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When did “liberal” become a dirty word?


The American Heritage Dictionary defines “liberal” as, “1. Favoring individual freedom and non-revolutionary reform. 2. Broad-minded or tolerant. 3. Generous. 4. Bountiful.

That’s the way I grew up with the word. To me, back in England, to be liberal meant to be accepting. Watching the British news as a teen, then a young adult, I saw nothing to dispel this notion. Then I moved to the USA.

Suddenly, I’m learning new definitions of this very same word. Watch Fox News for a minute, or spend anytime on Facebook once a broad range of readers has been “friended,” and it becomes apparent that to be liberal can also mean to be weak, or to be (worst of all) a bleeding heart.

When did this happen? How did this most positive and beautiful of words get taken away and spun into something negative? It’s weird too, because when people are throwing the word around in a negative way, it’s said with such spite. “The liberal agenda,” they’ll say (and “they” is usually the same people that point to gay propaganda or some sort of Islamic takeover).

Full disclosure – this editor is a proud liberal. Hell, I’ll happily and readily admit to being a bleeding heart liberal, if the alternative is having an organ filled with frozen water. Because what does that really mean?

If it means that I don’t believe laws should exists that restrict the rights of homosexuals to do the same things that heterosexuals can do everyday due to outdated religious dogma, then count me in. If it means I understand that Islam is a peaceful religion, and that the bad people within the terrorist organizations are no more representative then the Klan are to Christianity, then my heart is indeed bleeding.

If it means I understand that, as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual male, I’m blessed with an abundance of privilege, label me lib. And if it means that I long for nationalized healthcare (a real version, not Obamacare), gun control (control not ban), and genuine equality for all races, genders, religions and sexualities, then I’m dead to rights.

Everyone is entitled to their own political viewpoint, but conservatives should be aware that referring to me and many others as a “damn liberal” is much the same as calling me a “stupid carer” or a “ridiculous gentleman.” Maybe a “dumb-ass nicey-nice.” It makes no sense. Maybe that’s the point.


Brett Calwood
Brett Callwood is an English journalist, copy writer, editor and author, currently living and working in Los Angeles. He is the music editor with the LA Weekly. He was previously a reporter at the Longmont Times-Call and Daily Camera, the music editor at the Detroit Metro Times and editor-in-chief at Yellow Scene magazine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Callwood

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