Updated February 17, 2021
ONE I know that Ron Howard (the director, producer and actor) did not write the essay “I Am a Liberal”. It appeared on social media in January, 2020 under the name of a Ron Howard, not the Ron Howard, but even that Ron Howard was not the original author. He had apparently reposted the essay without attribution to the original author, Lori Gallagher Witt, who posted it on her Facebook page way back in January, 2018.
There are now various versions of “Liberal” circulating and I suppose it will take on the role of an urban legend and recirculate every few years, maybe under the name of other celebrities for shock value. The version I will respond to today is abbreviated but very true to the intent of the original.
In responding today, I will take literary license, writing not to Ms. Witt, but to Opie Taylor — the character Ron Howard played on the Andy Griffith Show when he was a child actor. I think this is appropriate for a couple of reasons.
While Opie was living out his 1960’s life as an adorable kid in Mayberry, North Carolina, I was living out the real-life version of an adorable kid in Vernal, Utah. I watched the Andy Griffith show every week and Opie was somewhat of a role model. (Unfortunately, so was Dennis the Menace.)
I want this to be a friendly exchange of ideas. I don’t know Ms. Witt and can’t judge if we could be friends, but I know Opie and we are friends. It will be more fun to respond to Opie.
I hope Ms. Witt does not mind me calling her Opie that for the purpose of this exercise.
TWO I do not put much stock in labels. They serve as cultural short hand, but are seldom accurate. Most people call me a Conservative, but I’m more complicated than that.
If I were to give myself a political label is would be something like Pragmatic Conservative Independent. I hold strongly to Conservative principles, but am very cognizant of the way things work in politics and society. I don’t believe in using gridlock or shutdown to make a political point – especially when it makes no difference in the long run. I also dislike candidates that pander to Conservatives promising to “drain the swamp” or balance the budget when they know both are impossible given our current political and economic situation.
THREE Although I will respond to each of Opie’s points, I believe that the difference in our philosopies boil down to the following basic principles.
- The proper role of government Is government a necessary evil that must be limited in size and scope and society’s last resort for problem solving or a benevolent good that should wield the power necessary to solve society’s problems?
- The definition of a right Is every privilege that would be nice to have a right or are rights fundamental godsends that should be distinguished from privileges and balanced against responsibilities?
- Trust in the People The fundamental idea of the American Revolution was that the American people could handle freedom. Has history proven that idea correct or does the government need to limit our freedom and protect us from ourselves?
My Response to “I Am a Liberal”
Opie: I am a liberal. I’ve always been a liberal, but that doesn’t mean what a lot of you apparently think it does.
[Opie outlines some of the social challenges she’s faced with being a liberal and why she now feels she wants to clarify her position.]
Let’s break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines.
Vincey: Opie, I appreciate both your frustration and your candor. It is very easy to get locked into a mindset and practice groupthink. I can see how people with contrary beliefs and values can get frustrated or feel intimidated in that kind of atmosphere.
I try to be open-minded and tolerant of others beliefs and hope my friends can be frank with me about their opinions. I hope we can have a civil discussion, but know that will only happen when they do what you have done in your essay and have the courage to share.
Opie: I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.
Vincey: I agaree that a civilized society (not necessarily the government) should take care of its weakest members with the goal of maintaining their dignity and helping them become strong and self-reliant.
Opie: I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.
Vincey: I do not see healthcare as a right. Maintaining one’s health is a personal responsibility. As general rules, those who make wise choices throughout their lives enjoy better health and those who sacrifice luxuries to pay for insurance have better access to healthcare.
Our current healthcare system, one of the greatest in the world, has been built on a foundation of free markets and personal choice. Given freedom to operate, markets will bring costs down.
Until that time, as a civilized society, we should provide a safety net for those who cannot afford access to healthcare.
Opie: I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.
Vincey: I believe that obtaining an education is a personal responsibility and that efforts by government to make education (especially higher education) more affordable and accessible can actually increase the cost and limit accessibility. Individuals and families should have more choice and responsibility when it comes to education. Society and the free market should dictate educational programs and output. Necessary government regulation and oversight is the responsibility of the government closest to the people – localities and states.
Opie: I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist.
Vincey: Taxation is taking money from me. I allow it in order to provide for the necessary operation of government, but too often, tax money is used to pander to the masses – creating a sense of entitlement and insatiable thirst for more. Government, at all levels, quenches this thirst by increasing government programs and size, financing it through deficit spending. This indebts me (and my children and grandchildren) to have even more money taken away from me in the future.
In most cases, the wealthy and business owners have what they have because of their hard work, wise investment and application of talents.
Class envy is just counter-productive.
However, it is extremely unwise for businesses to not offer a living wage and benefits to employees, even at the cost of profits. Failure to do so will shrink the middle class. And it is the middle class which is Capitalism’s buffer against socialism, anarchy and revolution.
Again, I believe a civilized society, should provide relief for the hungry, homeless and ill.
Opie: I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. I’m self-employed, so I already pay a shitload of taxes. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, that means increasing my already eye-watering tax bill. I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.
Vincey: I would be willing to pay higher taxes when the government balances the budget and pay down the national debt. This will require a reordering of priorities and reform of entitlement programs.
I agree that there is too much cronyism in government, no matter which party is in power. It needs to stop.
Opie: I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.
Vincey: I believe in the right of contract, with employees and employers allowed the freedom to negotiate wages and benefits. I also believe that workers have the right to band together to strengthen their power to negotiate.
As stated above, I believe that employers are foolish to not pay their employees a livable wage and that failure to do so can lead to dire consequences.
Opie: I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; “compulsory” prayer in school is — and should be — illegal) All I ask is that Christians recognize “my” right to live according to “my” beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me or mine.
