writing this, England just voted to leave the European Union. Van Jones (whom I consider a pretty smart guy) posted his video response:

The people in the UK who pushed this insane idea are the worst people ever born in the UK. These are not good people. These are not smart people. These are not kind people. These are racist, hateful people. Some of them are neo-Nazis.
"Wow, Van! If some neo-Nazis are for it, then everyone who is for it must be kind of a neo-Nazi too. And that means it must be a terrible, evil idea!" Hopefully you find that logic compelling, because it is the closest Jones's ten-minute video ever comes to arguing against the "Brexit."

These days, whenever I admit to being a liberal, I want to follow it up with "but that doesn't mean I'm going to call you a bigot if you happen to disagree with me about anything." I hate feeling like I have to say that. I hate knowing that even my own pretty-far-left opinions are not far enough to the left to prevent me from being called a bigot on a fairly regular basis.

I take cold comfort in the thought that, ever since the GOP winnowed down its choices to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, it would be even worse to admit to being a conservative.

So now you know what I think. What do you think?

1In case you're wondering, I fully support gay marriage.
2If you're thinking "no one actually says it that baldly" then you're bearing testament to how far we've come, because such things were said very openly and publically, in this country and within living memory.


I originally posted this essay to Facebook, and most of the "Comments" below were done there. So I'm going to start by giving the text of the notice I posted. Note also that the first "Comment" (the Bloom County cartoon) was made by me, immediately after my original post.

I just posted a new essay.

The inspiration for this essay came from my colleague Betsy Newmark, one of the best teachers I know and a well-known conservative blogger. She recently told me that she feels "alienated" from the modern conservative scene—that certainly doesn't mean she identifies with the modern liberal scene—she feels like no one now represents what she believes in. And I realized I feel the exact same way from the other side. This was one of my more difficult essays to write, but it explains how modern liberals—including many of you who I see on Facebook every day—make me feel alienated, unrepresented, left out. No one out there really speaks for me.

As always I very much appreciate anyone who takes the time to read it and comment on it. If you want your comments kept private, let me know; otherwise I will assume you don't mind me posting them as "comments" with the original essay.


From: Kenny Felder

Here's a little memory of a time when liberals did speak for me!

Bloom County cartoon about liberals

From: Christopher Chilton
He certainly got your likeness down.

From: Michelle Williams
I remember that strip. I think I saw it posted outside the offices of multiple college professors. ;)

From: Kenny Felder
I still want socialized medicine :-(

From: Mary-Preston Austin

The current climate of mudslinging without fact-checking is so incredibly frustrating: "Donald Trump wants black people to die!" "Hillary Clinton murdered Americans in Benghazi...with her bare hands!" (Note—haven't actuallyheard those... yet). It seems to me that each of them has plenty of actual fodder for criticism; why waste an argument on something that can so easily be dismantled by the logical response, "that didn't happen, actually"? Despite being my polar political opposite, you've definitely articulated some of my greatest problems with the current political climate; well said.

From: Robert Bluestein

Kenny, I too am unsure of what today's GOP stands for and if it stands for the things i value. I feel it too. If the Democrats were running almost anyone OTHER than Hillary Clinton, its very possible the Dems would have my vote. Considering that 71% of Americans do not find Hillary to be trustworthy, I am not alone. Trump has almost that much (68%) likability and that is important also. Lets face it, the 2016 election is the ''Election of Suck-ability'' and either way we get hosed.

From: Kenny Felder
I hear that comment every election.

From: Joshua Sokol

I am also skeptical of liberals who have a (very good and powerful) schema like, say "white supremacy" and apply it in every single context ever. But your examples of this over-application don't fit your own definition, "They find racism and sexism in a host of issues that, it seems to me, have nothing to do with race or sex." It doesn't take a stretch to see how your own examples, Trump's "Mexico is sending its rapists" or "my main impression of women on my show was that they wanted to sleep with me," have at least SOMETHING to do with race and sex. Specifically, they 1) reflect attitudes about race and sex the speaker holds, 2) they absolutely are received as about race and sex by the same ugly segment of American Trump fans who are now emboldened to go after Jews on social media, and 3) the statements may have very real policy outcomes for people of different races and sexes than you and me.

