The Washington Post

Outlook: Are Liberals really just suckers?

Apr 18, 2011

Sally Kohn will be online Monday, April 18 at 11 a.m., to chat about her recent Outlook piece "Are Liberals really just suckers?" In it she writes, "The real problem isn't a liberal weakness. It's something liberals have proudly seen as a strength - our deep-seated dedication to tolerance. In any given fight, tolerance is benevolent, while intolerance gets in the good punches. Tolerance plays by the rules, while intolerance fights dirty. The result is round after round of knockouts against liberals who think they're high and mighty for being open-minded but who, politically and ideologically, are simply suckers."

Have a question about the piece? Or politics in general? Ask now.

Hi everyone.  I'm excited to be taking part in this online chat.  I've received a lot of great emails and read the comments online about my piece.  Look forward to hearing your thoughts and answering your questions. 

Were liberals suckers to trust Obama (who is my estimation turned out far less liberal than we had hoped.)?

Somewhat.  But Obama was clearly centrist all along (no matter what conservatives try to tell you).  If anything, I think we were suckers for believing that, somehow, in office he would fight the progressive fight rather than continuing a frustrating tradition of centrist compromise. 

While I understand the point you are trying to make when it comes to Washington politics, I am less convinced that this argument holds true for the general population. How would you rectify this view of excessive liberal tolerance with the actions of the liberal professors and student bodies on many universities? I find it hard to see the average liberal as tolerant in a setting where expressing an even slightly right-of-center view (and not even on social issues of "tolerance," but topics such as federal vs. state authority or international trade) often leads to scoffs, eye-rolls, name calling, and utter dismissal of the individual who dared to voice an unpopular opinion without even listening to that person's entire line of reasoning, and conservatives often hide their views and remain silent for fear of losing friends or receiving poor grades. Does excessive liberal tolerance apply to your average, private-citizen who falls on the left side of the political spectrum?

So actually, yes, the op-ed in based in large part on extensive social science research over the past 80+ years which consistently shows that people who hold liberal political views --- people inside Washington AND just your normal folks --- are more tolerant.

I have to disagree. Some of the most intolerant people I know are my liberal friends. They have complete disdain for anyone who doesn't march lockstep with their particular political and social ideas. It is pretty difficult to compromise with them because they feel, usually wrongly so, that anyone who disagrees with them is defective in some way.

Ah, but (a) I'm not sure the same can't be said of partisans on both sides of the aisle and (b) bravado isn't the same as beliefs.  Take debates on the economy, for instance.  If you watch carefully, conservatives are very clear about what they stand for, and consistently so.  "Free" market capitalism, no regulation, no taxes.  Period.  Liberals?  Are we socialists?  Pro-big business?  Pro-free trade?  What???  It's not just that we're wishy washy and non-committal but that we're fundamental aware that there are multiple valid points of view (i.e., open-minded).

What is the media's responsibility in all this? It seems that even the mainstream media calls liberals wimps. American culture is "Be a man" culture- don't give in, win at all costs, which basically translates into don't compromise and don't care about anyone but you. I think popular media as well as mainstream news media has a big role to play here in educating the public that tolerance, compromise and looking out for each other are equally important American values.

Great point!  And I think some of the liberal "oh we can't look too radical but have to convey our open-mindedness"-ness stems from decades of the media regurgitating the Right wing critique that that the media has a liberal bias.  Which, by the way, is absurd.  BUT the Right said it, the media got spooked, and to the media have largely fallen over themselves to prove they are not biased, often by being overly critical of the left.

Liberals are not always understanding: sometimes liberals have litmus tests. I remember back in 1972 when George McGovern downplayed his World War II record for fear of losing liberal antiwar support. There are many liberals will not compromise on litums test issues, such as abortion. What is your opinion of litmus test liberals?

I think litmus test is a condescending word for fundamental values.  What's wrong with having fundamental values?  I believe that war should be a last resort, that inequality should be kept to a reasonable minimum, that racism and sexism and homophobia should be eradicated from our hearts and institutions...  I could go on.  What's wrong with "litmus" tests about our deeply held and widely shared beliefs?

