The Science of the Squishy Lib

The Science of the Squishy Lib

Open mindedness, generosity, tolerance, finding common ground in our humanity: This is what the libs want. 

By “the libs,” I don’t mean anyone to the left of Newt Gingrich, but rather folks who have tightened their blindfolds during our slow but steady descent into fascism and have hoped against hope that we might one day return to a pre-Trumpian era of American politics. This, for the libs, is the goal. They care not for the systemic failings of our convoluted republic or capitalism or white supremacy – failings that have driven desperate Americans into the arms of foaming-at-the-mouth fascists thrilled to have their support. 

A magical return to life before Cheeto Mussolini – or whatever the libs call Trump these days – is their one and only wish as we approach a presidential election that could usher in the permanent end of representative democracy in the United States. 

Subscribe to Bad Faith Times for free or support BFT with $5 a month.

New York Times columnists have whined at an especially high pitch in recent months about the left’s so-called demands of political purity in the face of a rising fascist threat, a threat for which mainline liberals have served as willing and often blood-soaked midwives. These Times columnists, including someone named Pamela Paul, have decried the American left’s request that we make society somewhat better as to fend off the terrifying authoritarian threat looming, glaring, salivating over every one of us

Paul in a recent NYT column called out “progressives” for refusing to tolerate those who would not fall in line with their political vision for the United States. Paul, I think, means “leftist” when she uses “progressive,” and as the Bad Faith Times readers know well by now, there are major philosophical differences between leftists and liberals. If one were feeling particularly ungenerous, one could say liberals are just conservatives who are usually OK with abortion. Beyond that, the differences between conservatives and liberals are minimal, and when it comes to capitalism and the security state and other matters of systemic importances, the differences require a high-powered microscope. 

She points to various studies published in recent years outlining the science of the liberal-leftist split that has so vexed mainline Democrats during the Trump era. Mostly these studies seek to cast leftists as mentally ill and deranged and a danger to the nation’s democratic republic, offering centrists and liberals objective proof that they are right and their leftist antagonists are not only wrong, but – and they cannot stress this enough – suffering from extreme mental illness. The research again and again normalizes the science of what it means to be liberal – to tolerate all political positions, to embrace the nihilistic idea that everyone and everything is good and bad in equal measure. This, per the research, is supposed to be a positive quality.

Research published in 2022 by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin gave liberals all the ammo they needed to attack folks to their left as unserious and mean spirited. The research said “progressives supported publicly censuring those perceived to hold discriminatory views. In other words, progressives tended to agree with statements such as, ‘Those who express bigoted views should be exposed and deserve the backlash that follows.’” 

It is that lack of tolerance for discriminatory viewpoints that most annoys the squishy American lib. For these feckless libs, there is no greater threat to freedom than some college students interrupting campus speeches by fascists advocating for the immediate end of multicultural democracy and the state-sponsored discrimination of people based on their immutable characteristics. Not allowing awful people to speak, for the squishy lib, is the ultimate betrayal of the American experiment, whatever that means to you. To fully understand this, one must ignore that the people whose speech is being interrupted are calling for the end of the American experiment. 

Pamela Paul, like so many libs, falls for the right’s bad faith when she embraces the rising number of Americans who identify themselves as liberal. Many of these folks call themselves “classical liberals,” which, in case you missed it, is a popular self identification for never-Trump conservatives who see themselves as inheritors of the Barry Goldwater tradition. A “classical liberal” is someone who will tolerate some of the trappings of democracy, unlike their Trumpist brethren. In the end, they all want the same ends by different means. 

Again and again, Paul chastises the American left for failing the Sorkinesque West Wing test: Pretending, for the sake of tradition, that all Americans desire the same policy outcomes, and that all we have to do is talk about solutions until we hammer out a path forward. Paul wags a judgmental finger at the “troubling characteristic of contemporary progressivism.” 

