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Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

As a self-professed passionate moderate (the liberal charismatic title was thrust upon me by an opponent), I’m very conscious of bias on both the liberal and conservative sides. To be human is to be biased. I have my moderate biases, including a bias toward considering anything from the left or the right obviously biased. You just can’t win with me!

A number of readers likely already know that FiveThirtyEight.com is one of my favorite, of not my absolute favorite, news source. Besides their efforts to state their own biases, and the fact that I like numbers, this is a result of their efforts to cite their sources and show their work. If I question their rating of a pollster, for example, I can go look at what goes into that rating.

Before I get to the article I’m linking from them today, I want to emphasize something important. I like numbers, yes, but you have to be careful. The reason for this is that you have to understand how the numbers you’re liking were produced. Let me give an example. A friend asked me to read a book on the ancient world because I know the languages and he wanted an assessment of how much credence I should give it. In the book, someone gave measurements for the original size of the great pyramid in millimeters. There is no way the author could actually have that information. Numbers calculated in that way are designed to give the impression of precision even when such precision does not exist.

A more common way to produce a number is to assign it, such as asking people to rate something on a scale from 1 to 10. In order to know the question asked, how it’s asked, and who it’s asked of. After that you might consider asking what those people might know. For example, asking a random sample to rate the quality of cardiac care in this country on a scale from 1 to 10 produces information on how the sample views this, but might tell you as little as nothing regarding the actual state of such care, depending on who is being asked and what they could know.

So here’s the article, Psychologists Looked in the Mirror and Saw a Bunch of Liberals. (You need to read the article—the whole article. This material is useless without the reasoning behind it and the look for solutions.)

Someone noted the bias with a simple show of hands, and followed up with a study looking at the way in which results of studies were presented in journal abstracts. Here’s the generalization:

Sure enough, the abstracts more often explained their findings in terms of conservative ideas rather than liberal ones, and conservatives were described more negatively in the eyes of the raters.

The study authors tested for a bias in their raters and found that their liberal raters actually rated the abstracts as more negative regarding conservative views than did conservative raters. In a  separate test, they also note that a panel of psychologists surveyed for their expectation of bias expected the results to be more biased than the study showed they were. You should, in turn, read the note on the potential problem with the panel of psychologists surveyed.

Note to self: Doing a deep enough study on an issue to have a strong opinion is a lot of work and takes a lot of time!

One of the solutions suggested is studies done by “trans-ideogical teams,” i.e., have research done by people who expect different results and who then design a study based on what would change their mind on the topic. I like this idea quite a lot.

I’ll note that this has a great deal to do with the way I publish (my company). I look to create conversation between people of widely differing viewpoints. (This is not identical to creating a church congregation, where some identity is necessary. I also support diverse congregations, but the boundaries will be set up differently.) I believe that in learning, there is great value in hearing the opposing position from someone who actually supports it.

A conservative professor requiring readings from a liberal book and explaining liberal ideas is not as challenging as hearing from an actual liberal. Similarly, if you reverse liberal and conservative. I have lived and learned in situations dominated by conservatives and at other times in ones dominated by liberals. The result I see is the same: Complacency, laziness, and arrogance. One decides one doesn’t have to have support for an idea because “everybody knows that.” But this “everybody” is a very selected subset.

I don’t see any solution here except intentionally involving people who disagree. I have found for myself that I cannot truly express the support for an idea I don’t accept myself nearly as well as a person who truly does support it, even if I try diligently.

This article is encouraging to me because it attacks bias in two ways: 1) Identifying and quantifying it, and 2) Looking at ways to correct for it.

Do Liberals and Conservatives Really Need Each Other?

Do Liberals and Conservatives Really Need Each Other?

Early in my college days I encountered a man who would have a substantial influence on my life. It started as he explained textual variants and alternate possible translations in Genesis 1 for 2nd year Hebrew. I’d taught myself that far, and hadn’t done badly figuring out the rules, but my knowledge was less than practical. That man was Dr. Alden Thompson, now professor emeritus at Walla Walla University, and author of several books, two of which I publish.

While showing me things that I had never seen before, and wasn’t sure I wanted to see, Alden displayed a gentleness and spiritual depth that had a profound impact on the way in which my theological understanding would develop. It is an approach he has modeled for decades and truly grown into even more as he moves forward.

Looking at the divisions in his beloved Seventh-day Adventist Church, Alden doesn’t want victory for liberals or conservatives or any of the many other variations one might find. What he wants is conversation and an appreciation of the gifts that all bring to the table.

