What’s a Liberal, Anyway?
Andrew Sullivan is bemused to find himself on Forbes‘ list of “The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media” since he considers himself a conservative. He posts a reader email that muses on this fact:
Did you notice how many people on the list were seemingly chosen not for their writing or their politics, but rather their identity? Oprah is a liberal because she is black, Hitch is a liberal because he is atheist, and you are a liberal because you are gay. These are not just things that are mentioned in the list — they are the primary reasons given which, coupled with any support at all for Obama in the past election, set your name in stone as a liberal one. I suspect that a few of the choices for that list say much more about the Forbes writers’ politics than it does about yours.
Andrew agrees, observing, “What it mainly tells you is that conservatism is degenerate. But we knew that already.” (Unsolicited tip: If one’s goal is to defend the notion that you’re a conservative, frequently writing things like “conservatism is degenerate” might be a tad counterproductive. )
Regardless, here’s the rationale Forbes gives for rating Sully as a liberal:
A granddaddy of Washington blogging and a former editor of The New Republic, he clings unconvincingly to the “conservative” label even after his fervent endorsement of Obama. His advocacy for gay marriage rights and his tendency to view virtually everything through a “gay” prism puts him at odds with many on the right.
Fervent endorsement of a liberal for the presidency and staunch support for a public policy position that’s not only hated by most conservatives but that even liberal Democrats running for office — including Obama! — won’t endorse strikes me as a reasonable enough justification.
How about the other two questionable liberals identified by Sully’s reader?
Vociferously atheistic, Hitchens, who styles himself a “radical,” will likely be aghast to find himself on this list. This prolific, but never less than eye-catching, author has supported the war on terror as enthusiastically as he has excoriated Sarah Palin.
Oprah makes this list because her status as an American cultural and racial icon gives her a uniquely influential position to mold political debate in the Obama era.
Again, both supported Obama’s candidacy for president, one enthusiastically so. Hitch is a self-described Leftist who’s so far to the left on most issues that he’s off the radar screen of American politics. Oprah’s politics are largely opaque but she hosts a touchy-feely television show and hosts Obama rallies. That’s probably close enough to earn her a “liberal” tag.
The labels “liberal” and “conservative” are not particularly useful these days, if they ever have been. Sullivan and Hitchens are conservative on some issues, liberal on others. Sullivan thinks of himself as a conservative, while Hitchens thinks of himself is a Radical or a Leftist or something else. I don’t know how Oprah thinks of herself and don’t much care.
But it’s reasonable enough, given a bimodal choice, for Forbes to stick these three people on the “Liberal” side for the purposes of a linkbait feature. Here, by the way, is their own definition:
Broadly, a “liberal’ subscribes to some or all of the following: progressive income taxation; universal health care of some kind; opposition to the war in Iraq, and a certain queasiness about the war on terror; an instinctive preference for international diplomacy; the right to gay marriage; a woman’s right to an abortion; environmentalism in some Kyoto Protocol-friendly form; and a rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket.
In this post, Andrew does a good job of responding to these points one-by-one, showing that his views are rather complicated and, moreover, the list is rather bizarre. Indeed, while I consider myself, broadly speaking, conservative, Forbes could well cast me as a liberal on several of those fronts. Alas, I’m not influential enough to merit categorization either way.