I don't think "liberals" are nearly as tolerant as they think they are, but the larger problem is that they and conservatives are playing by different rules. Progressives generally do like to think critically, reason out their points, and debate things rationally. Conservatives are increasingly becoming ideologues - they believe what they want to believe regardless of the truth, and they're zealous about it. How can you reach middle ground, for example, with people who refuse to believe in global warming? Or who take it as a given that Obama is a marxist?

Exactly.  How can you "compromise" with people who refuse to compromise?  In that context, compromise really just means capitulation.

As someone who is Jewish and goes to many Jewish events, I can easily say that liberals are anything but tolerant. They will demonize and insult anyone who doesn't subscribe to their exact worldview as selfish or stupid. Try being a even a moderate republican or an independent who votes for the right and you will see horror in your friends faces. Their idea that they know whats best for everyone, and people should just sit along for the ride is what got them voted out of office in the first place. I'm not saying they need to give the extreme more consideration (like birthers), but the constant slamming and insulting of the upper middle class/ wealthy and businesses hurts.

Hmmm.... So being against extreme wealth inequality is intolerant?  I think you're confusing "intolerant" in the sense of open-mindedness, willing to consider multiple perspectives, with intolerant in the sense of not tolerating injustice. 

Our two major rights movements of the 20th century, Women's Rights and Civil Rights, were about racial and gender equality and the tolerance of both. You have to at least tolerate something before you celebrate it. Liberals were certainly involved in both movements to assist leaders like MLK and female activists. Frankly, if it was not for "tolerance", you would not be in your position today just because you are a woman. I know that I, as an African American female, would have had a harder time myself. So, woman to woman, there needs to be more respect for that "liberal idea" of tolerance especially from us, which is not about being high and mighty, it is about acting like an mature adult who knows how to live in a diverse society. Before lawmakers and Presidents changed or enforced laws on equality, they themselves had to at least have some tolerance towards treating women and minorities becoming fully participatory members of society. Too many people endured too much to at least have a society that is more tolerant of others, if not celebratory of our differences.

In my piece, I actually point to the racial justice and feminist critique of tolerance which was not, actually, what MLK and other movement leaders were seeking.  Remember, he dreamed of a day when children would walk hand in hand, not merely tolerate one another.  Equality and full acceptance are VERY different from tolerance.  Also, note that these leaders and the movements they built by there very nature were not tolerating injustice and asking nicely for compromises to make things a bit better.  They were demanding full equality and justice!

Wouldn't your article have been more intriguing if you considered Understanding and Tolerance together? Is one necessary for the other? Can you be understanding and intolerant?

A great question!  Actually I think they're different things.  You can be tolerant in that you accept other people have different points of view, make different choices, etc., but not UNDERSTAND those opinions, choices, etc.  It's like I can tolerate someone being gay but not really think it's a moral equivalent to heterosexuality.  Understanding is much deeper and in the pursuit of humbly embracing our common humanity.

Good morning. I'm not sure I remember much tolerance by liberals during the process to pass the Affordable Healthcare Act. Was there any tolerance in your view?

We're talking about political tolerance here.  So, uh, yeah!  Tons of it.  Like when the Democrats started by proposing legislation that ostensibly cribbed from the GOP platform and, then, dropped the only truly progressive reform in the package --- the public 0ption --- in order to appease conservatives and the insurance industry.  Plenty of tolerance, to my mind.  Too much, in fact.

Why do democrats or liberals are seldom defensive when being badgered by their counterparts The Republicans. The liberals constantly show their inability to stand for a Bill, policy or law. While republicans fight with whit's by using their imagination and criminal minds spewing their hypothetical interpretations at the politics of the liberals because of their lack unity. And their inability to fight for what the believe is right.

appreciate your analysis and think you're right about the president and his party. my question though is what regular people can do to throw down the gauntlet since we know that our elected leaders won't. i went to the us uncut action on friday and feel like those kinds of protests are helpful but don't seem to be making any kind of impact on the political debates about the budget and taxes.

