I was raised by a very loving, very open-minded, and very liberal mother. Although many of her beliefs did not replicate themselves in me, one vital life principle did: my mom taught me to always stand up for my beliefs.
No matter how many people were against me and no matter how unpopular it made me, she was adamant that I should be true to whatever I knew in my heart was right. And even though we grew to disagree about so many important things, our mutual commitment to this key maxim never wavered.
When friends were passing around a cigarette in a tent when I was eleven, it meant that I said, “No,” and even left the tent because they said I had to smoke if I stayed. When my pastor said things in confirmation class that I thought were wrong, it meant I questioned him about it. When I wrote papers in college disagreeing with my professors, it meant I wrote them twice as well just because I wanted to make sure my ideas were considered. And when I do my radio show every day, it means I say what I believe, though it challenges every single listener I have and runs the risk of them switching channels stations over it.
Stand up for what you believe, no matter what.
It’s the principle Martin Luther King died for following. It’s the principle Gandhi changed India by following. It’s the principle that got Christ crucified. And it’s the one great rally cry of liberal thinkers everywhere.
Which is why I find it so baffling that those who proclaim it the loudest turn right around and forget it when they attack the actions of our President, George W. Bush. Instead of encouraging him in his often unpopular choices as courageous and visionary, they criticize him for risking unpopularity with his peers by doing what he thinks is right, which they then deride as “acting unilaterally.”
But what if the others are all wrong? And what if he is right?
For years now, I have been hearing from liberal thinkers how crucial it is that we Americans listen carefully to the legal, political, moral, and religious ideas of people around the world. We should adjust our laws to reflect their notions. We should adjust our foreign policy to cater to their tastes. We must alter our notions of appropriate and inappropriate living to coincide with theirs. And we must never allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we might know something about God that they have forgotten or rejected.But what if they’re all wrong? And what if we’re right?
But more to the point, what about the idea that even if the whole world is against you, you should stand for what you believe, no matter what?
Liberals aren’t suddenly supporters of the notion that all unpopular causes should be abandoned, are they? If so, they must uncomfortably note that virtually every one of their progressive objectives either is still or was originally very unpopular. Are they going to be suddenly defer to the broader population in matters regarding abortion, homosexuality, guns, capital punishment, drugs, and pornography? They would be compelled to do so if they were to become consistent with the principle they are using to criticize the President and this country. I hope they don’t, however, because, even though in this particular context they seem to have forgotten it, they and I both heartily agree that truth is not a popularity contest. I may not agree with many liberal views, but I resist the seductive temptation to dismiss them for their unpopularity.
But beyond particular current issues, just imagine how history would look if the few who believed in their cause had simply given up and deferred to the rest of the world. Professional athletes would all be white. Women would not be able to vote. Slavery would still be legal. America would still be a British territory. The Reformation wouldn’t have happened. And we’d still think of the Sun revolving around the Earth. These are all examples liberals proudly (and rightly) recount of people standing for unpopular truths over the peer pressure to accept popular errors.
The great liberal theme has always been to challenge the popular opinions and the authorities who proclaim them if they seem wrong, and I hope that never changes. So instead of forsaking the single most identifiable maxim liberals everywhere have always stood for in one awful moment of political hypocrisy, I would encourage them to say to President Bush, “We’re sorry. You’re the President. And even though we disagree with you, we will defend with our lives your right to do what you believe is in the best interests of our country. And if the rest of the world is against you, that’s okay. We, too, disagree with you, but we know that all right ideas encounter steep opposition. Don’t succumb to international peer pressure. Be courageous, and continue to stand up for what you believe. In this we will defend you. Not because we agree with you, but because we believe in that principle. For a while there, we had forgotten that this is what we truly believe. And we’re grateful somebody who disagrees with us cared enough to take the time to remind us of that fact.”