Vincey: I am a Christian, but believe (like the huge majority of Christians) that all people have the right of worshiping (or not) according to the dictates of their own conscience, as long as that worship does not infringe upon the rights of others. No one should be compelled to read scripture, pray or recite catechism by the government or anyone else. I also believe that using religion as an excuse for exclusion, persecution or bringing harm to others is a crime against society and that society has the responsibility to discipline those involved.
Opie: I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe we should have the “same” rights as you.
Vincey: I believe that all human beings should have the same rights as I. I also, however, believe there is a difference between a right and a privilege and that many of the “rights” we claim are really are “privileges.” Privileges are rightly extended to (or withheld from) certain people because of appropriate circumstances.
Opie: I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally.). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).
Vincey: I believe that every country has the right to control who enters its borders, what their legal status should be while they are there and how long they stay.
For years we “looked the other way” in order to enjoy the economic benefits of immigrant labor, but when the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants became politically, economically and socially problematic we decided we had an immigration problem, which I agree needs a fair and humane solution.
The fair and humane way to handle undocumented immigration is to first, control the border; second, determine who is here; third, make a fair determination about who goes and who stays ; fourth, have a plan for those who stay that includes a pathway to earning citizenship and fifth, work with Mexico to improve economic, social and political conditions in their country so that immigrating to the United States is less appealing.
Opie: I believe we should take in refugees, or at the very least not turn them away without due consideration. Turning thousands of people away because a terrorist might slip through is inhumane, especially when we consider what has happened historically to refugees who were turned away (see: MS St. Louis). If we’re so opposed to taking in refugees, maybe we should consider not causing them to become refugees in the first place. Because we’re fooling ourselves if we think that somewhere in the chain of events leading to these people becoming refugees, there isn’t a line describing something the US did.
Vincey: I believe that assisting refugees is both a moral and pragmatic imperative for the United States, both as a country and a society. Bringing refugees to America is a reasonable and humane option as long as we can vet them to a reasonable degree. Refugees who come to American should be treated with respect and allowed to retain their culture, but should also be offered help to adjust and assimilate. Other efforts, such as protecting and caring for refugees closer to their homelands and helping to resolve the conflicts that precipitated their refugee status, should be pursued.
I reject the six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon approach to blaming America for refugees’ plight. The United States has done more to bring prosperity and stability to the world than any other nation in history and done more to relieve suffering than any other nation in the world.
Opie: I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.
Vincey: If greed was really the driving force in our country, I would have to say “God bless it”, but I think too many people confuse greed with ambition. If you really need help understanding the difference read Atlas Shrugged.
American capitalism has been the fertile soil that has allowed the seed of ambition to grow into great wealth, marvelous inventions, benevolent institutions, happiness and prosperity. Protection of private property and the free market have been rain for the seed. And trust in the people has been the sunshine.
When I talk about “the people”, I am talking about the inventor, the entrepreneur, the worker, the consumer, the skeptic and the advocate. America has trusted its people to be smart enough, strong enough and good enough – long enough – to let ambition thrive and make us the greatest nation in history.
Laws need to be in place (and fairly applied) to allow those harmed by the greedy and the careless to receive redress for wrongs perpetrated against them and to administer punishment to the perpetrators, but regulation that punishes the many for the sins of the few is not only morally wrong, but pragmatically foolish.
Opie: I believe our current [Liberal was written in 2018] administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I’m butthurt over an election, but because I’ve spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.
Vincey: I am not a fan of Donald Trump and never voted for him, but I respected I the office of President of the United States and spoke of the person holding the office with civility.
I have lived through 13 presidents and I have seen corruption and stupidity from most of them. I worship Ronald Reagan, but also believe he knew about Iran-Contra and condoned it. I think George W. Bush is a great man, but he signed the Patriot Act. And I won’t even get started on Clinton, Obama or Trump.
Comparing Trump’s administration to Nazi Germany is not worthy of rebuttal except to say that it is a childish attempt at sensationalism.
Opie: I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized.
Vincey: There is still far too much hatred and bigotry in our country. However, In my lifetime, I have seen such a dramatic and positive change in societal attitudes toward gender and race that it makes me proud. Are we perfect? Not yet! Do we still need to learn to be more loving and accepting and fair? Without question! Yet, I have seen a great change and even experienced it myself.
As a product of white-straight-male privilege, there is nothing more I would like to see than the correction of injustice and leveling of the playing field. Our society does need to listen to (and understand) the plight of the marginalized and eliminate the causes of their marginalization – especially when it is systematic.
I think is is wise to remember that morality is very hard to legislate and the deepest and most lasting change of heart comes from within a person.
Opie: I believe in so-called political correctness. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person? Your refusal to adjust your vocabulary in the name of not being an asshole kind of makes YOU the snowflake.
Vincey: I believe in the right to free speech and expression. I applaud those who want to be more empathetic and less hurtful. I applaud those who are willing to speak out and let others know how their language and behavior affects them – and I encourage them to do so. Take care, however, that political correctness does not create the same type of group-think that I lamented in my opening statement.
Opie: I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.
Vincey: For both environmental and economic reasons, I too would love to find an affordable alternative to our finite supply of fossil fuels. But solar and wind are not sustainable. They do not provide adequate EROI and without government subsidy their industries would collapse.
It will take investment and great innovation to find and develop that alternative source. That will come when businesses are economically free to make it happen and reap the rewards.
Opie: I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don’t believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.
So, I’m a liberal.
Vincey: Opie, thank you for sharing. As I’ve responded, I’ve come to realize that we agree on a lot of basic principles, but differ in the methods we would use to achieve those goals. Perhaps we could all talk more, work together and meet somewhere in the middle.
So, I may be a Pragmatic Conservative Independent, but more importantly I am an American.