The term “bleeding heart liberal” is meant to be an insult. It conjures images of a soft, gullible sap who is willing to give away your last dollar to some undeserving lout. A bleeding heart liberal is seen as soft on crime and hopelessly idealistic. But I have decided to wear the label proudly and without apology.
First of all, the political right has somehow managed to make the term “liberal” a dirty word. Yet “liberal” comes from the Latin “liber,” meaning “free.” A dictionary definition includes such laudatory descriptions as “favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms” and “favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.”
For me, being a liberal means a belief in affording citizens the maximum amount of personal freedom that does not infringe on the rights or safety of others. It means government policy that fairly taxes all, not allowing for loopholes and tax shelters that favor the wealthy and giant corporations. It means giving disadvantaged people a fair shot at the American dream.
But lately my heart has been bleeding. It has been bleeding at the sight of unarmed black men being gunned down or killed in a chokehold. It has been bleeding at senseless “accidental” shootings of and by children who gain access to loaded handguns. My heart bleeds for young military men and women coming home from foreign lands maimed and psychologically distressed – or in caskets to a grieving family.
Victims of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes. Impoverished families increasingly being told what they can and cannot purchase with food stamps. Kids with persistent health problems due to inadequate medical care. Veterans on waiting lists to receive the medical attention they so desperately need and so richly deserve. Teenagers so angry and without hope that they are willing to loot and burn and throw bricks at police officers. The list is virtually endless.
One of the great features of my oft-maligned Catholic faith is its insistence on social justice. Dorothy Day, a candidate for sainthood, was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Pope Francis has renewed the call for helping the poor and disenfranchised. He even spoke out recently in favor of equal pay for women.
If my bleeding heart makes me soft, so be it. I will always be a champion of those who find it hard to fight for themselves. I will always seek to vote for government leaders who are committed to social justice. I was proud to vote for President Obama and would do so gladly if I had it to do over again.
The dictionary also defines “liberal” as “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.” Though my education thus far has hardly been perfect or complete, I will never stop trying to learn and understand our world and the people in it.