I think what US Uncut, the Other 98%, MoveOn, Progressive Change Campaign Committee and others are doing is valuable and important!  Keep at it!  And yes, my larger point is that this is NOT just a problem with Obama but a problem with liberals in general --- that while conservatives aren't afraid to lose a battle in the short-term to push their agenda (even against their own representatives) and win the longer-term war, liberals are afraid to really fight.  See the poll mentioned in my piece about how liberals wanted their leaders to capitulate on the budget fight.  Sheesh!  We need to understand winning by losing --- and yes, we the people need to push our leaders!!

It is interesting that "Political Tolerance" commented on the intolerance, projected from the left: "I find it hard to see the average liberal as tolerant in a setting where expressing an even slightly right-of-center view...: In my opinion, while I believe that each side is guilty of this, it is actually the right - particularly the tea party - that seem to drown out differing opinions. However, to the point of the liberals, how would you change this entrenched submissiveness that has become part of the liberal purview? Thanks.

"Entrenched submissiveness".  I like that!  I'm going to have to quote that sometime.  But not a pretty picture....  This is part of the origins of the piece I wrote, actually, the desire for liberals to stop blaming everyone else for our plight -- whether the Tea Party, or GOP, or even Dem leaders -- and take some responsibility for toughining our own spines and becoming such a powerful and assertive voice demanding progressive change that no one --- not Obama, not Congress on either party --- no one could ignore us.  If the problem is part psychological and originates with us, we can do something about it to.  It's in our hands.

It seems the only weapon Democrats have is to withhold funding to the DNC and protest our presidents behavior.The risk is that the GOP will take this as a sign of weakness for the president. How do Democrats make their president and party leaders teach them to respond with real force without weakening their standing?

Ah, therein lies the rub.  We may have to make a choice.  Look, the Democratic party treats its progressive base with neglect because we let them.  Because we don't really show any likelihood of leaving, or showing real electoral retribution.  The far, far, far Right of the Republican party has power because the GOP fears them.  Meanwhile the fairly moderate liberal base of the Democratic Party, which speaks for a much larger percentage of the population --- arguably, in fact, the majority --- can't get a hearing.  We have to do more to make them listen, and be willing to act on threats.

Sally, I think you have hit the nail right on the head here. Mr. Obama campaigned like Teddy Roosevelt. So many of us were willing to join him, undoing the injustices of the past 30 years. What we got instead was the class wimp, handing over his (and our!) lunch money, sneakers, homework papers, while the bullies land one punch after another. What can we do to bring back the guy we thought we were voting for?

The "New York Times" recently ran a story about how conservative voices are crowded out of academia. Comedian Sandra Bernhard publicly advocated the gang-rape of Sarah Palin, and got an approving review from this newspaper. At this weekend's tea party rallies, liberal protesters used ethnic slurs against black conservatives and yelled obscenities at the Tea Party members (see YouTube for evidence). Conservative friends of mine in all walks of life -- college students, entertainers, businesspeople, etc. -- frequently talk about feeling as if they have to censor themselves or be treated like a freak show. Can you understand why some of us think that "liberal tolerance" is just a myth?

Ok... First of all, I think what Bernhard said is deplorable.  Second of all, any and all obscenities and slurs, from both sides, either side, whatever the context, are deplorable.  Third, to an exchange previously, research shows liberals are more open-minded.  Good research.  Lots of it.  BUT my point is that many of us know that we should not be tolerant of hateful speech, hateful acts and legislation, etc.  It's that same intolerance that we should muster to go after the truly hateful, anti-American policies being spewed by some in the GOP today. 

People love a free lunch. Liberals are constantly engaging in class warfare where they slam conservatives for trying to cut people benefits or demonizing those who are doing well for themselves as selfish. People are addicted to the government support and once you create an entitlement program in the US, its very hard to make it go away. Everyone wants their piece of the pie. They refuse to allow an honest discussion about how much of a safety net is actually needed. In their "altrusim" they remove much of the motivation to really go out and make things better.

