For some reason during this election season, more than any other that I remember, I have heard and seen on social networks people identify as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” This is often how they explain that while they don’t necessarily wish harm on “the gays,” or women or people of color, but they are still going to vote Republican.
I’m not all that committed to changing the votes of extended family or acquaintances. Nor am I going to take the “if you vote for Romney please just defriend me” approach.
But I am gonna say- Bullshit.
What exactly does it mean to be socially liberal? From historical/textbook perspective it means: Social liberalism is the belief that liberalism should include a social foundation. It believes the legitimate role of the state includes addressing economic and social issues such as welfare, health care, and education while simultaneously expanding civil and political rights. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual.
At 1st glance, this seems totally incongruent with the platform of the Republican party. The platform adopted at their convention earlier this year explicitly says that they want to reduce welfare programs. They want to reverse the entirety of the Healthcare Act, even those provisions which have made health coverage accessible to millions of Americans who were not able to be covered in the past. They are committed to bringing back Bush-era approaches to education which decimated quality and equity in our public schools. And they want to restrict civil rights such as a woman’s right to choose, giving LGBTQ couples and families relationship recognition and rights.
Therefore, at least in the textbook definition, you are not socially liberal if you support this platform.
So then, since most Americans aren’t using textbook definitions to govern their politics, I wanted to think deeper about what my partner’s staunch Republican Aunt or that random guy posting on Facebook from high school were trying to say.
I think they want to believe, or at least lead others to believe, that they like diversity. Or at least that they aren’t bigots. Even though their own self interests propel their vote more than the common good.
It feels like what they are saying is, sure I prefer the Republican approach to the economy, but I’m not like those Republicans who show up to Romney rallies with homophobic T-shirts or create effigies of Pres. Obama swinging from a noose.
When really, buying into the Republican approach to the economy means that you care more about your personal financial interest then those who are struggling most to get by. It makes sense, candidate Romney said early this year, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.”
It means that you agree that people who work 2 or even 3 jobs at such lousy pay rates that they can still barely afford to put food on their table are victims. And that you really don’t want your tax money to help them. Because even if YOU yourself take advantage of the things that tax money provides — say roads or libraries or student loans or public parks— when poor people and people of color need food stamps or a better school it becomes a ‘handout.’
It probably means that you want to think of our country as having entered a color-blind era of racial equality. And to me, as a white person deeply committed to ending racism, that means you aren’t really willing to look at and accept the deep racial inequality that persists in our country. And that may be, though you probably wouldn’t admit it in public, you aren’t really comfortable with the idea of a Pres. who doesn’t look like you.
And while you probably love your mom, or your wife or girlfriend or sister our aunt, and you might even have binders full of women you love), you can find a way to ignore that the Republicans have been launching a serious attack on women that will only heighten if the party takes power. Defriend me or disagree with me all you like but rape is not a form of conception. Rape is not “inevitable, like the weather.” And there aren’t some rapes which are forcible and some which are consensual. Rape is always, and will always be a violent, non-consensual act committed most often, but not always against women. And I find it pretty hard for anyone to claim that standing with politicians who believe otherwise lands them anywhere within the universe of being liberal.
So go ahead and support Romney or whatever other Republican candidate you choose on November 6th. But please stop pretending that you really care about my right as a woman to make decisions about my own body and be safe from rape. Or that your choice has nothing to do with how you feel about mine and my partner’s right to create whatever kind of relationship and family we want, and have it afforded basic dignity and respect. And please stop using the term “socially liberal” when actually your vote could and will have dire consequences for poor Americans. Please and thank you.
PS I want to note that I am very, very clear that Democrats also don’t always do the right thing by the poor, women, people of color, queers, etc. To date, however, I have not heard a Dem or an Obama supporter claim their vote is fueled by being socially liberal and fiscally liberal so this blog didn’t go there.