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On being a ‘closet liberal’

Earlier this year there was a letter to the editor published on this page commenting on a column I’d penned about Donald Trump’s possible competition for future historians’ “worst president ever” lists. The letter’s author took me to task for not including Barack Obama on the short list for “worst ever” and closed his missive by stating that this column proved that I am “what many of us have thought for years — a closet liberal masquerading as a moderate.”

It’s not often that I literally laugh out loud after reading a response to one of my columns, but this was one of those rare occasions. I loved the suggestion that there is a significant group of people out there who find me interesting enough to spend time deliberating about what my secret political leanings might be. And that bit about me being a “closet liberal” makes a couple of assumptions about me that are wildly off-the-mark.

One of the hallmarks of being a liberal as defined in our current political environment is an abiding faith in the federal government and its ability to fix whatever might be wrong with our society via large, expansive, expensive taxpayer-subsidized programs. I’ve written too many columns expressing my disgust for the inefficient all-things-to-all-people mentality that thrives in Washington, D.C., to be mistaken for a genuine modern liberal thinker. Any regular reader of my columns should have picked up on that.

I actually think you need some sort of balance between liberalism and conservatism to have a rational and effective government.

The other misguided assumption the “closet liberal” label is based on is that I would actually feel a need for subterfuge if I were a liberal. That’s not a thing I would feel the need to hide because 1) I don’t think being a liberal (or a conservative) is anything to be proud or ashamed of and doesn’t determine a person’s character or worth, and 2) I don’t give a rat’s behind what anyone thinks of my political persuasion anyway.

It seems likely that the letter’s author shares the majority opinion in these parts that being a conservative equates to being a good and godly person and being liberal is a mark of shame that people would naturally be expected to try and cloak in secrecy. An excellent example of that type of thinking was on display in another (very entertaining) recent letter to the editor on this page where the author referred to Democrats as “the party of Satan.”

I don’t see things so black and white. I agree with the Republican view on some issues, with the Democrats on others, and in many cases I don’t think either party has a clue what they are doing. I don’t have a political ideology I adhere to and I try and judge each issue based on its merits, always seeking to employ reason and compassion as my guiding principles.

I actually think you need some sort of balance between liberalism and conservatism to have a rational and effective government. This utopia that people on the extremes of left and right seem to think would be achieved if they could somehow vanquish the evil-doers on the other side of the aisle forever would not work so well in practice.

Our government has worked best when we had a healthy, vigorous debate between left and right as well as some moderates in between to suggest logical compromises. But now gerrymandering and media sources that pander to the extremes on the left and right have driven most moderates out of government service and hardened the hearts and minds of public servants and much of the voting public.

So we are suspicious of each other and we want to know what side everyone is on so we can mark them as friend or foe. It’s a toxic environment that chokes out any reasonable debate on issues that badly need to be debated, and I’ll have no part in it.

We’ve wasted enough time with finger pointing and tribal chest-thumping. This page should be a forum for expressing our views on issues that impact us all, not a place to slap labels on people as if we were items in the produce aisle at the local grocery store.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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