With all due respect, take your blinders off.  I don't know about your life, but I'm surrounded by PUBLIC structures --- government --- that make mine better on a daily basis.  I can only write because I learned in public school.  I went to college with federally subsidized student loans.  I take the subway to work.  I'm writing to you on the internet, which our government created and thankfully regulates.  And that's really just the tip of the iceberg.  Denying public benefits to those who need them most completely ignores the role that government has played and continues to play in helping all of us on a daily basis.  And in particular, you ignore the very active role that government plays in giving literal handouts and legs up to big business and the top 1%.  I agree we don't need class warfare; only I don't agree that working class and poor people are the ones creating it...


As a lifelong liberal, your analysis was a wake-up call. A problem with being tolerant is that intolerant people do recognize us as suckers. I have thought through my life wondering how it is the intolerant people get ahead, and now I realize: I lack the ability to get into a dirty fight. While I have my self-respect, I now realize others see me as a sucker. My only saving grace is realizing that those who fight dirty often do get caught and I have watched their downfall while I remain in the system. At least we liberals will be here for the long haul, even if it does takes us longer to fight our causes.

Yeah, though I think you can fight without fighting dirty.  Isn't that what social movements like the Civil Rights Movement taught us?

I'd love to keep up the conversation -- join my list at or -- or send me a note on Twitter to @sallykohn

How crazy can you be? Liberals are only tolerant of those who agree with them. The actions of the "tolerant" liberals in Wisconsin should dispel any myths about liberal tolerance.

You are SO right!  Public school teachers standing up for the role of government in guaranteeing a quality public education to all children regardless of where they come from?  So intolerant...

Couldn't agree with you more. The right has so demonized the word "liberal" that it had to be changed to "progressive." Dem congresspeople always let it slide when a GOP calls the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare, turning it into a pejorative or allowing the Democratic Party to be called the Democrat Party. It's simple to frame an argument but it's not in most of the Dem's DNA. But here's the real problem: The media seems to be so lacking in knowledge that they are reluctant to challenge a, say, Donald Trump, or, on the other side of the ledger, a Paul Ryan, because they haven't studied the assertions in depth and are shaky on the facts. Do you agree? And thanks for letting me rant.

Good rant.  I think you're right about the media to a point, but there's definitely some good exceptions.  Still, when most media is produced by one of five very large, very self-interested corporations, what do we expect?  And when we the people become passive consumers of TV rather than active media citizens ourselves, we also have to share some of that blame. 

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Send me a note on Twitter at @sallykohn

I've enjoyed your comments, reactions and emails immensely!  Keep up the good fight!

The system just finally refreshed so I now see I have more questions... Hang on.  I'm getting to 'em!

Why do you set up a straw man? Your question should read: Are liberals really just people who call others stupid and racist when they, the liberals, cannot construct an argument? Another question is: why do liberals call themselves liberals when they are really socialists and the most race-obsessed people in America?

Um, I can only speak for myself, but pointing out persistent racial and economic inequality in our society --- which is all around us and hurts ALL of us --- makes me neither a racist nor a socialist. 

Please explain why you know think that Liberals are the ones playing by the rules? Example - Healthcare reform was not by the rules or by the standard rules that typical legislation of such magnitude would have been able to pass. Just admit that the Liberal cause is being a dealt a blow because the following: 1) Liberalism really does mean to tax and spend. 2) Liberalism is anti-business. Look at the economy and see impact more regulation has done to American competitiveness. 3) Liberals cannot defend their core beliefs. Even Europe is attempting to move away from the ideals that now US Liberals are still attempting. So lose the playing by the rules is why Liberals are losing. They are losing because their methods and core beliefs do not and have not ever worked.

Lots to respond to in there, but let me just say, no liberalism is not anti-business.  It is anti-everything-being-controlled-only-by-a-handful-of-very-large-elite-businesses.  Small business and entrepreneurship built this country.  Then at the turn of the last century, we allowed our government to be hijacked to only support robber barrons and large corporations.  We fixed that with the New Deal, which the Right has systematically eroded to the point where approximately 400 Americans control more worth than 150 million Americans.  Come on.  Who's playing by the rules?!??!?!  The game is rigged!

What exactly is your definition of "tolerant"? Many of us on the right who have been the subject of vitriol are having trouble understanding what you are saying when you claim that liberals are more "tolerant". Perhaps your definition is very different than the traditional definition.

Two responses.  First, I mean it in the sense of the social science research, that liberals are more inclined to be open-minded, tolerant, interested in new ideas and experiences, etc.  But second, let's be clear --- there are INTOLERANT in the sense of jerks/mean/etc liberals.  I don't endorse that AT ALL.

You are correct that the mainstream media is afraid to appear liberal and as a result goes out of it's way to NOT call out blatant lies and fear mongering on the right. Being balanced is one thing but let's try giving equal time to different interpretations of the same immutable facts NOT different views of reality.


Where is all of this research you keep talking about? Where is it?

Here's a great piece from 2008 that summarizes research on the psychological differences between conservatives and liberals --- tolerance levels and more --- back to the 1930s:,%20Jost,%20&%20Gosling%20(2008)%20The%20secret%20lives%20of%20liberals%20.pdf

Uh, don't you see that labeling GOP policies as " truly hateful" and "anti-American" is the epitome of political intolerance?

Did you read my piece?  I am indeed calling on progressives to be LESS tolerant of hurtful and destructive extremism within the GOP.  My argument is that the progressive inclination toward tolerating other points of view can indeed be self-defeating against an increasingly intolerant GOP.

Don't you think a lot of this comes down to the more effective marketing (and/or distortion) techniques that conservatives such as Frank Luntz utilize? Whether it's swift boats, death panels or the perennial favorite "socialist" label, Republicans -- I'll hand it to them -- seem to get the drop on us year after year.

Fair point.  But the Right is good at messaging because, first and foremost, they are clear about what they want to say, what they stand for.  That place of firm conviction --- and being confident that the nation will stand with you (even false confidence) --- is the starting place.

Can you be more specific about the difference between "refusing to compromise" and sticking to "fundamental values"? Looks like a pretty thin excuse for a partisan double standard to me.

I'm saying that on issues of fundamental values, we should refuse to compromise.  That, in fact, by even agreeing to / talking about compromise we erode the inherent power and righteousness of fundamental values --- we imply that they must not be so fundamental after all.

That guy doesn't exist in real life. Better for you to go find a true progressive and give her your support in 2012. Or Nader, maybe?

To paraphrase Socrates, the answer lies within us.  No politician is a panacea.  Whether and how we they people push, that's the key.

Does truth have a liberal bias?

Ha.  Laughed out loud.  Proclaiming truth definitely has a conservative bias.  That's part of the tendency toward conservative intolerance.  But truth itself?  No, it's definitely non-partisan.  In fact, arguably, politics is all about not creating truth but spinning it.  There's a cynical comment for ya...

What I want to understand is how can liberals talk so much disappointment in Pres. Obama when the liberals have not protested, they have not organized, or went to the streets in the past two years like the Tea Party has done? Pres. Obama simply does not have the big and bold "take action" support of the Democrats and the liberal constituents like what you see from the Tea Party in relation to the Republicans. Basically the Tea Party "made" the Republicans do more of what they wanted. Liberals should not complain unless they are ready to go at it big as an organized group, even bigger than what the Tea Party movement has done. Have we forgotten how Pres. Obama said before we was elected that it will take "all of us" to make these changes...and he stated that he can't do it by himself? Well, that's what happened...he is doing it by himself while we have complained and sat in our ivory towers and glass houses. I disagree with the Tea Party, but at least they brought it to the streets and practically scared the Republican Party to listen to them.

Good point.  Though progressives HAVE organized, taken to the streets, etc., and a much longer (and I think very interesting) debate is about why Tea Party organizing had the impact it did on the GOP and the national political landscape while generally speaking, progressive organizing (which was arguably at a greater scale) did not.  Here's something I wrote on that:

You refer frequently to "research" that supports your partisan views, but have provided no links. Can you provide links to your research? Several links please, as you claim there is an "extensive" body of research. There should be many links for you to provide.

What research do you keep referring to?

