Wednesday, August 11, 2010


In a post titled "Welcome Their Hatred," Digby writes:

What with all the hoopla over Robert Gibbs' comments today it pays to simply remember that everyone in Washington hates liberals. It's a fact of life and until something happens to change the dynamic in which Democratic politicians are afraid to even mutter the words liberal, much less boldly and persuasively make a case for liberalism, I expect this will be the case....

I agree with Digby that everyone across D.C.'s political spectrum loves to punch a hippie now and again. Everyone loves to be seen sneering at those pathetic stereotyped losers with their ponytails and sandals.

But we need to recognize that it's not just Washington. The numbers have changed a bit as Barack Obama's popularity has plunged, but, in 2009, Gallup was reporting that there were more self-described conservatives than self-described liberals in all fifty states, despite the fact that Democrats and Democrat-leaners (self-reported) outnumbered Republicans and Republican-leaners in all but six states.

In other words, even in 2009 most people preferred to call themselves conservative (or moderate) than (ick!) liberal, even the Democrats. And this was mere months after the country elected a presidential candidate and other Democratic politicians who at least talked like liberals.

(For more recent numbers on party ID and ideology, go here and here.)

I think, to some extent, a lot of Americans are liberal but don't like liberals. It's like the phenomenon frequently observed by feminists: women regularly say, "I'm not a feminist, but..." and then go on to express support for a broad range of feminist principles. But, see, they don't want to associate themselves with those hairy-legged man-haters. (I could be dating myself by saying this; that's certainly how it was put in the '70s, '80s, and '90s.)

I think America has the same feelings about liberals. There's broad hatred for BP and Goldman Sachs; There's broad support for raising taxes on the rich and broad opposition to cutting ordinary Americans' Social Security and Medicare benefits; There's solid opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The public still regards George W. Bush as a bad president. And on and on.

And yet only about 20% of Americans call themselves liberals. I say it's not the list of issue positions -- it's the patchouli, or the perception of patchouli. What Americans are really saying is "I'm not a liberal, but..." Gibbs could be trying to take advantage of this. But we have to find a way to turn it around.

No comments: