Liberals Are Not Dumb

The other day a close friend who is an occasional YSDA reader and a certified Madison liberal offered this pithy, sarcastic analysis of our work: “Yeah, liberals are dumb. We get it, already.”

That got me to thinking. Well, no, I don’t think my fellow liberals are dumb, exactly. I think too many of them (and the most influential of them) are politically naive, self-righteous and condescending. Is that better?

We do not fall into an easily definable tribe here at YSDA — in fact, we’re quite anti-tribal. We think of ourselves as classically liberal, center-left, non-partisan Democrats. (We also think of ourselves as odd for falling into the use of a plural pronoun when there’s only one guy at work here.) By that we mean we’re first and foremost for classical liberal values: free speech, the rule of law, individualism, reason over emotion, etc. We’re center-left on the current political spectrum. We’re somewhere between the Joe’s — more conservative than Biden, more liberal than Manchin. And we’re non-partisan Democrats, which is to say we vote for them, but we won’t defend a Democrat who is being an idiot and we won’t attack a Republican just for being one.

You can sum up our world view here in five easy steps.

First, the Republican Party is gone. It’s essentially now the Fascist Party of America, totally devoted to Donald Trump and detached from all the values it once held dear.

The Democratic Party must succeed. It won’t on its current path.

Second, that means the Democratic Party must succeed because the stakes are nothing less than the survival of American liberal democracy.

Third, in order for the Democratic Party to succeed it has to have appeal beyond major metros and college towns. That’s because you can’t win majorities in most state Legislatures without winning seats in rural and suburban districts. And if a disproportionate number of Legislatures remain in Republican hands it just makes it even harder to win majorities in the House because of gerrymandering.

Fourth, in order to win in rural and suburban America the Democrats have to moderate their image. They come off right now as the party that thinks everyone’s a racist, that wants to defund the police, that wants to spend a lot of money, that is in the back pocket of big teachers’ unions and that, generally speaking, has a low opinion of anybody who didn’t go to college. And, by the way, two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year degree. This, folks, is not a formula for success.

Fifth, Democrats can do better in elections by talking about fundamental American values, simple policy and incremental progress. They could start by going back to Bill Clinton’s simple and brilliant formulation: If you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to get ahead in America. Dividing up Build Back Better into single purpose bills (like the expanded child tax credit) makes a lot of sense because it allows for straightforward messaging, as in: we’ll give families a tax cut and lift a lot of kids out of poverty. Most importantly, the party needs to repeat this mantra: America is a great country that can get even better by living up to all its wonderful promises.

So, there. That’s our basic philosophy here at YSDA. And if you don’t get it, well then, you’re just a dumb liberal.

Welcome to the 349th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “Liberals Are Not Dumb

  1. These conflicts come back to the terrible situation which is our two party system. Money-Power has benefited from it at the expense of democracy for decades; our entire system of governance pushes power away from the citizens and towards existing money-power institutions. This created a perpetual win-win for money-power, where it never really mattered what happened in elections.

    As a months-back YSDA post highlighted, many people don’t fit into our existing 2 parties. This is the fertile ground for intra-party strife and disagreement. We’d all be better off if people with vastly differing viewpoints weren’t forced to support one party. Then the various parties would have to find compromise as it would be much more rare to have outright majorities.

    Sure, politically, in our current paradigm, it definitely makes sense for the Democrats to be centrist. But remember that in doing so the definition right/center/left also changes. The American right has literally detailed their (successful) plan to move the definition of the center to the right over a decades long process of media pressure. So are people who are truly liberal supposed to just give up and have the Democratic Party move as far right as money-power wants them to?

    Even this post has taken the bait – you frame Biden as “liberal” when he’s about the most centrist around. That’s why he got the nomination! There’s little liberal about him, but in allowing him to be defined as such with no push back the Overton window continues its steady path to the right – already arriving to a point where fascism is literally an acceptable position in our politics.

    Thus: fighting the rise of fascism must involve a invigorated American left, not a further slide to the right. We need to move the definition of the center back to the center. This will result in the Overton window closing on the farthest right extreme. And much of this is due to the anti-Democratic structure of our government. Democracy is the solution. If we can better establish democracy in America we will naturally arrive at moderate politics.

    I concede that in the near term Democrats have to do what is practical because they’ve already allowed the situation to get out of hand and we have an emergency. But who’s the one being naïve here, liberal or moderate democrats? After all, the conservative movement had their eyes on the long game and succeeded in shifting the window of acceptable discourse, resulting in today’s emergency. Had actual liberals been allowed a voice I don’t think that would have happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rollie is abusing the word centrist here in a way a lot of Left thinking people do on the internet. Biden is very much a liberal, probably the most liberal president in my lifetime. The danger of an invigorated Left is that it can be just as authoritarian and illiberal as the right. Leading lights on of the movement in this area called for the end of the presumption of innocence when one court case didn’t go the way they wanted. The Republicans invited their own destruction in by coddling the Tea Party, Democrats should not make the same mistake with the DSA, WFP, Sunrise et. al..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is part of why we also need to break free from the 2 party paradigm. Then centrists won’t have to be in the same party and platform with people who have such dissimilar views on either extreme. They’ll interact, horse trade and compromise when legislating specific policy proposals.

        If Biden is the most liberal of our lifetime, that only underscores how conservative successful democrats are. But I don’t agree. He is certainly portrayed as the most liberal person ever, (and that’s a political strategy) but what are the facts? Recall the primary – was he not among the most centrist of the candidates? I wish I could find it quickly but there are objective measures out there of this sort of thing. I don’t recall him being actually liberal but I’d be open to fact-based data on that.

        My argument is that it only appears I am abusing the term centrist because the idea itself in the US has undergone an abuse. I believe I am pushing to give it a chance to represent the true ideological center. Recall how few people even participate in our democracy. Step one is engagement – what do people believe? Where would we be if we actually democratically determined what to do on an issue?

        Obviously there are a lot of ideological dimensions, so one can’t just take one issue/topic and generalize a position to others. That said, consider the furthest left position possible (not just in US politics) on private property rights vs the farthest right. My opinion is that the furthest left position isn’t allowed in US political discourse but he furthest right (currently) is. So when we call someone liberal here, it’s in the context of what is current acceptable political discourse which doesn’t at all allow anything near an actual “leftist” position. I believe we currently allow in our discourse the furthest right positions on essentially any issue/policy, but very few of the furthest left positions.

        One might argue this is simply because that’s who we are. But I again remind that our democracy is deficient enough that I believe we have no basis to determine “who we are” to begin with.


    2. “classically liberal, center-left, non-partisan Democrats”
      Small donations have grown, and it has not had the positive effect I imagined.

      “The American right has literally detailed their (successful) plan to move the definition of the center to the right over a decades long process of media pressure.”
      It depends on wat rightwing means. I used to think it meant a) limited government action and spending and b) old values like working hard, avoiding vices, etc. But Republicans have gone the other way. They don’t mind high deficit spending. They are for using government to punish their enemies. They abide affairs with porn stars, foul language, hush money to prostitutes, open self-dealing.
      I do not think they had set out a plan to get to where there are. It seems to me like Romney said it was hard to sell tax cuts to a country where half the people pay no income tax. He failed. So they tried this racist clown show thing, and that appears to be working, although I think they over-estimate how well it’s working b/c it doesn’t get them a majority.


      1. “ I do not think they had set out a plan to get to where there are.”

        It was a plan to some people. To quote Derrick Robinson:

        “The concept of the “Overton window,” the range of ideas outside which lie political exile or pariahdom, was first batted around in a series of conversations by the late free-market advocate Joseph Overton in the 1990s. After Overton’s untimely death in a plane crash in 2003, his friend and colleague at the libertarian Mackinac Center, Joseph Lehman, formalized and named the idea in a presentation meant to educate fellow think-tank warriors on the power of consistent advocacy. Ring the bell loudly for your idea, no matter how unpopular, and back it up with plenty of research and evidence, so the thinking went. Today’s fringe theory can become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom by the shifting of the finely tuned gears that move popular opinion; to Overton and Lehman the role of the think tank was to at least familiarize voters with these ideas, giving them an institutional home when public opinion finally moved their way.”


  2. I suppose _defund the police_ was the wrong slogan, but I it really appealed to me. I actually want MORE policing because I think criminals respond to the probability of getting caught vs the penalty if the do get caught. So we should move money from prisons to police. But I am really sick of these cases of police racism and police getting away with abusive and criminal behavior. I think it makes people less likely to engage the police and more likely to take matters into their own hands. So I say “defund the police!” to mean radically overhaul how we think of policing. I mean create systems to catch crooked cops, not because we think cops are cooked but because they’re mostly honest and not abusive, so they would benefit from oversight and not being associated with thugs.

    I guess, in the vein of this article, Democrats should frame it in some positive way. It’s one issue about which I like radical language because over my life so many things have gotten better but on this one issue we have abuse after abuse followed by talk of action, but nothing changes.

    Liked by 1 person

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