Even though I don’t publish it, as we approach celebration of Consider Christianity Week, I wanted to call attention to Alden’s book, Beyond Common Ground: Why Liberals and Conservatives Need Each Other. Alden is talking about faith and a church organization, but the principles he discusses apply broadly, most importantly, learning to listen to and value the diversity. He matches that with a willingness I often don’t find in either liberal or conservative circles: A willingness to recognize the fear that new ideas and change may bring and to honor the need of solid ground for some people.

While Beyond Common Ground is written very personally and is anchored therefore in its author’s community, it discusses issues I have seen trouble, divide, and sometimes destroy communities of various types. Consider reading this engaging and challenging book as you think about Christianity during Lent, and of course during Consider Christianity Week.

Here’s a short video interview with Alden:


Can Liberal and Conservative Christians Meet Anywhere?

Can Liberal and Conservative Christians Meet Anywhere?

One of my goals as a publisher is to see people from various streams of Christianity talk to one another and learn from one another. I used the labels “liberal,” “charismatic,” and “evangelical” in the home video I made early in the history of my publishing company, Energion Publications. I’m embedding it here for those who haven’t seen it.

That video should answer the most common question I’m asked: Why do you publish books you don’t agree with? It’s not a question that comes up with the big boys, companies like HarperCollins, Zondervan, and so forth. (Oops! Come to think of it, Zondervan is now part of HarperCollins!) With those big companies, one expects that the editorial policy will be cover a bit of ground.

But Energion Publications is owned by one person, and that person (yours truly) is also the chief editor. So what is my goal? Why wouldn’t I look for and try to publish the TRUTH?!

I suppose I could get into epistemology and tell you that while I believe in truth, I do not believe that we, as humans (finite), ever get to know that. Rather, we make our best, and I think often quite workable, attempt at the truth. But my real reason is that I believe we need dialogue. We need sharpening by others. We need that to go on continually, not just in some starting point.

Early in my time online I was in conversation with someone on the Compuserve Religion Forum. I’m pretty sure at the time I was still accessing this by dial-up, but my memory isn’t clear on the timing. Another Christian asked me if, when engaging in dialogue with non-Christians, I were to discover I was wrong, would I change my mind. Let’s ignore the fact that “discovering I was wrong” implies that I already changed my mind. My answer was, of course, “yes.”

“Then you aren’t a real Christian,” he told me. If I was a real Christian, he explained, I would be unable to contemplate the possibility of being wrong. Now I’m a quite convinced Christian. My experience of God suggests to me that while the details may vary, my ultimate faith in God is not in question. It’s not unstable. I’ve seen it challenged. I’ve lived through times that made me question, and that faith is still there. I’m not that strong of an individual. If my faith has held up this long, it becomes evidence to me that there’s something behind it.

But dialogue means listening, and if I listen, I must consider. If I hear something that is better than what I know already, I must accept that. To do anything else would be dishonest with myself and even with the God who is the Object of my faith. Or, well, beyond object, ultimate concern, and so forth.

So I’m an advocate of dialogue because I think it’s both a critical part of how we discover truth and also of how we keep on trying to discover truth. Sharing and listening are important.

So when I decide whether to publish a book, and later when I edit that book, my question is never whether I agree or disagree with the author, but rather it is how well the author has expressed his or her position and how well supported it is. I may disagree profoundly. But is this something that should be considered and discussed? I do place boundaries on what I publish, but that is because a small publisher has to have some definition of what is and is not within its publishing scope. I have rejected manuscripts that I have then, in turn, urged others to read when another publisher released them.

9781631990915Most of these books advocate one position or another. But my company has just released a new book that is advocating dialogue, precisely the kind of dialogue I established this company to promote. That book is titled: The River of Life: Where Liberal and Conservative Christianity Meet. I’m not trying to say that I like this book better than any other book I publish. To be fair to my authors I must be as strong an advocate for each of them as I can. But I’m highlighting this one on my blog because it speaks to the core of my goals.

Do I agree with every word in this book? I’d like to think nobody would ask me that. My normal answer is that I can’t even say that with confidence about the books I have written myself. In fact, Lee Harmon’s liberal Christianity is more liberal and less charismatic than mine. You can see my book Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic to catch the differences.

