General Question

wildflower's avatar

Why is 'Liberal' a bad word in "The land of the free"?

Asked by wildflower (11167points) April 22nd, 2008

It genuinely puzzles me…..
Is it the fear of feature creep to socialism and communism? And why are those two considered practically swear-words?

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15 Answers

asmonet's avatar

Time and Fear.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

The republicans are now liberal, and the democrats are socialists. The words have lost their true meanings, as we lose our true freedom. Too many Americans smoke, drink, or don’t eat well. Why should I have to help pay for these people when they get sick? This makes me less free.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

And like Churchill said, ” if your not a liberal by 25, you have no heart. If your not conservative by 45, you have no brain.”

wildflower's avatar

I like that quote :)

ironhiway's avatar

When used as a bad word it’s usually proceeded by the word bleeding.
Not such a bad word when used like this. Would you like a liberal serving of Ice Cream.

As Chris said true meaning has changed. Many times actually interesting since continual change is one of the ideas of liberalism.

Liberalism Definitions

Also interesting reading.

wildflower's avatar

haha…....good point about the ice cream!

robmandu's avatar

Seems like you’re mixing and comingling concepts and terminology…

If you’ll pardon the oversimplification, Communism especially is considered antithetical to the concepts of liberty (the noun form of the adjective) and freedom on which America was founded (in large part called Capitalism). Socialism is considered to be an incremental step, a compromise if you will, between the two. And there are all kinds of shades of gray and other directions to go.

Barack and Hilary are proud to declare their politically liberal backgrounds and intention… so not sure how you got to the basis of this question.

The discussion of -isms is likely to get a lot of people worked up.

wildflower's avatar

The basis is simply that to me, liberalism, socialism, communism and capitalism are all ideas and I think it’s healthy that different people have different ideas, and as an observation (of internet forums, articles, human interaction, tv, etc.) I’ve formed the opinion that many that live in the US seem to have a romanticized image of the concept of ‘freedom’ whilst seeing liberalism as a threat to established system. It’s an odd mix of wanting freedom while preserving values… puzzles me.

It’s a bit like: you’re free to think what you want, as long as it’s acceptable to us.

CameraObscura's avatar

For the most part, Chris is correct. The democratic party has moved so far left that many conservatives feel the party has lost sight of the core values the country was founded upon. Today we’re most likely going to learn that democrats have nominated Barak Obama as their presidential candidate. This will mark the second election in a row the democratic presidential candidate has been the most liberal senator in politics based solely on their voting record. Not an opinion, not hyperbole, but fact. This is not mainstream politics, which is why in my opinion, the democrats will lose the election again, this time to John McCain.

As far as communism and socialism as swear words, we “fought” the cold war in America for over 40 years against the greatest representation of communism the world has ever known. Two of the countries with the most atrocious human rights records right now are Communist China and North Korea. Somewhat off-topic, but also, two democracies have never gone to war against one another.

With all due respect, you should realize your questions are a bit one-sided and not so different than questions I might ask, just reversed. I think you may be ignoring the big picture to describe a world in which liberals are unjustly criticized for their views. I recieve plenty of criticism for my generally conservative viewpoints. Try being an agnostic, conservative musician/artist in your 20’s. Everyone my age is liberal.

This is a democracy and you’re free to vote and criticize anything you want. I would hate to see a world run by nothing but conservatives because I can certainly admit, they don’t have correct answers to everything.

wildflower's avatar

I actually appreciate your viewpoint and I’m asking this question to get others’ viewpoints that at present I may not understand or have considered, I’m not telling anyone what is wright or wrong, but I make no secrets about what I think is right or wrong to me.

With regards to the cold war, there was this little continent called Europe, which, if we say the US and USSR “fought”, Europe was the “battleground”. Growing up knowing that on either side of us there were these superpowers with their fingers on the buttons and could wipe us out at any time if things escalated.
Despite that, I don’t think communism is any better or worse than capitalism, they’re just different and opposites. In my opinion, neither is the recipe for success.

