Recently, I read a political “discussion” on Facebook that included something to the effect of, what have liberals ever done for you? It made me think. Why am I liberal? What have liberals ever done for me? A lot actually. Here are some, but not all, of the reasons I’m liberal.
My father is Chinese American. When he was born, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect, meaning Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the country and people of Chinese descent (even those born in the United States) were not able to become American citizens. Noted liberal FDR signed the act repealing the Chinese exclusion laws. What have liberals ever done for me? They allowed my grandparents, father, and aunts and uncles (and later me) to become American citizens.
My mother is white. When my father was born, it would not have been legal for him to marry my mom. California, like many other states and where my parents and I were born and raised, had an anti-miscegenation law. It wasn’t declared invalid until 1948 in the California Supreme Court case Perez v. Sharp. Noted liberal justice Roger Traynor wrote the majority opinion, over a vigorous dissent, which holds that California’s anti-miscegenation statute, which prohibited a white person from marrying “a Negro, mulatto, Mongolian or member of the Malay race[,]” violates the United States Constitution and was too vague to be enforced. What have liberals ever done for me? They allowed my parents to marry and for me to marry my wife. [historical note: it took another 19 years for the United States Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, in a unanimous opinion by the liberal Warren Court, to extend the same protections for interracial couples to every state in the United States].
School segregation has a long and sordid history in the United States. People have gone to extreme lengths to exclude minorities from white schools. Although much of the historical focus on school in segregation in the United States has been on segregation of African Americans (and rightly so), Chinese Americans in California faced a complete expulsion from public schools in certain areas and later were forced into segregated schools as part of the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine. Thus, until Brown v. Board of Education from the liberal Warren Court, the United States Supreme Court would have permitted the exclusion of me from the public schools I attended from kindergarten through law school. This was recognized later by the Supreme Court in Guey Heung Lee v. Johnson: “Brown v. Board of Education was not written for blacks alone. It rests on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the first beneficiaries of which were the Chinese people of San Francisco. See Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356. The theme of our school desegregation cases extends to all.” What have liberals done for me? Allowed my father, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, and me to attend the public schools we attended, which helped propel many of us to successful careers.
Conservatives have long sought to control reproductive choice. Many states restricted contraception. That is, until the “activist” Supreme Court held in Griswold v. Connecticut that state statutes forbidding the use of contraceptives violates the Constitution. Many states also made abortions illegal. The liberals on the Supreme Court changed that in Roe v. Wade, which has barely survived a conservative onslaught since it was handed down in 1973. To see the liberal versus conservative divide on these cases, look no further than Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the recent abortion case involving Texas. The majority opinion, which upholds a woman’s right to choose, was written by Justice Breyer (appointed by President Clinton) and joined by Justices Ginsburg (also appointed by President Clinton), Kagan (appointed by President Obama) Sotomayor (also appointed by Obama), and “swing” Justice Kennedy. Republican presidents appointed all of the dissenting justices. What have liberals done for me? Permitted me to have access to healthcare that allows my wife and me to make our own family planning decisions, something for which I’m even more grateful after becoming a father and realizing the time and energy it takes to raise a child.
In addition to the many important legal precedents that affect me directly, one of the main reasons I’m liberal is because I stand against hate and bigotry. Not all conservatives are bigots or hateful, but it’s very hard to untangle the conservative movement in the United States from hatred based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Conservatives fought the civil rights movement. Conservatives murdered civil rights leaders. Conservatives lynched minorities for such misdeeds as allegedly whistling at a white woman or competing for jobs with whites (the all-too-familiar “economic anxiety”). Conservatives criminalized gay sex and fought efforts to legalize them. Conservatives fought against feminism.
While George W. Bush’s rhetoric spoke of a more “compassionate conservatism,” the current incarnation of the Republican party and the conservative movement is filled with outright bigotry. The presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the GOP’s standard bearer, was filled with bigotry and hate. For example, Trump said this about Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He proposed a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States. His final campaign ad was anti-Semitic, playing on long-held notions of a cabal of evil Jews running the world. His comments about a judge in one of his many civil lawsuits were so bad that GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan disavowed the comments and said that they were “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Sadly, many of Trump’s supporters are even worse. He was endorsed by the KKK and white supremacist David Duke. Anecdotal reports indicate an increase in hate crimes since the election, many with a connection to Trump’s campaign. Even if I were fiscally conservative, which I’m not, the connection between the American right and bigotry would not allow me to support the GOP, which is the machine of conservatism in America.
The bigotry within the conservative movement has long sought to discriminate against and marginalize LGBTQ people. It was not until 2003 that the United States Supreme Court held in Lawrence v. Texas that criminalizing gay sex was unconstitutional. Conservative hero Justice Scalia wrote a long dissent in which he, as he was wont to do, whined and demonstrated his hypocritical nature while also bemoaning the right of gay people to live their lives free from fear of criminal prosecution because of his belief that society should be free to “enforce traditional notions of sexual morality.” Scalia also casually mentioned in his dissent that his research indicated that there were four executions for sodomy during the colonial period. Plenty of people in the United States find homosexuality and bisexuality immoral. I’m not one of them. In fact, I think judging others based on consensual sexual activity is immoral and I find it especially abhorrent given how many conservative politicians and religious leaders have found themselves in sex scandals.
Now, even if you agree with me on the above, you might wonder why I’m not a libertarian. Libertarians espouse an aversion to government intrusion in civil life and claim, at least currently in the United States, to be socially liberal but financially conservative. I’m not a libertarian mainly because I believe that governments should aim to help their citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, and I think that a libertarian government would fail its most needy. I think that governments should provide a range of services, including public schooling and assistance with food, health, and shelter costs. This is especially true in countries like the United States that have lots of wealth. I recently read the Forbes issue on the 400 richest Americans. It’s fascinating how many people created their own fortunes in short amounts of time. It’s also fascinating how many people are among the richest in the world merely by inheriting wealth. It saddens me that there are families of billionaires who do not have to do anything to contribute to society when there are so many people in dire need; people who are starving or don’t have access to clean water or a roof over their heads. This is also why the conservative movement’s fetish with repealing the estate tax is so disgusting to me.
I also couldn’t in good conscience be a libertarian and ask for the government to step aside, thinking that citizens should compete and make their own way because for so long the government actively harmed certain segments of the population. Slavery. Jim Crow. The Chinese Exclusion Act. The Japanese Internment. Redlined neighborhoods. Bulldozing of minority enclaves. Segregated schools. The more one reads about the history of minorities in the United States, the more one wonders how there are any successful minorities at all (it truly is a testament to work ethic and willpower). The history of the United States isn’t just filled with private bigotry. In many instances, hatred was legitimized and/or perpetrated by the government at all levels. And there certainly has been progress made, but it would be folly to think that discrimination has vanished or that every child has close to an equal opportunity to succeed. Accordingly, I think it is important that the government have a role in caring for its citizens and leveling the playing field.
I also think that the environment is in dire need of protection and a libertarian regime would be disastrous for the environment. The tragedy of the commons is an old economic theory about how individuals acting in their own self interest can behave against the common good, using up resources in an inefficient manner. Libertarian policies would allow these tragedies to thrive. Moreover, there are many negative externalities to many different actions. Without regulation, companies would be free to pollute the air and water supplies and emit pollutants without regard for others. We’ve seen what this does and it’s why the WHO stated recently that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air pollutants exceed WHO limits and estimated that 6.5 million deaths a year are linked to air pollution. I strongly support smart environmental regulation and could not in good conscience by a libertarian.
This isn’t all of it, but it’s a lot of it. I’m liberal. And proud.