Sally, I think you dismissed this person's observations too easily. I consider myself liberal, I am Jewish also, and have a PhD. I have myself observed the very reactions the poster described: the condescension, disbelief, etc. To my mind, "conservative" is not a dirty word or a sign of intellectual or moral failing (though the Right seems determined to make it so). I may disagree with many conservative positions, but that doesn't make them evil.

Wait a second, I don't think conservatives are evil either!!  But I do think that some of the things conservatives want to do are evil.  And I do think that the far Right strand that has long-dominated the GOP is incredibly dangerous.  I can say that without critiques on people's character, etc.  And my point is, I wish that all liberals could as well.  Similarly, I wish that conservatives could attack liberal view points without attacking liberals as people.

Rest assured NO ONE ever makes the arguement that conservatives are tolerant. At least we liberals try! And why DO conservatives criticize liberals for not being tolernat since the claim to disdain tolerance (or 'political correctness" as they like to call it). Sounds like we damned by the republicans if we do and damned by the republicans if we don't.

Well put!

Great column, Sally. As a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., I used to find it amusing that so many politicians (mostly but not exclusively conservative Republicans) present themselves during their campaigns as being 100% against the way things are done in Washington and promise to clean it all up. Of course, they quickly learn that, like most other professions, politics is about achieving results, which typically requires some measure of compromise and negotiation. But now we have a new variation on the theme, whereby the very naysayers and obstructionists who keep the government from doing anything they dislike (no matter that most Americans favor it) criticize their opponents for not rolling over. And I have to be honest, I don't find that immaturity in the least principled. Short of bringing back duels, how can liberals and moderates get anything done in such a poisonous atmosphere?

Good quetion, and my typing fingers are getting tired...  Partly, it's a longer-term question.  Progressives have to become the people who fight for what's right again --- as we were in the 60s and 70s.  We have to regain the moral high ground.  Which, by the way, is rightly bending toward justice.  The vast majority of Americans support equal opportunity, a positive role for government, etc.  It's just that for the last 30 years, the Right has been pushing it's minority views more effectively than progressive majority ideals.  So we have to start doing better at a macro level and then, case by case, yes be sometimes willing to compromise (because that's the situational reality) but sometimes, strategically, be willing to draw a line in the sand and fight --- even if it means losing the "battle" to advance overall victory.

Do you think liberals will eventually need to do another organized civil rights movement due to the increasingly hostile political and social environment we are seeing now which has racial, religious, and economical discrimination undertones?

Yeah.  I think most would agree.  And many trying.  Problem is it's not just something you can wish (or hope!) into existence...  Yes, organizing is a part, but also a factor of historical moment, sparking events, serendipity.

When we allow differences to existing even if we don't like them. When we let people make their own personal decisions without fear of being called PC and being made fun of for chosing to NOT make fun of people who are different from us.

Do read my piece.  I actually praise parts of the progressive movement that are INTOLERANT of hate speech and, in general, racism, sexism, etc.  I think that knowing what we stand for morally and fighting for that is a powerful position.

Obviously don't live in Virginia, lol! We all should be considerate when talking in public, we all should censor ourselves. Then, among freinds and compatriots, talk the party line. No one should be talking about politics at work, intimidating other people (like my conservative boss).

On some level, the issue isn't about "censoring ourselves" the issue is that we live in a society that creates people who would WANT to say blatantly offensive, problematic things to one another.  That's what we have to be intolerant of.  There's a reason in my piece I said we should be intolerant of racism NOT intolerant of racists.  Very intentional word choices.

It seems to me that you're not defining your terms adequately. When the left stands firm it's principle, but when the right stands firm it's intolerance.

Nope.  Two different points.  I'm saying that research shows liberals are more open-minded, tolerant, interested in new and different ideas.  And then I'm saying that, because of that, liberals are disinclined to stand firm and fight on their principles while conservatives are principled. 

My "fundamental values" include not taking from other taxpayers what I can, and rightly should, obtain & achieve for myself. Example: everyone in this country is offered a basic 12 years of public-school education. If you choose not to utilize this benefit to its fullest advantage and I do, why should I then be responsible for any "economic inequality" suffered by you? The taxpayers of this nation have been told by the liberals that we should be responsible for subsidizing the poor life choices of others for years. Finally, people are coming out of the woodwork to protest this and they're being called "mean" and "intolerant?" Hogwash.

