By Jamie Neben
“I said now, watch what you say, they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, criminal.” (Supertramp, 1979)
For those of you who have heard us promote Waves of Gray during our appearances on the Rev. Jesse Peterson radio show, you’ll know that the program’s host identifies AC Smith as “the conservative,” while I am called the “far left liberal.” Reverend Peterson frequently refers to the political landscape in America as a battle between good and evil. Since he puts the conservative platform on the side of good, you can guess the category to which he figures I belong. Just so there’s no confusion, he’ll often remind us during each broadcast that democrats are of their father, the devil.
To be sure, I did vote for democrats the last few years. I am certainly further to the left in my views than Mr. Smith, especially when it comes to social issues. But far left? What exactly is that? Since the definitions of “conservative” and “liberal” are regularly misunderstood and misused, it’s no wonder why so many people steer clear of politics. I generally don’t like labels because I want to maintain the right to accept different ideas or courses of action no matter where they originate. That said, when Jesse throws out the L word, as if it’s supposed to brand me like the scarlet letter, it’s a badge of honor I’m proud to wear when put in the context of John F. Kennedy’s speech from 1960:
“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.’’’
So it’s settled–I’m a liberal. There, I said it. I know what you’re thinking. JFK’s speech sounds good, but that was delivered fifty years ago. No modern day liberal can adhere to that ideology, right? In modern times, don’t we argue about why to spend money on national security when we know lazy people are starving? Why we need to help people get access to health care even though they don’t deserve it? Well, that’s not my mindset, and I don’t know anybody that thinks that way either. So what is my mindset? I will be happy to share!
Let’s start with the accusation that liberals are called Godless (and this is done by far more people than Jesse Peterson). I assume it’s the Christian version of God that is in question. Either way, I’ll never be convinced that it’s anybody’s business what religion someone practices—or doesn’t practice. To even use the word Godless in reference to anyone but one’s self is to be holier than thou. When liberals do profess their belief in God and/or Christ, it’s quite often met with skepticism by the conservative community. They can’t be true believers because they don’t believe the right things. Social issues have nothing to do with being classified as liberal or conservative. I’m a Christian, grew up being heavily involved in the church, and take my spirituality very seriously. If you feel the same way, let’s remember that we’re all children of God and deserve to be treated as such.
Next, I want to give you my views on foreign policy. First and foremost, not only do I greatly support our armed forces, I served in them for a few years, as did most of my family going back generations. Our military is second to none, and we should be thankful for those brave men and women and the sacrifices they make for us on a daily basis. Our leaders must be very careful before putting them in harm’s way, and remember that with our strength comes the responsibility to use it wisely. I agree with fighting our enemies far away before having to fight them on American soil. But I disagree with shooting first and asking questions later. Other countries will always respect our power, but won’t respect us as a people if we act like a bully. If we’re threatened, and God forbid if we’re attacked, our response should be swift and severe. Otherwise, going around looking for trouble is sure to start some, and more than we had in mind. Once we do find ourselves in a legitimate fight, we need to finish it before moving on to the next one.
Finally, I would like to step outside of politics and religion, and talk about something that unites just about all of us. I’m talking about the fine arts—movies, music, literature, paintings, and so forth. We may disagree when it comes to the best policies for our country, but how much do you appreciate the work of Picasso or Van Gogh? How do you feel when your favorite music is playing, whether it’s the Beatles, Beethoven, or anything in between? My passion is movies. I love watching them, and hope to be involved in making them soon. I like the new ones, and like the old black and white films even more. What are your favorites? My point is this: we have our differences but we have many more aspects of life that bring us together. Let’s always keep that in mind.
To my conservative friends, I know we need order. Can you imagine driving around town if there were no traffic laws? However, to continue with this analogy, you’ll always have people who find themselves broken down, hurt, sick, or whatever. They are stranded and in need of help. We cannot ignore them. We cannot just assume that if they’re not able to get to safety, it’s their own fault. Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt they can get back on the road if given the opportunity.
By the way, my favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And it is. Hopefully, it will be that way for everybody someday.