upcoming events

in the next two weeks:

see all upcoming events


Do you have old cell phones or used ink cartridges and want to recycle them? Contact Liz Fossett.

dems poll

Unfortunately our poll cannot be displayed on this page.

georgetown dems blog

read the rest of the blog


Are you a Georgetown Dems alum? We'd love to hear what you're doing now!

subscribe to our mailing list

mailing list archive


Run a search for the word “Liberal” in Google. Just a few entries down, underneath the Wikipedia articles and dictionary definitions, is Conservapedia.com’s ever-brilliant perspective. Yes, it’s their word now. The conservative website (self-titled “The Trustworthy Encyclopedia”) defines liberalism in a nut shell, beginning with the “denial of inherent gender differences, leading to things such as allowing men and women to have the same jobs in the military (while quietly holding them to different standards)” and including “support of obscenity and pornography”, “limits [to] conservative talk radio”, and “opposition to a strong American foreign policy.” The accompanying illustration, The Socialist Brain of a Liberal Democrat, provides a nice summary of today’s understanding of Liberals and their silly, self-serving, and anti-American principles.

The term “Liberal” now brands Democratic politicians—it has become an insult rather than a political position. The word is thrown around with a new conservative spin, using phrases such as “the liberal media,” “tax-and-spend liberal,” and “dirty liberal hippie” to disparage ideals once considered to be Democratic. The 21st century Liberal is imprudent, radical, even silly—and to be labeled a Liberal is political suicide. But its connotation now extends far beyond the limits of its definition; indeed, popular understanding has altogether changed the meaning of the term. Today’s most powerful Democrats refuse to call themselves Liberals, instead opting for the elusive “Progressive” label. What the substantive difference is between these two ideologies is unclear, except that the former has been hijacked by the conservative wing to represent all that is wrong with the Democratic Party in general.

First of all, let’s go back to the origins of the word “Liberal”. Having its root in the word for freedom, to be liberal is to be generous, tolerant, open, and understanding. Outside of a political context, one can give liberally, have liberal amounts of, or be liberal-minded. And Liberalism as a political ideology emphasizes freedom and equality, insisting on individual rights and equal opportunity. Now, that doesn’t sound silly to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like the platform of a Progressive—or whatever it is that the Democrats are calling themselves these days. Yet Democrats have developed an aversion to the word, succumbing to the negative spin placed upon it by conservatives. Conservatives would logically demonize Liberals—after all, they are proponents of fundamentally different values and policies. Fending off the Liberal label only legitimizes the conservative smear campaign aimed at making the Democrats into something ridiculous. But why are Democrats running from the very principles that define their Party? If they are looking for conservative approval, they are certainly not going to find it by touting Progressivism in its stead.

To be sure, the Democrats are trying to cultivate a less “radical” image to appeal to a wider audience (for wider audience, read centrist voters). Liberalism no longer represents the noble ideals the Democratic Party once stood for—instead, it seems to belong in the derogatory word pool with the Commies and the Fascists. There is no conservative equivalent to this rejected term. Calling someone a conservative merely describes his or her political position, one with which you can agree or disagree. Whereas Democrats plug their ears when they hear the word ‘Liberal’, ‘Conservative’ just doesn’t have the same ring. Republicans stand their ground on conservative issues, while Democrats waver self-consciously between left and center. They are eager to please and easy to upset, and as a result have cultivated an image insecure in their own principles. The refusal to embrace the term is a concession of sorts, admitting that there is something ridiculous about the Democratic Party. Our fear of the word ‘Liberal’ gives ammunition to the conservative campaign against the very values Democrats claim to hold.

Political success does involve compromise, and alienating more moderate voters will undoubtedly prove fruitless. But it doesn’t have to, and indeed it must not, involve sacrifice. Relinquishing control of the Liberal label to the conservatives is a political defeat that extends beyond the thesaurus. The truth is, Democrats are liberals—but liberal is not synonymous with radical. We must recover ‘liberal’ from the conservative smear machine and reestablish it in terms of truly Democratic values. ‘Liberal’ is not a dirty word, and a Liberal by any other name is still a Liberal.