Actually, I don't think the opinions you expressed are intolerant or mean.  Just short-sighted.  No one who has succeeded in our country has done so by themselves.  There's a reason we brag about the American Dream --- it's because there are public, shared structures in our country that make success possible.  And those who succeed have not only a duty but honor to reinvest in those structures so that others can achieve.  In a nutshell, I do not believe that individual success is solely the product of individual effort NOR do I believe that people who are poor are only poor because of their own failings.  I think, to think otherwise, reflects a very sad and very narrow understanding of the very complex society in which we live.

How do you suggest progressives counter the big bad Republicans? They bring up Socialism, Obama's birth (which is a backdoor way of invoking the fear of the Other as well as suggesting he might be Muslim after all)? By maybe using the long discredited charge of ""Fascism"? By bringing up Newt Gingrich's multiple adulteries? Or maybe by countering the protect-the-rich "class warfare" charges of the GOP by citing the very real class warfare being perpetrated by the union-busting, Medicaid-cutting Repubs? Speaking of which, how does your analysis square with "liberal" Democratic governors like Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo who are also slashing aid to the poor and (at least in Cuomo's case) aggressively taking on the unions in a manner closer to Scott Walker? Are they "liberal suckers" or Trojan Horses a la Obama?

Let me just tackle part of that.... yes, on these points, I think that when Brown and Cuomo ape conservatives by going after workers, they are indeed being suckers.  To borrow a metaphor from my piece, they think that they can score political points by throwing the ball in the other team's hoop.  Which reflects a pathetic lack of leadership in bringing the debate to their court.

Have you seen the tape of Keith Olbermann talking to a college conservative? He's really tolerant.

Thank you for pointing out that research that shows liberals are more inclined to be tolerant and open-minded than conservatives does not mean that ALL liberals are tolerant.  Duly noted.

Every few months this tired old horse gets led out and whacked once or twice: Democrats/liberals/progressives lose elections and political arguments not because their policies are bad, but because they're too nice. Meanwhile, state legislators in Wisconsin and Illinois flee, and thousands of Obama-organized demonstrators occupy the Madison statehouse for weeks, call the GOP governor vicious slurs and threaten Republican lawmakers, while the President of the United States tells the other party "elections have consequences" and "they must be crazy" if they think there is a chance for compromise or that their voices will be given a fair hearing. Grow up. There are nasty people on both sides, and sometimes you lose an election or an argument because people decide that, on balance, at that moment, the other party's ideas are better.

I think that, over the last 40 years, the nature of public debate --- our operating norms as a nation --- have shifted rightward NOT because conservative ideas are better but because conservatives have done a better job firmly insisting on their views while liberals have been yielding, open-minded.  The Right fought for political hegemony.  The left yielded and moved to the middle.  End of story.

Whether we believe that Obama would uphold progressive ideals or that the Koch's have the middle class's best interests at heart, aren't all of us outside the beltway and wealthy boardrooms, suckers?

Best comment all day!

Unfortunately (or fortunately), there is no liberal Machiavelli. Gary Hart wrote a book and made an attempt, but there is never a systematic push to instill the political discipline necessary to win on the liberal side--by nature, it is like herding cats to discipline liberals. One way to correct it is to set one specific policy/legislative goals and generate a momentum. What conservatives succeeded are very clear messages: stop progress, go back! What is the liberal counter-message?

Our job is to reclaim the story of America to be what it actually is and always has been, a story of perfecting our union to be more inclusive, more just, more equitable.  Progress is not something done TO America.  Progress IS America.  America was founded on the ideals of improving on the nations of the past, and we still strive to improve our own nation, as in fact the Founders insisted we must.  That's the essence -- reclaiming the historical and moral high ground for a better future for all of us.


Unfortunately, I have to run but I've loved all your questions and feedback. 

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Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn is a community organizer and political commentator. She is the founder and chief education officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a think tank.
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