Here is a sample from the introduction:

I am also a liberal Christian, living in a conservative world. Most of my family and friends are conservative Christians. Conservatives consider apostolic tradition of utmost importance, meaning they seek to emulate the first-century church as best they know how. This is a noble goal, but it can lead to stringent intolerance for diluted beliefs. It’s the right way or the highway. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, find the creedal requirements which develop from such strictness stifling and contrary to observation and experience. We see God in many people and places, not just in Christian circles. This can lead liberals to a violent condemnation of narrow doctrine. Intolerance is intolerable.

And round and round we go. As a liberal Christian, I have both stooped to verbal aggression and felt the sting of attack. Both sides care so dang much that we can’t help squabbling, but this hardly puts a good face on Christianity. If the two sides could merely take one step backward, digging back to the Jesus we both adore, perhaps there could be a unity of purpose. Even though there can never be agreement about religious belief, the Kingdom could nevertheless advance. That is my hope in writing this book. (pp. 1-2)

I know, of course, that not everyone will agree with Lee on what the key points are. Not even all liberals are likely to agree on that. But that’s a good opening point for discussion. In that discussion we can all hope that we’ll hear our Master’s voice and learn to love a little bit more and show a grace that’s just a bit wider and deeper.

Measuring Liberal Christianity

Measuring Liberal Christianity

There have been a number of posts around the web regarding the decline of liberal Christianity. It got started by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. There have been a number of good responses, including Rachel Held Evans (which connected best with me), Chaplain Mike, and Diana Butler Bass. All these responses are good.

There are so many factors in making a church a vibrant, successful operation that it’s easy to see how people can disagree so widely on what’s wrong and what ought to be done.

My first problem is with how we measure the success of a church. Most of us are quick to claim that numbers don’t matter when the our own numbers are in decline, yet we are quite ready to accept that the decline in someone else’s numbers is an indication that something is wrong with them. And there are good scriptural examples of both. Jesus began his ministry with crowds following him and ended it pretty much alone. The early church, on the other hand, experienced steady growth.

We can easily use “numbers don’t count” as an excuse for not doing our duty. At the same time, I don’t think that numbers really tell the story. When I look at a conference dashboard (a UMC thing!), the first thing I notice is the context-free use of statistics, with numbers not normed for church size nor adjusted for the demographics of the community in which a church is located. But more important, I think managing churches by the numbers is a sign of the very laziness of which some pastors are accused. It’s an excuse for bishops to fail to do their duty to use spiritual discernment in leading the church. I must confess that at first I was merely ambivalent about this approach. But the more I watch it, and the more I read about it, the more firmly opposed to it I become.

This doesn’t mean that declining numbers cannot indicate failure. It’s just that they are not the one and only indicator. Determining the difference requires spiritual discernment and a willingness to take responsibility for acting on that discernment. I think the church is badly in need of this sort of leadership.

But let me now turn my discernment to liberal Christianity, and take responsibility for my own views. I use the label “liberal charismatic” along with “passionate moderate” in the header to this blog. This doesn’t result from a rejection of labels, as one might take it from Brian McLaren, but rather a search for a set of labels that are applicable. I think I look at liberal Christianity with one foot in that camp.

From that perspective I see a great deal of life in liberal or progressive Christianity. Unfortunately, like conservative Christianity, there is often a great deal of difference between the pastors and leaders and the folks in the pews. There are also dead spots in both versions (and all those between). I think these dead spots result from the same thing.

Too many liberals in the pews are liberals not because they are liberal in theology but because they are not conservative. (I’m sure this applies to some pastors as well, but I don’t know many like that personally.) By this I mean that they really don’t have a theology of scripture. They reject the conservative doctrine and then just go along “not taking it as literally” as conservatives. They don’t have a liberal doctrine of the atonement; they just don’t accept the conservative view.

I think it’s quite possible that it’s as a result of this lack of interest in doctrinal positions that liberal pastors often don’t preach much about doctrine. But there are liberal interpretations of all these things, and quite robust ones. I know liberal preachers who do preach about them, and in general their congregations are doing well. (Note that all such comments are from personal experience, not any sort of survey.)

I have the privilege of publishing some authors who would identify themselves as progressive. Bruce Epperly, Bob Cornwall, and Bob LaRochelle come to mind immediately. I hope they won’t mind my taking their names in vain here, but they are all serious about their theology and active in discipleship and mission. They are deeply interested in Bible study. Indeed two of them have written Bible study guides that I publish. I list these three because of personal knowledge, but I would add that when I recently attended the Academy of Parish Clergy conference, I heard a number of presentations from people who are serious about both theology and mission. (Some of these folks should probably be categorized as moderate as well, but they were generally mainline.)