In an increasingly prominent version of the progressive vision, capitalism isn’t something to be regulated or balanced, but is itself the problem. White supremacy doesn’t describe an extremist fringe of racists and antisemites, but is instead the inherent character of the nation. … Whereas liberals tend to pride themselves on acceptance, many progressives have applied various purity tests to others on the left, and according to one recent study on the schism between progressives and liberals, are more likely than liberals to apply public censure to divergent views. This intolerance manifests as a professed preference for avoiding others with different values, a stance entirely antithetical to liberal values.  What a strange paradox that at the very moment the word “liberal” is enjoying a renaissance, liberalism itself feels on the wane. Many liberals find themselves feeling lonelier than ever.

First off, boo fucking hoo. In an era of societal collapse and the very real threat of authoritarianism hanging over our heads like a guillotine, it doesn't really matter that you feel politically lonely or that your feel-feels are hurt by folks to the left of you (this column, like so many of its ilk, is little more than a plea to soothe the writer’s injured ego). Paul cries about “intolerance” of opposing viewpoints – a complaint that betrays her philosophy’s ultimate weakness; for to tolerate the American right wing is to come to terms with anti-democratic horrors the likes of which we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th century. 

How would one tolerate the current American right wing, exactly? On abortion rights, maybe you would fend off calls for total abortion care bans but agree to a 20-week restriction, putting high-risk pregnancies at risk? On taxes, you would have to avoid increasing taxes on the mega-rich and, I suppose, putting that burden on folks making decent money but are still one or two missed paychecks from financial disaster? On immigration, tolerance of the right’s vision for the US might give you women guards at the coming concentration camps

On health care, we know what this gets you: Tolerance of the right wing births something as hideous and ineffective as Obamacare, which does little more than permit an American to pay a bunch of money to health insurers whose reason for existence is to deny medical care to people who need it the most. The leftist vision for health care reform in the early days of the Obama presidency included a public option to guarantee timely and necessary and free health services for every single person in the country. Most Americans would flock to the public option, as they do in all other developed nations, while the rich can have their specialized medical care and pay out of pocket. The public’s plea was hardly even political: You can have your stupid fucking fancy-ass health care, just let us go to the doctor sometimes. Stop making us go to the emergency room for a cough. 

As any former Obama-loving millennial knows, this was agonizingly close to becoming a reality before a handful of so-called Blue Dog Democrats tolerated the demands of congressional Republicans and created the Affordable Care Act. That President Obama did not fight more forcefully for the public option is the most soul-crushing betrayal of my political life. It was a terribly revelatory moment for me and Americans who had campaigned enthusiastically for who we believed was The One.

The ACA, fifteen years on, is hated by everyone for various reasons and should serve as an example of what happens when the right’s desires (and the logic of capital) are tolerated. For liberals – the folks penning these New York Times columns – the ACA, or Obamacare, is a sterling example of political compromise. These folks, of course, have the best medical care possible and don’t know a single person making less than a half million dollars a year. They are utterly detached from reality.

If liberals really do want to understand the mindset of the modern leftist, they would do well to examine the resounding successes of the American right wing. A small but feverishly dedicated set of ultra-conservatives took over the Republican Party in the 1980s and never relinquished control. For their troubles, they have captured (stolen) the Supreme Court for at least the next fifty years. This accomplishment alone means no progressive policy can ever come to fruition. They have built a wall that will block any and all efforts to make life somewhat more dignified for working people. And they achieved this extraordinary victory by silencing their opponents – both within the party and outside of it – and refusing to tolerate or compromise with anyone at any time. I respect the right wing for this in the most begrudging way possible. 

The American left, energized by young people who have seen what happens when a small but vocal minority takes command of one of our nation’s two major political parties, wants to emulate what the right has done over the past four decades. The left wants to win, not for corporate profits or the wildly corrupt and vile oligarch class or white supremacy, but for regular people who need a break, who deserve a break. A disciplined lack of tolerance, an absolute refusal to negotiate, an absence of generosity: This is how political wins are achieved. If that is your goal – and it’s not clear that liberals want to win in anything – there is only one way forward, and it does not involve holding hands with your political enemies. 

Follow Denny Carter on BlueSky at and on X at @CDCarter13.