July 10th, 2003


On being a Knee-Jerk Liberal

So, a friend of mine, who I'll call MadAndroid called me a 'knee-jerk liberal', which both wounded me and set me wondering about a number of things. Chief among these, is why he, who is AFAIK moderate to left-leaning, would use an epithet that more usually would come from conservatives? What does it mean to be liberal? And what does it mean to be a 'knee-jerk' liberal?

The term I think comes from the reflex test, where a doctor whacks your knee with a rubber mallet, triggering your leg to kick. I guess the implication is that liberals don't think, they just react in a predictable matter.

I object to this characterization because as far as I'm able to determine, I think all the time.
I've thought about President Bush. a lot. Nope. Don't like him. I can list the ways. I won't here.

But I'm also not comfortable with radical left activists types, even when I agree with them generally on an issue, because they don't seek to persuade, they seek to harangue. Sure, Nike using sweatshop labor to make shoes is bad, but yelling at people for wearing Nike trainers is stupid. People can be reasoned with, but they hate being preached to.

But I guess my views are pretty predictable. Pro-choice, Pacifist, Pro-affirmative action, Pro-environment, Pro-civil liberties. So sue me. Just because I have a group of opinions on subjects that in most cases go together, does that mean I don't think?

Or maybe the fact that I object to being called a 'knee-jerk liberal' means that I am in fact one, QED. Whatever. But there's a certain circularity to this: if I am liberal at all, conservatives (or, inexplicably MadAndroid) can call me 'knee-jerk liberal' because, well, that's what I am. They can see me coming a mile away. They know they can start talking up tax cuts and make my blood boil. They know that bringing up Iraq ditto.

In other words, they know that bringing up something that I believe is wrong, and saying it's right, will make me mad, or at least try and speak to why they're wrong. I'm predictable. Hit my knee and my leg kicks. But how are conservatives any different? Bring up gay marriage, abortion rights, or the equal rights amendment and they'll go off, just as predictably. No one ever talks about knee-jerk conservatives -- maybe liberals just aren't as good at name-calling.

MadAndroid said that, contrary to me (apparently), he doesn't let some idiology dictate what his opinions are. Bully for him. But I don't think I have a set idiology that I appeal to. I certainly have a world view that informs how I see things but how would I ever escape that? I'm who I am, who my parents made me. The things I'm for, and the things I'm against, all come along with what I regard as compelling arguments supporting those positions. And I don't get them by reading liberal media and parroting it, I actually try and learn about issues before deciding what I think.