From: Alex Dunham

This is a great essay, thanks for starting to write these again. One objection I have is that I think college campuses (or at least UNC's) aren't nearly as bad as you think they are. Most professors and most students say politically incorrect things all the time, and even when the minority of students who have beliefs that correspond with the new liberals in this essay visibly cringe, they're almost always polite and engaging when they respond.

The most egregious example of "liberal intolerance" on campus I can think of is when Emory students demanded a response from the chancellor after someone chalked "Trump 2016" on the sidewalk. As ridiculous as that is, I would be shocked if there were more than a handful of Emory students who felt the need to do that. The rest probably scoffed.

I also wonder how many of the new liberals realize that the hard-left thinks about them just like they think about conservatives (and moderates)—"if you don't support a revolt of the working class, you're part of the problem."

Part of me wants to say, though, that there's not actually that much difference between you and those you argue against here. You both draw a line between "racist comments" and "ideas I disagree with," you just draw those lines in slightly different places. They feel that "affirmative action is wrong" is just as harmful and dismissible as you think "black people deserve an inferior education" is. And they could at least make a reasonable case for it, even if an unconvincing one.

From: Kenny Felder
Thanks, Alex! I could cite lots of other examples of campus intolerance— is a remarkable example. You may well be right that they are exceptions more than the rule (and of course I hope you are), but Kristof's article and the response to it make me worry more. In terms of opposition to affirmative action, it may well, as you say, be extremely harmful. But that doesn't mean it's "dismissible" (at least without an argument) and more importantly it does *NOT* mean that all its proponents are secretly trying to bring back Jim Crow. That's my real point: fight against the real man, not a straw man.

From: Barbara Soloman

thank you—when the ACLU supported the neo Nazi march many of my friends stopped contributing to the ACLU—I doubled my support—I hate Nazi's (I'm Jewish)- but they have a right to speak. the fact that college campuses are "protecting" students from "unsafe" ideas makes me cry.

From: Allen Smith

This is a REALLY difficult article for me to read. It's a real slog Kenny. Sorry.

It seems confused and muddled with imprecise distinctions. And it's a bit frustrating. My biggest frustration is the liberal = progressive = leftist frame that you have steadfastly refused to budge from.

I'm going to try to digest your article a little better instead of just getting frustrated and wanting to walk away from it—which is where I am right now—because I know you're coming from a good place. It very well could just be me.

From: Kenny Felder
My gosh, Allen, I don't want you to feel that reading my essay is a burdensome responsibility. If it's that tedious, I promise I won't be offended if you do something else with your time.

But if you do force your way through it, thinking all the while "This makes no sense to me," then here is my only request: start watching Facebook to see if you find liberals doing all the things I accuse them of. It *might* make more sense that way. Or it may still all look like crap—again, sorry.

But if you want to distinguish the terms liberal, progressive, and leftist—which I do use interchangeably—I promise to listen and to try to understand.

From: Allen Smith
Although their positions can seem similar, the liberal values freedom and the leftist has a bent toward authoritarianism.

I think Barbara Soloman sketched it out nicely.

If there is an anti-racism group and a pro-racism group, and the rights of the pro-racism group to speak freely are being jeopardized, a LIBERAL organization like the ACLU would step in to defend the racist's right to free speech. A leftist would insist that only the anti-racism position is allowable.

The ACLU is liberal. Safe spaces and trigger warnings are leftist.

From: Kenny Felder
Huh. So maybe I am a good liberal after all!

Maybe my real problem is that the leftists have come to dominate the liberals over the past decade or two.

From: Allen Smith
That's part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that race has become a festering sore because our politics are organized around race and racism. So we've gotten a little confused by leftist intellectuals trying to explain to us a bunch of stuff that has some merit.

From: Kenny Felder
Sounds like you've got a whole essay screaming to come out.

From: Allen Smith
Like in your article, you make no mention of and no allotment for the decades old dog whistle politics that have come to dominate our political system.

From: Kenny Felder
If I understand you correctly—and it's entirely possible that I don't—then that's a very tricky line. When someone says "I'm for state's rights" is that necessarily an encoded way of saying he wants to go back to segregation? I think sometimes it actually means exactly what it says and no more. So even if it is *sometimes* a coded appeal to racism, I prefer to give each individual speaker the benefit of the doubt. And part of that is assuming that if the speaker actually is racist, he will leave clearer evidence along the way, and we can go for that.

