Liberal is not left

The real meaning of liberal in America

Liberty Estrella, Guest Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

On the traditional left-right political spectrum, both sides are often thought to represent opposing political stances with a centrist (or ‘moderate’) stance located in between them. On this scale that is used globally in political science, where might you place the American political concepts of liberalism and conservatism? Most of us might say that ‘liberals’ would go toward the left, and why wouldn’t we? Our media and education system does a good job of making the words ‘liberal’ and ‘left’ feel synonymous. However, there is a significant difference between the two stances.

American liberalism has more in common with conservatism than it does with leftism. In most countries that have multi-party governments and elections, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, ‘liberal’ political parties often represent a stance on political policies that Americans tend to refer to as centrist. The argument surrounding universal healthcare is an example of how skewed our politics are toward the right. The Affordable Care Act has been presented as a radical proposal by right-wing politicians and media since its inception, while the Conservative Party of Britain has been supporting their National Healthcare Service alongside the liberal Labour Party for the last 44 years.

Conservative media outlets have spent this past year referring to our current president Joseph Biden as a ‘socialist’ and ‘leftist’ and, unfortunately, I have spent the past year wishing that they were right (and they are not!). According to The Political Compass, a respected multi-dimensional way of mapping one’s political affiliation, Biden – who is described as a ‘center-left’ politician here in the United States – is part of the same conservative right-wing as previous presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan.

On that same Compass, Senator Bernie Sanders – who is popularly perceived here as an ‘off the wall’ and far-left figure – sits squarely in the center of most other western democratic political spectrums. Sanders’ platform of free healthcare for all is an example of this because, as mentioned earlier, socialized medicine is regarded as a non-partisan issue in other western countries such as the UK.

The definition of the word ‘liberal’ denotes a political philosophy that promotes individual rights and free enterprise, while ‘leftism,’ as it relates to socialist philosophy, advocates for means of production, distribution and exchange to be owned by the community as a whole.

In simple terms, leftism refers to a progressive ideology that supports an overhaul of our capitalist free-market economy which thrives off of worker exploitation, while liberalism supports moderate amounts of social reform (protection of marginalized peoples, support for light collectivism such as increased parental leave and better funding for schools) while still maintaining the status quo of our exploitative economic system.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that how we have been doing things is not sustainable for a future that is beneficial to the American people.

The Center for Disease Control recently reduced the recommendation for quarantine time after a positive COVID-19 test to five days rather than the previously recommended ten. This decision was made contrary to statements made by leading researchers and physicians that we should have already implemented a full-scale ten day shut down in order to combat the highly contagious omicron variant. When presented with this information, our current administration made the claim that ten days of economic shutdown would permanently destroy our economy. This is how fragile the U.S. capitalist economic system is.

Many countries that follow different economic systems have been able to implement shut downs to allow people to be safe at home and return to their lives as needed with little to no damage to their home economies. These countries all maintain social safety nets in order to ensure that families are fed and taken care of while they are unable to work.

Vietnam, China and Cuba (all countries with long-standing plans to develop into socialist economies) have reached extraordinary vaccination rates. They have had to develop vaccines on their own with no support from western nations, who, according to Dr. Carrie Teicher of Doctors without Borders, have hoarded over 500 million excess COVID-19 vaccine doses.
I was always taught that these countries were poor and had crumbling economies. Through actually talking to leftists from these countries, through young socialist organizations, I learned that these points are often lies presented through decades of anti-leftist propaganda.

Operation Mockingbird, which was conducted in 1963, is one of the most notable anti-communist propaganda missions run by the CIA in the U.S. that still has lasting effects to this day. The purpose of this mission was to create a constant manipulation of American news media in order to spread misinformation about known communist nations at the time, such as Vietnam. Operation Mockingbird also committed espionage against Americans who were openly protesting against the Vietnam war. This mission was only exposed after other CIA human rights abuses (such as MKUKTRA and COINTELPRO) were publicized during the Cold War. Nobody who was found to be associated with this operation was ever publicly punished for it, nor has the CIA made any specific statements about their actions. A lot of information that we’re still told about current socialist nations has been affected by these Cold War-era propaganda activities.

Our government’s bipartisan response to the COVID-19 has taught me to look with a closer lens at what I thought I knew about global politics. I am now no longer a ‘liberal,’ but rather a leftist that supports progressive social and economic change.

If this sounds like you, consider looking into the differences between liberalism and leftism in global politics!