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Are We as Liberal as We Like to Believe?

Within the black community, many critics would answer with a surprising “no”. Historically, African Americans especially since the Civil Rights Movement have been loyal to the Democratic Party for its social welfare programs and professed strife for equality. However, as Ron Christie, Republican strategist and former special assistant to President George W. Bush puts it “Many self-described liberals or progressives are actually very socially conservative once they break the issues down one by one.”

Not only blacks but the masses of Americans give what some call “superficial” support to the fundamental democratic values of: freedom of speech and the press, due process of law and the equality for all. However, it may be that when these values are expressed as abstract ideas as they are above, people are more likely to support them. When these ideas are applied to specific situations, people are less likely to agree to the terms. For instance, if a man agrees that equality for all should exist he may not necessarily agree that a racist or an atheist should be allowed to teach. When put into this specific context, he may find he is actually less liberal on the issue of equality for all than he would like to believe. Despite the moral codes we hold, “dissenters” are equally protected to speech and publication under the Constitution. However, the public becomes outraged when what they consider to be slanderous material from outside parties is presented. I recognize that this is where the issue becomes sticky because there are certain words or topics we feel are not suitable for the public’s ears. Yet, by ascribing ourselves as liberals, this freedom of speech and press is a core value.

Within the black community, some critics ascribe this conservatism to the church. In our current time as birth control, abortion and homosexual marriage is daily contested, so to is the division of church and state. These three issues are so closely tied to the church that it can be difficult to approve of them for the sake of maintaining a liberal position. The difficulty of religious people to consent to these major issues does not make them “fake” liberals, however, it does trouble the conception they may have of themselves as liberals.

Other critics credit the lack of mass democratic attitudes to education level and lower social classes. For example, in a General Social Survey conducted in 2008, 30% of Grade school only graduates would allow an atheist to teach while 51% of high school graduates agreed; 73% of college graduates agreed and 80% of postgraduates agreed to the idea of an atheist teaching. Some critics go as far as to say that a lack of education may be more important than any other traits in determining antidemocratic attitudes. This belief system concludes that education level is closely tied to social trust – the idea that people are trustworthy in general. With this information, one might conclude that minority groups are more likely to be less educated in general and therefore are more likely to follow antidemocratic values.

The political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset observes that, “the masses are more liberal on economic issues where welfare state measures directly benefit them, but when it comes to non-economic matters, they become more intolerant.” According to Lipset’s observation, it may be that the masses are less committed to democratic values and more committed to self-interest. After presenting these various critical analyses of the black community as part of the American masses, I would reasonably conclude that we should think twice before declaring ourselves as liberals. Despite the economic downfall we’ve been enduring the last 5 years, the economy cannot be the sole determination of our political standing – although in these times it may seem difficult to worry about much else.