From: Allen Smith
Here's what I'm talking's a quote from your article....

"He said that people of Mexican descent who are in the US are rapists." (Here is what he said: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." This may be completely false, but it's explicitly not a suggestion that Mexicans in general are rapists.)
This is a dog whistle meant EXPLICITLY to appeal to white people and to create the EXACT confusion at the contributor understood. It was NOT an accident. This style of dog whistle politics is deeply embedded in the Republican Party/Conservative Movement. And it's part of what explains why the Republican Party is the party of white people.

From: Allen Smith
Obviously you can give the benefit of the doubt. But you have to remember that there are other factors and data that feed into that. Do you think that the Republican Party became and has remained 90% white for 50+ years because of innocuous political misunderstandings? No. It's designed that way. And the dog whistle is an emotional reminder to its constituency that it's designed that way.

There's no overt racism, but you can't tell me that calling Obama the first "food stamp President" isn't a dog whistle about his (and my) blackness.

From: Kenny Felder
Sorry—we're a beat off—this is in reply to your Trump comment. Of course we have plenty of other evidence to convict Trump of every flaw you can think of, but this particular quote seems to me to be going waaaaay out of its way to avoid that confusion. And if the purpose of all that was just to communicate his intent subtly, then I would say it was wholly out of character.

From: Allen Smith
I can't agree with you sir.

From: Cathie Barden Strawn
Hey guys do you have an example of the aclu standing up for racists....that's a new one to me my personal experience and I mean personal has been law suits that target possibly negligent participants in accidents

From: Allen Smith

ACLU Protects Anti-LGBT Protests in Florida:

This is a very famous case:

I could do this all day...

From: Cathie Barden Strawn
Thanks that is eye opening I did not know this history...

From: Rosemary McNaughton
I don't know that Trump has much of a filter or a plan, but at the very least his comment means he isn't considerate of how his remarks might inflame racist and anti-immigrant attitudes, and I believe I said so when I gave this greater context to these remarks in the other thread on your FB about this.

From: Suvy Boyina

Well, I've said this before. We're in the middle of a party realignment and none of what we've seen is a surprise to me. If Trump was less absurd, less theatrical, and wasn't nuts on the environment, I'd vote for him. With that being said, I think many people like Mrs. Newmark will either not vote or vote for Gary Johnson and they may even consider Hillary Clinton.

From: Allen Smith

Ian Haney López on the Dog Whistle Politics of Race:

From: Kenny Felder
Thanks, Allen! I watched the whole interview—Joyce sat down and watched with me—we had a long talk about it. Joyce framed it very nicely in terms of "fear of the other" that Republicans tap into. At the same time, I'm going to obstinately stick to my original thesis, so let me express it in terms of the Mitt Romney quote they discussed in the video. As Lopez acknowledges, 47% is not the fraction of Americans who are black. It's not the fraction of Americans who are non-white. It's the fraction who pay no taxes. Romney believes that those people love taking government money without working, and the Democrats win their votes by promising to always support that lifestyle. It's a fascinating thesis that we could discuss and debate on its own merits, but here's my point: I don't think he was talking about race. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he was trying to malign black people without saying "black" explicitly, as a political strategy. I can certainly acknowledge that that happens sometimes. But consider for a moment the opposite possibility. Maybe he wasn't even thinking about race, but people on the *other* side choose to say "He's really playing to racial bigotry" because that's *their* political strategy, shifting from a conversation they don't want to have to a conversation they have won before it starts. Can you acknowledge that that at least sometimes happens?

From: Allen Smith
I do agree that sometimes that happens. I just don't agree with you the degree to which it happens and I think that you overlook the structural bias that points to the degree of racism. When your political party is 90% white and has been so for 50+ years because it has been designed to be so, it strains credulity that a guy in a room of entitled rich white people isn't blowing a dog whistle that is at least partially reliant on racism either in reference to the black president or to his constituency.

In my opinion you're thinking a little hyper-rationally instead of connecting with the emotional appeal that Romney is making to his audience. No one is thinking "hmm, black people make up 30% of the population of lazy folks so he must not be making a racist claim against black people."