While there are certainly churches in decline, what I question is the potential of the organizations for success. It is not that there is no life at the local level. It is rather that organizations are not tending to respond to the realities of ministry today. In the United Methodist Church, I think there is a substantial number of both clergy and laity whose main occupation is keeping things as they are. It is these people who are bringing death to the church, not the active liberal pastors and thinkers.

I believe there is life in liberal Christianity, and in conservative Christianity as well. There is no life in the way we’re trying to determine success.

Liberal illiberalism: Olbermann on Banks and News Outlets

Liberal illiberalism: Olbermann on Banks and News Outlets

Keith Olbermann, regularly angry about many things, is angry about the bank bonuses. (I blogged some about this here.) His answer?

Break up the banks. Regulate the financial industries, to within an inch of their existences. Roll back corporate legal protections. Make liable the officers of corporations, for their debts, and for their deeds. Resurrect the rallying cry of a hundred years past: bust the trusts! (from MSNBC)

It amazes me how quick people on either side of the political spectrum are to throw law, reason, and caution to the winds when they’re angry about something. If the Bush administration, for example, had gone after businesses in such a manner because of some security issue, doubtless Olbermann would have been shocked at their perfidy–rightly so. There are right and wrong ways to go about these things.

But more importantly, the reason the banks are behaving badly with the money they were given is that:

a) they behaved badly
b) they got in trouble
c) the government bailed them out without asking them to change their behavior

In other words, our government has been rewarding just this behavior. We’re asking when who knew what. But my question is this: What reason did anyone have to expect anything different? The obvious result of a set of actions takes place, and people are shocked.

But Olbermann, who is quite capable of recognizing something unconstitutional or illegal (or sometimes even stupid) when done by his opponents is unable to see it when he himself proposes it. What he suggests in that paragraph involves punishing the guilty with the innocent, destroying the very foundation of corporate law, and would certainly tromp right on across constitutional boundaries.

But Olbermann is not finished. Because the media didn’t get out the information, we need to get the government to make sure that the media is fair and that good information get out. Remember, this is the same government that failed to provide any reason why these people should not behave in this manner. People who can’t even write a decent contract for a loan are then asked to make sure that the American people get accurate information.

Never mind that he is now jumping all over the first amendment. He’s on a roll. If people don’t choose good information sources, make sure that they have to do so.

Like this:

Make sure both sides are heard. Re-regulate the radio and television industries to limit station ownership and demand diversity of management and product. Re-instate the old rules that denied one man all the voices in a public square. End all waivers of multiple ownership of television stations and networks and newspapers in the same market. (from MSNBC)

He continues by calling for similar regulation for the cable industry.

This is rampant stupidity. Olbermann wants to limit ownership to produce diversity. I think that was wrong even when there were limited broadcast outlets, but in the modern world, it is close to insane. People are not that limited as to what they can hear, but even more, there’s no reason to expect that having the government decide what is “in the public interest” and what the people need to hear is going to somehow improve the flow of information.

Besides some folks in the corporate world, who is close to the information here? The government. And who is falling flat and lying to cover it up? Those very government agencies charged with the task of keeping it from happening!

So let’s see. In order to improve the regulation, let’s give the people who failed more power, to “[r]egulate the financial industries, to within an inch of their existences.” Of course we have been told all along that these institutions must somehow be protected. But when the veneer is stripped off, we get down to the real idea–let’s destroy them.

Having admitted that goal, Olbermann proposes similar treatment for media outlets. Can one doubt that destruction of even the value that there remains in our media would be the ultimate result?

I am often called liberal, and I don’t argue. I am certainly libertarian. When it’s time to deal with issues such as the rights of the accused at trial, a willingness to provide every opportunity for exoneration if there is evidence, providing safety nets to the weakest folks in our society, or taming rampant militarism in foreign policy, I am rightfully called liberal. I don’t reject the label, even though I prefer “passionate moderate.”

But there are plenty of liberals running around who don’t deserve the title. When “liberal” spells handing all the power to government, and none to the people, then it isn’t “liberal.” With the same passion that I want to make sure that someone accused of a crime receives due process and eventually receives justice, I also want to make sure that a trader on Wall Street who has broken no law should not be deprived of his lawful earnings. If they are undeserved (and these bonuses are) there are proper ways of dealing with it.

