These days, being labeled a “liberal” has taken the form of an insult – an attack on character, conviction and fortitude. But why? By the very meaning of the word in the context of American history, isn’t being a “liberal” the most American thing to be?
This afternoon, I completed what was a 4-week tour of “civic duty” as a Grand Juror in the great State of New York; a panel of 23 diverse individuals – myself included – who ranged through a multitude of religious backgrounds, ethnicity and social class.
Together, we heard and deliberated over multiple felony cases that ranged from the mundane to the grotesque, and ironically, despite our obvious differences, were able to come to quick and logical decisions to determine the outcome of each individual case. There were no arguments or cursing or hands slamming down on tables. There were no “hung juries” or threats of mistrial. We acted together, not as races or genders or deviants or elites, but as citizens and human beings united for a common cause of delivering some form of social justice in such a crazy world.
In most regards, it was the type of experience that, however inconvenient, tends to give one a sense of hope regarding the state of our national community. That is, however, until this morning while waiting on the Assistant D.A. to present a particular case, someone brought up the subject of the Park 51 “Ground Zero Mosque”.
Now, to give you some background, over the 4-week period it become somewhat obvious which individuals – either by their personality, character, anecdotes and/or actions in the room – were of the more educated variety and which were not. That is not to speak lesser of anyone – I believe each and every member of the jury brought value and substance to the proceedings. But, as we of the human species often do, judgments were made on what type of people we are surrounded by when introduced into a closed, controlled “study” of human behavior.
So, it came of no surprise (to me, anyway) when those whom I would have placed, in my mind, at a higher level of education and social understanding, immediately spoke to the sensible ideas behind the mosque controversy – expressing their disdain for the media’s sensationalism (and hypocrisy when in reference to the Right-wing pundits) while defending the American values of protection under government for freedom of religion. I, being fueled by the very inertia that drives me to write here, had to speak out for the same ideals as well.
Meanwhile, those who would be regarded somewhat “lower” in political understanding of current events, seemed to regurgitate-on-demand some of the key talking points put forth on a daily basis by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh:
“…I heard they are funded by terrorists…”
“…dancing in streets on 9/11…”
“…no churches in Mecca…”
“…just so insensitive, wait a few years…oh they are getting ready for another one, BELIEVE me!”
At one point at what I consider the climax of the interchange, an older gentleman and former Vietnam veteran, whom had remained quiet and reserved throughout every case over the past four weeks, threw his hands up in the air in a loud outburst and shouted: “Oh, you people are ridiculous! Where do you get this stuff? Get your heads out of your ass and away from Fox News!”
That made me smile.
And that was it. At this point, the Assistant District Attorney walked in, unaware of what had just went down, and proceeded to rattle off the details of the next case.
We went on with our normal activities – listening, questioning, observing – and no one seemed to pay any mind to what had probably been our “hottest ticket item” of the entire panel’s four-week session.
However, a few minutes into the case, the oddest thing happened. The gentleman who had sat beside me for almost an entire month – a mild-mannnered, seemingly all-around good guy – leaned over to me and whispered:
“You know, I don’t wanna get involved in any arguments here, but, if you ask me, it’s the liberals [emphasis his] that are ruining this country, you know?”
To this, I just sort of….blinked.
“I mean,” he continued in a low whisper, “look at it. When you commit a crime, you go to jail. You do something bad, you get punished. Right?”
“Right…,” I answered, slowly.
“That’s what I mean,” he said. “Liberals wanna give everyone a free pass. It’s the liberals who are bleeding this fucking country dry.”
And then he turned around. For a moment, I contemplated answering, but instead thought it best to respect the current witness’ testimony and just turned to face forward and sit back in my chair – rather puzzled.
“Free pass?” To whom? Innocent, religious Muslim Americans who had nothing to do with 9/11?
But, I can perhaps accurately assume that this individual was speaking above and beyond the “mosque” issue. Liberals are bleeding the country dry? How?
I suppose attempting to better our society at every level is considered unpatriotic to some. Or, perhaps using common sense as well as an appreciation of knowledge and facts when it comes to our nation’s history are each damn-near treason-like.
We “liberals,” as President John F. Kennedy so eloquently stated, “believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas.”
I wonder how many of those so-called Rightist “patriots” would have called John Adams a “liberal” traitor when he acted as legal counsel for the Redcoat soldiers that gunned down colonists at the Boston Massacre? How many would denounce Thomas Jefferson as being “godless” and “un-American” for insisting upon the separation of church and state in Virginia, which was then used as a model for the nation’s constitution?
Really, when confronted with those of this skewed mindset, it is often a natural reaction to just remain silent. Because really, what can be said? How can you change a mind that is so reluctant to change – to growth and understanding and knowledge?
I wish I had JFK’s mind sometimes. He put it best:
“What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label ‘Liberal?’ If by ‘Liberal’ they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of ‘Liberal.’ But if by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.’” – President John F. Kennedy