From: Rosemary McNaughton
Allen Smith bingo

From: Allen Smith
By the way Kenny Felder, I did not mean to imply that you're a crappy writer. I generally enjoy your essays a lot and find high levels of overlap in our points of view. But there is something about this particular subject and the confusion of liberalism and leftism that just drives me bonkers! I think it comes from a sense that liberals have to start defending *liberal* values and not leaving them to leftists to redefine into authoritarianism.

There are people on my left now—and I thought I was pretty far to the left—who I absolutely cannot talk to about race, gender and religion—particularly Islam. So I get where other people's concerns are.

But it is quite maddening to me to see when a smart and thoughtful guy like you refuses to identify as a liberal because we muddle the two schools of thought and don't stand up for the proud and long history of liberalism (once carried by the Republicans until they were wiped out by the conservative movement).

From: Allen Smith
Rosemary McNaughton Thanks Rosemary. It is helpful feedback to know that someone understands what I'm talking about.

From: Kenny Felder
Allen Smith, I hope it was clear that I wasn't offended at all by your comments. I always appreciate your insights. Actually I always appreciate pretty much anyone's insights, but especially people like yourself who are so much more knowledgeable and better-read than I am.

From: Jonna Stopnik

You should absolutely get this published! Awesome! Brilliant!

I now say I'm "Financially conservative and Socially Progressive" rather than calling myself a Republican.

Scott and I are a Democratic and Republican couple and we have tons of great discussions because we listen to the other. Your article clearly illustrates what is mind bending about most political discussions these days and Scott may be able to use some of this in his urban conflict classes and books. Well done.

From: Jonna Stopnik

Jesus said "cursed are you if all men think well of you" which to me says that if you don't stand for something that not everyone agrees with—you have lost your own soul.

From: Kenny Felder
I guess I'm blessed today!

From: Betsy Newmark

Thank you very much for your thoughtful essay and for giving me credit for the inspiration. I agree that it is so discouraging to see minds shutting down to hearing any sort of counter arguments, particularly on colleges which should be the one place where an effort is made to make sure students are exposed to all sorts of views. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case from all the stories I read. Alex Dunham, I'm glad that your experience at UNC was different, but I don't know if that says more about UNC than colleges in general. I was surprised when the topic of hate speech codes came up once in a class full of seniors at RCHS and how many students thought that would be a good idea until I asked them who would be judging what was hate speech. They seemed to think that it was self-evident what speech was hateful. I am with Mrs. Soloman in preferring an open marketplace of ideas that lets people decide on their own. That does not seem to be the preferred position among so many people today.

Kenny Felder, I'm not sure that I agree with you on how you divide up conservative and liberals today. Craig swears by this book in its discussion of the ideological history of the two visions that people have had since basically the Enlightenment. I haven't read all the book, but I definitely see myself with the constrained vision and your positions as the unconstrained vision. You might enjoy reading the book even though it is written by someone who would fall into the conservative camp ideologically under your divisions. I think he covers ideas fairly and I know you like intellectual history.

From: Kenny Felder
Sounds fascinating! Are you responding here to my other essay, in which I lay out my view of what defines liberals and conservatives?

From: Betsy Newmark
Yes, that was what I was thinking about and responding to. I actually find the terms "conservative" and "liberal" to be quite outdated. They might have made sense in the 19th century when conservatives were about conserving and liberals were about liberty, but as your newest essay demonstrates, liberals are no longer about liberty. And many policies that conservatives such as myself support such as tax and entitlement reform, charter schools, supporting the gig economy over unions, etc. are not about conserving policies of the past.

From: Betsy Newmark

BTW my alienation is much broader than conservatism. I don't count Trump supporters as conservatives. But I also include the sorts of attitudes you discuss as part of my alienation. I can understand young people having very liberal views, but I can't understand their refusing to allow other views to be expressed.

And Suvy Boyina, I'm going to write in my vote. I don't like Gary Johnson either. Right now I'm debating between Paul Ryan and Senator Sasse, but I'm open to other suggestions. I figure that it is so rare that I've voted for a candidate that I liked rather than just picking the least bad alternative, I might as well enjoy the freedom of choosing someone I respect who I think would make a good president. That's a limited pool of people, actually.

From: Suvy Boyina
Yea, I don't consider the Trumpkins conservatives either. Paul Ryan must be in a terrible spot. He must be rolling around in his bed at night.

From: Betsy Newmark
Yes. John Milton could write "Ryan Agonistes." I still really admire Ryan's willingness to take tough positions on reforming entitlements and his interest in addressing poverty. Sadly, none of that gets discussed b/c we're too busy discussing whatever idiocy Trump most recently uttered.

From: Felicia Bowen Bridges

Loved the essay. I feel as if the exact same thing has happened on the other end of the political spectrum. And I come back to the notion that we have a unique opportunity with this election. I truly believe that if someone with great character and integrity, who espoused reasonably moderate ideals, and had never been publicly associated with either party, came forward as a candidate people on both sides of the aisle would flock to that person in droves.

From: Kenny Felder
I don't think our system allows for a third party candidate to succeed, but I would love to be proven wrong.

From: Betsy Newmark
That sounds like a proposal that believes "Imagine a unicorn..." There is no such person and s/he wouldn't be able to get on the ballots.

From: Grayson Bray Morris

Kenny, I align very closely with you in the context of this essay, and it's very nice to know we share this viewpoint. Sometimes I feel like an island of non-reactionary sanity in a sea of knee-jerk platitudes designed to silence the other.

From: Kenny Felder
That's so great to hear, Grayson! Whenever I post an essay I'm sharing opinions that are important to me, and that I don't hear from other people. So it's so reassuring when people I respect say "Yes, that makes sense."

From: Grayson Bray Morris
More than just "that makes sense"; more like "thank the stars, I'm not alone." :)

From: Matt Bunai

Great essay Kenny. I really enjoy reading most of your posts and many of your essays. I naturally identify with most of your positions and i appreciate the thoughtfulness and time you take to avoid supposition and clearly layout your logic and reasoning behind your views, especially when my position varies from yours. Individuals' effort and commitment to exposing their viewpoints to counter arguments with an open mind and taking the extra time, thought and effort to package their own positions clearly and logically for consideration, deliberation and debate by others, is integral to the continued evolution and betterment of society as a whole. I am turned off almost daily by people who refuse the effort of that process and instead resort to marginalizing attacks and labels in a zero sum, us or them game, that helps no one and stunts intellectual growth, yet seems to be spreading like wild fire in both liberal and conservative circles. Either way, and for what it is worth, it is a huge breath of fresh air to read your posts and essays; even (or especially) when I disagree with your position.

From: Kenny Felder
It sounds like what you're describing *is* my position!

From: Matt Bunai
Yes. This essay and many others you have written speak directly to my point of view. I realize on a reread of my comment that it is a bit misleading, as it seams like I disagree with the essay. However, what I was trying to articulate was that the approach you take in your writing, in general, is very solid and inspires thought and introspection, no matter if I agree with your position or not. Unfortunately, as you point out, articulating a position that invites discussion and debate in a mutually constructive manner, seem to be increasingly hard to find these days.

From: Robert Bluestein

Hi Kenny, Great Essay!

You put a great deal of thought into your writing and it is always fun to read. Your viewpoints have been so eloquently argued that it has actually influenced me to change on some positions in the past. In many respects, you are as fas from being a "typical democrat" as I am form being a "typical Republican.'' But your essay is provocative and I wanted to dialogue with you to see exchange ideas, thoughts, and beliefs.

Almost from the beginning, I did not agree with Conservative thinking regarding AIDS. In 1985 and in 1988, I lost two close friends to AIDS and their orientation was never an issue. Without being a generalist, the amount and appreciation of the arts was more often found in that crowd than in the suit and tie wearing yuppies of the time. I made it a mission to somehow work with the world AIDS community and to support the rights of the LBGT community. In 1999, I fulfilled a commitment I made to Lars, (one of my two friends) that I would do more than make a financial contribution. I would never have guessed that I would be in the middle of Africa at an AIDS orphanage in Northern Nigeria and subsequently the Congo where the disease was ravaging the people. What made AIDS so sinister was that it made people prone to every other disease and malady that so often happened over there, ripping the heart and soul and forever changing the lives of families.