The Republicans have been accused of having contempt for people who are from cities, or are part of the intellectual elites, or various other folks who are’t from the “real America.” The Democrats have been accused of despising small town America, gun owners, church-goers and so forth.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that both accusations are absolutely right. To some on the liberal side of the spectrum the guy who does his ordinary job for an ordinary work week, and spends the weekend in a hunting blind with his rifle or his shotgun, then heads off to church on Sunday moring just isn’t real. To some of the folks on the right–and now on the left as well, if you work in investment instead of digging a ditch or being a university professor, you aren’t quite real and your rights don’t matter.

It may be stupid for a company to give bonuses to those who produced catastrophe, but there is a proper forum for action on such things, and that is the shareholders’ meeting. What about the public money? If we didn’t want it used in that way, we should have specified that in the law, just as a lender might when making a loan.

Now we have representatives and senators who presumably meant it when they swore to uphold the constitution, voting for a special law to tax certain people’s specific earnings. It’s ridiculous. They know better. They’re using the legislative process to make people believe they’re truly outraged, but in doing so they’re expressing contempt for the constitution they chose to uphold. (To those who are going to say “What did you expect of Keith Olbermann?” I will call attention to the actual lawmakers who seem to be singing from the same hymnal.)

After my criticisms of Republicans over the years there have been some who wondered why I will not in turn register as a Democrat. Well, you can see it in action right now. My problem, a problem I intend to keep, is that I care about the rights of rich people and poor, ditch diggers and Wall Street investors, college professors, builders, waitresses–everyone who tries to produce at all.

I believe they should have the opportunity to carry out their business under a rational set of laws. If the law isn’t rational, you need to blame the people who wrote it and pretended it was something different, not the people who did their best to work under it.

But even more importantly, I believe that people must have the opportunity to seek their own sources of information, even if they choose Fox News, or newspapers of which Keith Olbermann doesn’t approve. You do not diversity the flow of information by limiting it.

I try to accept it when I’m called a liberal, because it’s usually the result of beliefs I hold very dear. I think the fear of the label is silly. But when you call for regulating banks “to within an inch of their existences” or when you want the government to make sure the media is “fair” then either you’re not a liberal or I’m not.

I won’t fight over the label. I’ll just call the ideas stupid and destructive.

On Being a Liberal Charismatic Believer

On Being a Liberal Charismatic Believer

I found a new blog (for me) this week via John MeunierTo Him Which is Yes. I was particularly attracted by the post John linked to, Bringing back belief.

Jack Burden, the blogger, tells the story of how he silenced a committee meeting, doubtless an extremely useful skill under any circumstances, but the point is much more important. In discussing who they thought would make the ideal member for their church, the committee members listed a number of things, all of them good, but the suggestion that the ideal member should be a believer silenced them.

I think this should strike committed Christians as a problem, but I don’t think that those of us who deal with mainline congregations should be surprised by it. A friend of mine once commented to me that the main attack form of liberals is intellectual ridicule, while the main attack form of conservatives is moral condemnation. I’ve since had several conservative friends point out that many liberals are quite capable of moral condemnation, and I know the reverse to be true as well. Belief often does not stand up well to intellectual ridicule.

But there is an entire category of Christian church members who are there because they ought to have a church to go to. It’s traditional in their family or community. They want to be known as “church going people.” Now I could expend many words on the notion that “church going” people are better than other categories of people. But there are certainly communities where “church going” is a helpful attribute to have in doing business. Being a true believer? Not so much!

These people often will, out of duty, attend church fairly regularly, participate in activities, give to the church budget and special projects and many other things. Since I have already noted that I don’t think “church going” necessarily describes a better class of people, these folks may well be doing all of the good and moral things called for by discipleship.

The open question is this: Why do they do these things in a church?

I’m sure there are many answers to that question. Liberals are more frequently accused of being unbelievers in church, but I’m not sure this is a liberal/conservative thing. Amongst people that I know, there are very committed believers in both the conservative and liberal camps, but there are also people who are simply checking the right boxes on their checklist in both camps. I have no idea what the proportions are outside of my own experience.

I’m going to be teaching a Sunday School class in less than two hours (the Tifounden Class at First UMC of Pensacola). I taught this class for a few weeks last year, and I was invited for a return engagement with the specific task of discussing the subtitle of one of my books: Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic. In particular they’re interested in the combination of “liberal” and “charismatic.”

There are so many ways I could go in discussing this. The title “liberal charismatic” was bestowed on me by someone who didn’t like me at all and was looking for a good insult. When I floated it as a subtitle for my book, quite a number of people–friends–said, “That’s you!” Even my wife said it, so it must be true! I prefer “passionate moderate” myself, but one doesn’t always get to choose one’s labels. One should note, of course, that I didn’t fight this one all that much.

