Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Liberal Orthodoxy?"

I heard a caller use the term "liberal orthodoxy" on NPR recently. The term, to me, clearly smacks of the phraseology used by the right to frame and control the political discussion in the US. But, for the sake of argument, I considered whether there really is such a thing as "liberal orthodoxy."

My conclusion? Despite the frequent and loud protestations of the right, I do not believe that there is truly a "liberal orthodoxy" that is significant, especially when measured against the right's conservative orthodoxy.

For instance, SF writer and nutbag Orson Scott Card played the "liberal orthodoxy" card in an article about the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts, saying,

And we all know the course this thing will follow. Anyone who opposes this edict will be branded a bigot; any schoolchild who questions the legitimacy of homosexual marriage will be expelled for 'hate speech.' The fanatical Left will insist that anyone who upholds the fundamental meaning that marriage has always had, everywhere, until this generation, is a 'homophobe' and therefore mentally ill.

Were there truly anything like the liberal orthodoxy Card suggests here, then we would expect to find those on the left and in the Democratic party who oppose gay marriage to be shunned and voted out of office, or at least pilloried the way Arlen Specter was for suggesting he wouldn't approve a Supreme Court justice simply based on abortion issues. Guess what? Isn't happening. Many Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the US, support and have voted for a constitutional amendment to forbid gay marriage in Massachusetts. I know. My state Senator and representative when I lived in Massachusetts, both Democrats, both were against gay marriage. A significant part of the Democratic party leadership, base, and officeholders, in fact, oppose gay marriage, though they do tend to support civil unions a bit more than those on the right. Where, exactly, is the "liberal orthodoxy" here?

In this vein, Bill Frist has been pilloried for going against conservative orthodoxy by voicing support for embryonic stem cell research, but Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, is not pro-choice, and yet he isn't being slammed and threatened by the "orthodox" liberal establishment.

Is there a set of core values that tend to define liberalism in the US? Yes. But the term "orthodoxy" implies a mindless obedience to a set of values, brooking no dissent or discussion, just as the right means it to. There is room for dissent and discussion on the left, room for varying opinions on issues, room for serious debate, things not consistent with an "orthodoxy."

This seems to be the classic tactic of calling your opponent what you actually are. To hide the orthodoxy of thinking on the right, slander the left with the term "liberal orthodoxy."

I'm not fooled.


At 5:59 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I entirely agree with the spirit of your post regarding the right's attempt to control the spin of the debate by coloring the left in a very dishonest way. Still, I do not agree with your assessment of the word "orthodoxy." To me, orthodoxy is a strongly held and established core belief. For some orthodox beliefs cannot be questioned, but for others orthodox beliefs are distinguished from other beliefs simply by conviction and convention. Going with the latter interpretation, I think the left could use more of both (conviction and convention).

Either way, since I believe the left handles virtually every issue the wrong way, it seems to be the case that either their is no Liberal Orthodoxy, or I am not a part of it ... despite being exceedingly liberal. Card's mormon-oriented view strikes a perpindicular chord with me. (How's that for mixed metaphors?) The left should call those who oppose gay marraige what they are: bigots. They should say this, but they don't.

The left should, by convention and with conviction, hold the position that opponents of gay marraige are bigots for two reasons.

First, they are ... and I think there is a danger in being too soft in the face of such vile discrimination. In this day and age, if someone were to make disparaging racial comments in front of us, we would feel guilty if we did not openly oppose such sentiment (and we should). It is an unacceptable, immoral position, and should be directly and vigorously opposed.

Second, from a political point of view the left looks weak morally when we try to ride the fence on the issue. The right is not pulling any punches; they know what they believe and aren't afraid to offend people by saying it. Our softness looks like what it is: moral equivocation. Personally, I believe in my own moral position very strongly: Two consenting adults who love one another should be allowed to dedicate their lives to one another, regardless of gender -- and their relationship should be protected under the law in the same way that other relationships are. If they aren't, it is prejudicial and morally repugnant. I am equally as morally certain of my position as the Christian right is of theirs ... and I resent being made to look morally weak by my own party because they are afraid to pick a side on this issue -- or worse, because they are prejudiced as well.

This is a complicated social issue -- one that will not be resolved any time soon. People are angry on both sides, and there is little middle ground here on which to compromise. When we try to be "the voice of reason" and respect our opponents opinions, we do two things: 1.) We justify that their position is valid (it isn't), and 2.) We make our own position look questionable (it isn't). In general, I prefer to respect differences in opinions and beliefs, but this is too far, and we should say so, repeatedly with conviction: Opposition to gay marraige is prejudice, pure and simple.

I guess what I am saying is that I think the left could use a little bit more orthodoxy. In general, I believe people should be convinced by, and convince others using, reason and rational argumentation. We've tried that, and we should continue to try that. Still, when faced with such a recalcitrant foe, and regarding such an important and serious topic as blatant, accepted, and legalized bigotry, I think the left's best bet is to stand together and say: "We will not yield; this is wrong."

So, to Orson Scott Card (who will never read this), I say: "If there is a Liberal Orthodoxy, it is certainly not calling you a bigot; however, there should be a strong, centrally held belief on the part of the left that you are a bigot ... because, you are one."


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