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'Liberal' Offenses?

By Weeden Nichols
Opinion | April 27, 2010

HAYS, Kan. - My most recent essay dealt with the problem of disseminating or forwarding false, inflammatory, and slanderous materials. Most of the feedback I received was quite positive, except for a note from one very good friend, who suggested that I give equal attention to the similar offenses from "liberal" sources. His idea, I think, was that, in writing of the abuses of truth and civility in the disseminations and fowardings I described, I was criticizing conservatives.

Quite honestly, I have not received "liberal" hate mail or inflammatory matter, with the, possible but unlikely, exception of something a couple of years ago from a local Democratic Party official, who opportunistically used the names of well-known Republican Party politicians as a means of ridicule. That's minor, but I deplore it. I don't think it is seemly to attempt to discredit someone or to make him an object of ridicule by plays on his name -- the possession of which is in no way his own fault. We are not responsible for the surnames we have inherited, or the given names with which we have been endowed. (I'm sensitive to this, probably, because I have a rather unusual name that exposed me to similar treatment in my childhood.) I confronted the "offender" on that, but that offense was never in a class with the examples I provided in the essay in question.

Almost all my friends - almost all the people I know - are "right wing," and most of the mailing and e-mail lists I'm on are also "right wing." Most of the so-called "liberal" people I know are open-minded Christians, conscientious and scrupulously moral and honest. (That can be boring sometimes, if one is addicted to excitement, but they are such good people!) I simply don't know much about another kind, although I'll accept, if my friend says so, that there are "liberal" equivalents of Beck and Limbaugh and the mysterious "Christian Defense" entity. There was an entity, called "MoveOn.org" I believe, that generated a "General Betray-Us" campaign (as a poor-taste play on "General Petraeus"). I notified that organization never to send me anything again. It was unwarranted and cheap (something like what my friend, the local Demo Party official had opportunistically done with names), and a defamation of sorts of someone who is probably a fine officer. This is small potatoes, though, compared with something that is intended to excite people into violence or into enduring, life-affecting, bias against others. I admit that I have seldom heard "talk shows" other than brief samplings of Rush Limbaugh. I have heard (from the "right") that there are "liberal" talk show hosts who, also, are viciously untruthful, but I would not know who they are or where to find them.

But my point is that all this has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism. Before I get into another "Liberal" versus "Conservative" discussion, I must lay some groundwork (covering, once more, some ideas I have expressed in print over the last couple of years). I think "liberal" and "conservative" currently are used non-descriptively. I consider myself conservative. I wish to preserve the best of the values and institutions that have been handed down to us at great cost. I wish to conserve, preserve, and sustain the Earth and all Creation. I wish all change to be made with great care. That's conservative. Among my great constellation of values held dear are honor, truth, duty, and courtesy. those are conservative values. On the other hand, since I think the meaning of "liberal" is "generous, open-minded, tending to kindness and forbearance, and protective of the freedoms of others (even those with whom one disagrees)," I consider myself liberal also. As you can see, I do not consider "liberal" and "conservative" to be mutually exclusive. Carrying this analysis further, I would say that there might be some overlap between "conservative" and some of the political/religious right, but that they are far from synonymous. I would say that there might be some overlap between "liberal" and political/religious progressives, but that they are far from synonymous. "Liberal" does not mean "Left" and "Conservative" does not mean "Right" either politically or religiously.

That groundwork having been laid, I can say now that MoveOn.Org, the organization that treated General Petraeus poorly is neither liberal nor conservative. "Talk radio" personalities such as Beck and Limbaugh are in show business, their unfortunately broad influence being an artifact of their success as showmen, but they are neither conservative nor liberal - simply purveyors for profit of half-truths, untruths, and exaggerations. I would say that Earth First is of the radical left, but hardly liberal. On the other hand, in conserving the environment, one could say it is working for a conservative principle, but one could never call it a conservative organization. GreenPeace, though up-front and out-in-the-open in its approach and taking responsibility for its actions, is a little too rigid and self-righteous to be liberal. It does operate within a range in which some liberals and some conservatives might sympathize. I would say that the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin, back in the 60's were of the radical left, but hardly liberal. They may have upheld some liberal values, incidentally, in that they did protest the suppression of free speech and legitimate rights to express dissent. Their very disrespectful approach may have been necessary, in light of the times, to make their point, but their approach was anything but "liberal." It cost them any sympathy I might have had, at least in that era, for their efforts.

In summary, I would have to reply to my friend that the ideas of either "Liberal Hate Mail" or "Conservative Hate Mail" are as incongruous as picturing Jesus with a machine gun. Neither a true liberal nor a true conservative would disseminate or forward untruths, deceptions, or misinformation to excite the gullible or unwary into violence, flaming incivility, or belligerent hostility.


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