I had a cultural shock for sure. After all, my own son and third child had been born only eight weeks before I went to Africa. (I had been there as a tourist previously, but that was to the places tourists mainly go.) I wondered how it is possible that something as simple as an alcohol wet-nap that you see in every clinic here is a precious currency to doctors over there. I wondered how it is possible that their cultures separated the males from the females before giving what little medical help they had. The females were usually unable to get any help whatsoever. I wondered how someone like me could walk into a 24-hour clinic and see more medical equipment than in entire hospitals in this part of the world. Where WAS all this help that was supposed to be getting here?

I was told that the military seizes medical and food supplies and then it is dealt to other countries for weapons. These countries are typical under UN Sanctions and so whatever food and medical supplies they can get in this manner only perpetuates the suffering incurred by the people in this part of the world. Their military juntas and dictatorships stay empowered in this manner. It is an extremely complex thing that has not changed since the Cold War. Lost in all of this is that human beings are suffering in manners unimaginable to each of us.

I am fairly certain we disagree on Immigration.

However—IF the vetting process were made public, and it was stringent enough, I'd be open to change. The vetting process needs to be one of family research and a network of people that the applicant knows. We recently had a man who was deported three different times come back to Texas and commit a series of rapes that resulted into the murder of a 12 year old girl. An exhaustive vetting process which goes deep into the person's background would open me up to the idea of immigration—on a numbers basis. (We have to be sensible with the economics of all of this) This is likely to make people here uncomfortable. We are going to prying deep into the applicants life. Are we willing to make such a sacrifice? I want to see the Vetting process and I think many Americans would feel a lot better about immigration if we were transparent in these things. It is worth noting that one, if-not-two of the Syrian refugees that were part of the Paris attacks came from Syria on refugee status.

There is a New York Times article I would direct you to that offers a lot more supporting evidence of how terrorists are taking advantage of the generosity of Europeans in order to infiltrate and destroy innocent lives. (Women are every bit as much a part of this as the men are too)

We could probably talk to these subjects all day. For me, the protection of Israel is vital. I think of you ask the average Israeli, they feel very spurned by the President. How could we cut a deal with Iran for no real advantage to the USA? Why would we clear the pathway for Iran to make and build nuclear weapons? Netanyahu pleaded with Congress to stand up and not let Obama pull this deal off. Didn't that bother you Kenny? The entire deal seems so out of place given their repeated vows to destroy Israel. And I know that these guys do not speak for the population, much of it westernized. I don't see the longterm outcome of this to be anything but a weapon of mass destruction being used on Israel, and then whose legacy does that point to? More than anything else, even if I was a hardened Liberal, I would at least be scratching my head at the rapidity and insistence Obama had with regard to this deal.

Well, these are several things that are important to me, a Conservative. (Although I am not much for labels)

I abhor the manner in which Donald Trump has handled himself. I was turned off completely by Ted Cruz. I liked Marco Rubio. I liked Carly FIorina. But no one really rocked my world. I find Hillary to be unlikeable, and seemingly "above'' the law. I do not like her historic lack of transparency on certain issues either. So where does that leave people like myself? (And there are a LOT of us!)

But there has been a lopsided view of the way Trump has been covered. NBC showed videos of demonstrators outside a Trump rally and you would believe that there were thousands. When CBS shows the same coverage, they are panned far away and what looks like thousands on a cropped image is more like three dozen. Moreover, Univision (who Trump sued) was caught red-handed "staging'' a video by setting up a scene with Black Lives Matter and those opposing Trumps immigration plan. They were busted positioning the people and handing them the signs. This is simply unacceptable journalism.

Those are the things which get under our collective skin because most people don't ask the deeper questions as You and many of the people on your FB thread ask. I appreciate you Kenny, and although we won't agree on everything, I appreciate the fact that you ask the question and that you at least try to be fair about everything.

From: Kenny Felder
Robert Bluestein, the fact that you have done so much—as opposed to just talking about it—to see different parts of the world, and to make a difference, is wonderful and amazing. Thanks so much for that and for your reply.

From: Robin Livingston

Just wow! I could have written this myself, though maybe not as eloquently. I sometimes wonder if you really are a liberal when we agree so much of the time. Then, I wonder, am I really conservative if I agree with Kenny so much. I wish I had time to comment further, but I don't right. But, spot on.

From: Timothy Challener
The main problem is that the ongoing polarization of the political parties ends up making viewpoints end up getting conflated. There's no direct reason that (for instance) someone's stance on environmentalism should be linked to their stance on military spending, but with two heavily-polarized parties you end up with those stances being tied together.

People in general tend to back-construct their stances on topics they don't hold a firm personal stance on based on what they see as their identity (ie: 'well I haven't thought bout it, but I'm a democrat/republican, and democrats/republicans have this stance, so that's my stance) . That helps further tie unrelated things together, which isn't good.

From: Kenny Felder
I agree with you about the problem, Tim, if not the cause. I think that tendency is inherent in a two-party system, which in turn comes from our voting system, rather than being a characteristic of current polarization. Either way, I do spend a lot of time telling students to stop doing that!

From: Rosemary McNaughton
Timothy Challener an acquaintance of mine has been working against polarization with a recent short documentary he made about the military's dependence on fossil fuels. He's been showing it to military and to conservative audiences, which are definitely open to the idea that we need to reduce dependence on fossil fuel—it's essential for military preparedness! Of course there are other reasons, some which resonate more with liberals, some with conservatives, but it seems like everyone can agree we shouldn't be wasting money and hobbling our military.

From: Robin Livingston
Timothy Challener I totally agree—A few months ago, I took one of those dumb facebook tests to determine which candidate I agree with most. I was split pretty evening among Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton, with Bernie winning by a nose. I still consider myself conservative, and I don't think that my positions are inconsistent.

From: Felicia Bowen Bridges

I propose a new party—the Common Senstarians.

From: Kenny Felder
Common sense, someone wrote, is unique in being a virtue whose virtue is that theoretically everyone has it.

From: Stephen Challener
Don't forget that for every problem there is a simple, obvious solution which is completely wrong. Common sense can lead you in the right direction, but it can also tempt you into quick decisions based on gut instinct rather than a broad assessment of the facts. Dare I say one should strive to apply a systems approach instead?

From: Margarita

I agree with what you say, and say so well.

Is it that the word "liberal", like the word "sceptic" (skeptic), has now become a label and a banner-waving word rather than a description? And that its common current usage is actually often the reverse of the dictionary definition?

e.g: From


1 Willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas:
liberal views towards divorce

1.1 Favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms:
liberal citizenship laws

1.2 (In a political context) favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform:
a liberal democratic state


1 A person of liberal views:
a concern among liberals about the relation of the citizen to the state

The person you quoted regarding the UK referendum was certainly most illiberal in his views! (I'm English, voted to remain in the EU and was dismayed at the result. But I have friends who voted to leave and they do not warrant his rather extravagant description of the Leave voters...)

Best wishes

From: Kenny Felder
Well, one of the things that the US and the UK have in common is a "first past the post" voting system—as opposed to the "proportional representation" system in Italy, or various half-breeds like France or Germany. Our system leads inevitably to two parties who see themselves as diametrically opposed, and in this country we label them "liberals/Democrats/left/blue" and "conservatives/Republicans/right/red." I don't think the meanings of those words are particularly related to their original meanings; they shift over time to follow the two parties. (In the 1960s and early 1970s, liberals in the US wanted *more* freedom for private individuals to own guns, *more* lenience toward violent criminals such as rapists, and the freedom to smoke. All of those have kind of reversed since then. But the tendency of the liberals to want to clamp down on "wrong" speech bothers me a lot more than those. I don't know how much of this is parallel on the other side of the Atlantic.)

From: Margarita
Your comments took me right back to my undergraduate days studying Comparative Government at the University of Essex! I'm still thinking about your comments on the US and UK voting systems—if I come up with any significant addition, I'll let you know.

Like you, I'm deeply concerned about the limitation on discourse and by "political correctness" in its many forms. I can recall as a young teenager first hearing the aphorism attributed to Voltaire,about "disagreeing with what you say but being willing to defend to the death your right to say it", and it hitting me like a blow, it seemed to me to be so profoundly imprudent. Later in life, I've seen that it's not an absolute, but believe strongly that one should always have to defend any deviation from this guideline.

With best wishes

PS. I have lived in Tenerife (a Spanish island, off the coast of north west Africa) for the last eight years, so UK society and politics are now experienced at second hand. But my husband and I had votes for the referendum, based on ownership of my mother's old home in Essex. By the way, the Spanish are not strong on euphemism or political correctness—it is very refreshing!

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