Liberalism’s Dilemma: ‘Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink’

ONE MAN’S OPINION-As we look at the ocean of memes surrounding us, we might feel like the ancient mariner in the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Emotional memes are to political health as salt water is to a sailor: They look good, but only a fool would drink them. 

A False Meme: Liberals are Lefties 

Just because Liberal and Left begin with the letter “L” does not mean they are the same. A Liberal has no more use for the Lefties than he or she has for the Righties. Likewise, neither the Right nor the Left has any use for Liberalism. The GOP and the Dems have their different ways to destroy the liberal values on which the nation was founded. 

How Liberalism Used to be Mainstream Americanism 

Although the First Amendment’s separation of Church and State was written to protect religion from the state and to protect the state from religion, the country generally applied that same concept to ethnicity, race, and then to gender and sexual orientation. All those ascriptive traits were irrelevant in the public realm of a Liberal society where each person’s private identification and affiliations were no one else’s business. 

Of course, we were always trampling on our own values – hey, we’re human and that’s what we humans do, trash our own values. Nonetheless, Martin Luther King summed up the core American Liberal value when he said we ought to judge each person by content of his or her character and not by the color of his or her skin. Anyone who remembers those days, knows that MLK was not a Lefty (like the paranoid J. Edgar Hoover believed). MLK was rock solid, centrist supporter of the concept that every person has inalienable rights. 

The GOP Subverts Liberty 

The GOP seized on the word Liberty (and its synonym Freedom) and destroyed the actual meaning of inalienable individual rights. The GOP now supports the Doublespeak from the “Congressional Freedom Caucus” which champions a unique form of Liberty, i.e. their right to be bigots and impose their brand of Christianity on everyone else. To them Liberty means everyone doing what the Freedom Caucus wants. Hmm…kind of like far left Lefties.  

After the Dems let the GOP steal and pervert the concept of Freedom/Liberty, centrists did not want to be associated with religious bigotry, with no gun control, with Stand Your Ground laws where Whites could murder Blacks by claiming they were afraid. Slowly, Freedom came to connote Right Wing extremism. When a society’s core value has been transformed into its opposite, the society becomes non-functional. Wealth flows to the top 1%, minorities are incarcerated at an insane rate for absurdly long sentences, the cost of individual advancement via a college education approaches the cost of a home which we used to pay off over 30 years, the “world’s best health care” excludes millions of people leaving them to suffer and die while making billionaires out of the executives who gobbled up health care dollars. Hasn’t anyone noticed that MLK who succinctly restated the Declaration of Independence is not an icon of the Freedom Caucus?  

At this point, I pause to point to this New Yorker article by Yasha Mounk, “The Rise of McPolitics,” in which he explains how we went wrong. It turns out to be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire. 

Why the Left Abhors Liberalism 

Group Rights advocates have abandoned individual Liberty as a fundamental value. Liberalism’s inalienable individual rights are the antithesis of Group Rights where each person derives his rights from membership in some aggrieved group. Thus, the Dems were glad that the GOP delegitimized Freedom and Liberty. With extreme right-wing Christians parading with signs that “GOD hates GAYS,” the Dem Group Rights advocates used the Fundamentalists-like cattle prods to corral the Blacks, Hispanics, and Gays into the Dem Party. 

Sammy (Yes, I Can) Davis Jr. would not be welcome in the Dem party built on Group Rights: 

Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong

Whether I find a place in this world or never belong

I gotta be me, I've gotta be me

What else can I be but what I am


Likewise, Frank Sinatra would be persona non grata: 

I've lived a life that's full

I've traveled each and every highway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way


American Liberalism Lives in the Political Center 

Liberalism rejects the extremes since the extremes have no use for individual inalienable rights.  Trump screams “MAGA,” ignoring the fact that authoritarian bigotry is not what made American great.  The Dem’s marriage to Identity Politics is a union made in Hell. Apparently, Nancy Pelosi and her loyal minions never heard of Mark 8:36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” For Pelosi, “Show me the money” has become “Give me the power.” 

Choose Life 

As the WHAM T-shirt said, “Choose Life.” (Parashat Nitzavim, Duet 30:19) Likewise, MLK calls out to us, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Without our realizing it, this basic precept lies deep within our collective psyche. The theme that every individual is responsible for the whole continually reasserts itself. It takes time to realize that WHAM, MLK, and Hillel were expressing the same basic value as Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers. Each person has individual inalienable rights including Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. “Choose Life” makes sense only with our realization that there is an alternative which leads to destruction. With rights come duties to protect those rights. Thus, the decisions which each of us makes each day contribute to the whole. 

Liberalism chooses the course in which every individual’s inalienable rights are paramount while each individual bears a responsibility for not only himself but for every other individual. To save a single human life is tantamount to saving the entire world (Rashi, 1040-1105, exegesis). Liberalism is immiscible with both the GOP extreme and with the Democrat extreme, especially with its recent embrace of anti-Semitism. The extremes of the Right Wing and of the Left Wing choose death and reject life. 

If we do not reassert Liberalism so that the political center holds, who will? If not now, when?


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams’ views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.