And to clarify, I don’t believe I have the key to political success – if I did I’d be out campaigning for it and I’m not, instead I’m trying to understand what leads people to believe in different things.

Babo's avatar

Actually, I consider being called a liberal a compliment!

robmandu's avatar


wildflower wrote, ”...little continent called Europe… US and USSR… could wipe us out at any time”.

Is the basis of your question then from a Euro perspective? I would think the term “liberal” there could indeed have a radically different meaning than in the U.S.

Since there could be a geographic component to the semantics of this discussion, it might be helpful for everyone to make their locality known to help ensure clear meaning.

Mangus's avatar

I find the sentiment that the democrats and republicans have moved “so far left” absolutely ludicrous. It’s a notion that can only exist in a US that is so isolated from the rest of the world and from history. If you were to put US political discourse and the “space of allowable debate” on a spectrum with the rest of the world, we’d be on the RIGHT end of the spectrum. The level of socialized property, organization and resources in this country is PALTRY compared to other countries, where, incidentally, health care costs less, child mortality is LOWER, and literacy is HIGHER. It’s just un-supportable nonsense that late-capitalist North America is somehow sliding to the left.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar


We are not a democracy. We are a Republic. A democracy would be a tyranny of the majority, as you are saying when you say, ” a world run by nothing but conservatives.”

Please check out this site about the difference. Most people dont understand that there is a difference. It is a big problem that is ruining our country, We are so turned off by the Republicans that people are begging the Democrats to save us.

The Republicans are already big government, big brother. The solution to our problem is not MORE GOVERNMENT!!!

Ill tell you what we need to do. Watch John Adams on HBO on Demand, then watch Ron Paul speeches on Youtube. I know some people think Ron Paul is crazy, but you need to here his whole speeches on youtube, and actually listen to what he is saying, I think we might remember what principles this country was founded on. Sure, we might have to take a few steps back first. Would it really be that bad? We are in enough debt as it is, and when the baby boomers retire and we get that $52 TRILLION bill for SS, Medicare, and medicaid, we will surely be forced to take a wholllllllle bunch of steps back.

I do not know much about Jimmy Carter. I hear he was a terrible President. However, he did say this,” We must face the prospect of changing our basic ways of living. This change will either be made on our own initiative in a planned way, or be forced on us with chaos and suffering by the inexorable laws of nature.”

gussnarp's avatar

Wow, not sure why this old question came up on the home page, but it is not really fair to claim that Democrats or Republicans have “moved to the left”. Moved to the left of what? Since when? On some issues Richard Nixon was far more “liberal” than Bill Clinton, let alone G.W. Bush. And if G.W. Bush is to the left of earlier Republicans, I’d sure like to know how. Democrats and Republicans have both moved to the right since FDR, for the most part, and maybe earlier. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was pretty far left compared to the modern Democratic and Republican parties (yet both like to look to him as an inspiration).

The real answer to the question though, is twofold: 1. A concerted effort among Republican strategists to turn the word into an epithet in order to improve their own electoral opportunities. Look up George Lakoff for more information on this. He has an amazing ability to understand what his opponents have done, and an almost complete inability to do the same thing in reverse.
2. The Reagan revolution, which is not entirely unconnected with number 1. Reagan was elected for a lot of reasons, but while many would argue this, his main advantages were his amazing TV and personal presence and the sheer dumb luck of coming along at the right point in the economic cycle. The result, however, has been that the use of the word liberal by an extremely popular president to describe his opponents helped turn it into a dirty word.

Finally of course, there is the issue of what exactly liberal means, and we’re pretty inconsistent on this. In academic circles “liberal” usually refers to economic policy and is very much in line with what libertarians and some conservatives advocate. In fact, every president since Reagan, regardless of party, and the majority of Congress, have been this kind of liberal, advocates of free markets and free international trade.

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