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Wayne Bessen

Proud to be liberal
One of the great fallacies in modern lore is that liberalism stands for nothing and liberals have no core beliefs. The right wing, from the pope to the president, has impugned the left by unfairly portraying it as a valueless movement mired in moral relativism.

This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, the left is the backbone of freedom, the defender of personal liberty, the guarantor of free speech and religious worship and the nurturer of democratic movements across the globe. Far from believing in nothing, wherever liberal democratic values prevail, civilizations flourish and emancipated people thrive.

The cornerstone of liberalism is the idea that each person is endowed with the precious gift of liberty and can freely choose his or her own path — for better or worse. We believe this is crucial to greater enlightenment, personal growth and ultimate fulfillment. It also offers the best opportunity for people to realize their dreams and achieve their spiritual promise.

Liberalism encourages exploration and education. It reveres science and celebrates the inquisitive mind. Indeed, liberal values are often superior to those held on the right, because they are tenaciously subjected to rigorous examination. Beliefs that are questioned and still prevail are the ones that stand the test of time. Far from moral relativism, liberalism searches for the ultimate value in which to build a moral foundation: Truth. 

Right-wing movements across the globe often seem uninterested in such truth if it contradicts their obdurate belief systems. Reality averse, they are woefully unable to adjust to new understandings, burgeoning ideas and cultural awakenings.
Liberals believe in the power of reason, while conservatives are often just plain reactionary. Republican power is directly related to fertilizing fear and fomenting fanaticism.

Modern conservatives are often discomfited by the complexities of life and demand answers to the world’s many unanswerable questions. They arrogantly and disingenuously claim to have absolute truth, while liberalism boldly proclaims that it does not have such ubiquitous powers of understanding. Liberalism is for those who are unafraid to fully embrace the magnificent journey of life and tackle the great mysteries of our time.

Modern conservatives will claim that liberals are sacrilegious for holding such beliefs. To the contrary, liberals are often extraordinarily religious or spiritual people. However, they diverge with conservatives in that they believe the strongest faith is one that is subject to healthy skepticism and painstaking examination. In encouraging people to explore all faiths — free of guilt, shame, coercion or fear — liberalism also offers people the greatest number of spiritual options. 
Conservatives often attack gay rights because they know it is the mark of a free society that abhors authoritarian control. If a country treats gay people with dignity and respect and offers them equality, it signals that the country bases its decisions on sound education, rationalism and science. This inevitably leads toward success in all spheres of life.

Countries that ostracize and penalize homosexuals tend to be superstitious, rigid and anti-intellectual. This almost uniformly leads to poverty, war, oppression and ultimately tyranny.

A cynic might argue that the United States is not as gay friendly as other countries, yet, it is the richest country in the world. True, but nearly all of America’s cities and states that are centers of profit and creativity offer increased levels of acceptance for homosexuals. States most hostile to gay people are relatively backwards, with lower levels of education and income. In essence, gay rights is the canary in the coal mine for freedom and prosperity. Unfortunately, the bird is hacking, signaling a period of increased oppression and a dangerous erosion of freedom. It is up to us to rescue this nation from the hazardous, retrograde path it is now on. 

It is time we proudly stand up for what we believe in. If we don’t defend our values, our opponents will define them. Progressive does not mean passive. Our compassion does not mean that we lack passion. Our respect for other beliefs does not signify that we don’t hold strong beliefs of our own that we are willing to fight for. Indeed, our power comes from our ability to adjust to reality. We are secure in our values, yet humble enough to adapt if our viewpoints are proven obsolete. Wherever liberal democracy takes root, a strong and proud record of economic, moral, social and political achievement follows.

In this midterm election year, I hope that you will be inspired to defend your values and work to create a better society where all people can live in dignified harmony and achieve the pinnacle of their social, spiritual and human potential. In other words, create a more liberal world.

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