So what, exactly, is a liberal charismatic? I was playing around with many ways of describing what I would mean by liberal, and what I meant by charismatic. The person who first used the phrase to describe me meant that I didn’t accept all orthodox doctrines, and also believed that all gifts of the Spirit were to continue in the church to the end. He was particularly offended by the idea of a prayer language, which is certainly a controversial topic all around.

But when I read Jack Burden’s post, I realized something else. The label “believer” has never bothered me. In fact, I have insisted on it. I even occasionally use “true believer” of myself. Why? I confess that, unlike some Christian apologists, I cannot prove that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, or that God communicates to us through scripture. I can’t even match the gentler (and better, in my view) form of apologetics that claims that the evidence is sufficient to make this the best option.

I’ve made the leap of faith. While I am quite unadventurous physically, in the spiritual sense I looked out over the chasm as did Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, closed my eyes and put my foot down on empty space. I think my foot landed on that hidden bridge; others think they hear the echoes of my screams as I fall. Ah well, it’s my leap of faith, after all.

I don’t mean that there is no evidence at all. It’s just that there wasn’t enough evidence to make me certain, intellectually, of the destination. At the same time my experience means that I believe in God because I experience him, in a way that differs fundamentally and completely from intellectual assent, I know that there is a God. If that means I’m less intellectually sound, then, well, I’m less intellectually sound.

But I remain liberal in the sense that I don’t believe this means that I am somehow more right than others about the attributes about God or about a doctrinal system. It doesn’t mean I’m a better person than my friends who believe differently, or not at all. It is simply an honest statement of who I am.

I was once asked by an agnostic if this meant that, in order to become a believer of my sort, he would have to have his own private hallucination. I told him that bar the slanted terminology (I don’t prefer “hallucination”!) that was pretty much where I was coming from.

I’ve told the story on this blog before, but let me tell it again. When I joined my first United Methodist congregation, I was attending Bible classes at one church, and attending church at another. I had a hard time choosing. When I discussed membership with one pastor, he told me that he didn’t care what I believed. If I would enjoy their fellowship, feel free to join. What I believed didn’t matter to them. The other pastor asked me what I believed regarding Jesus and why. I joined his church. Belief is very important to me.

So for me, the “liberal” in “liberal charismatic” means that I’m doctrinally open. I am skeptical of my own ability to know substantial amounts about God. At the same time, for reasons that have so far escaped my powers of rational explanation, I believe that when I know (1 Corinthians 13:12) I will be happy with that knowledge. I’m charismatic because I believe that God’s presence is not variable, but our awareness of it is. God is as present today as he was on the day of Pentecost. (Perhaps I should call myself pentecostal, but that would be much too confusing!)

That’s it, not in a nutshell, but as close as I get to one–a bit over 1200 words. Is it any wonder I hear this or similar questions so frequently that I decided to write a book just so I could hand it out to those who ask?

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Terms like “bipartisan” and even “post-partisan” were employed throughout the campaign and are being used now in criticism of the Obama administration that is taking shape.

The problem is that we have gotten used to the notion that bipartisanship involves people from two parties who happen to agree on an issue working together. Thus moderate Republicans and Democrats can get together on points on which they can agree, and that is regarded as “bipartisan.”

Trouble is, neither party has a very coherent ideology, and thus there are always issues on which people who already pretty nearly agree can get together. There is a virtue in ignoring unimportant labels in order to work together on common goals.

I honestly didn’t believe it during the campaign, but President-Elect Obama seems actually to have meant bipartisan. Not merely as in Republican and Democrat, but as in conservative, moderate, and liberal, as in people who actually disagree on substance having an input and a part in the process.

That’s much harder to do, and it involves reaching out to people with whom one disagrees. The complaint has been that Obama has done too much reaching to the center and the right hand side of the spectrum.

But it seems to me that the president-elect regards himself as a liberal, and thus any reaching out would involve reaching out to those on that side of the spectrum. He expects to set policy, as he has indicated in answers to the press, and to have this team carry it out. He will be listening, however, to a variety of voices.

This doesn’t involve merely adding a couple of Republicans of moderate persuasion to an otherwise Democratic cabinet. It involves putting people who disagree substantively in a position to be heard by the president.

I don’t know how this is going to work. If the president-elect is less of a leader than he thinks he is, the result could be disastrous. On the other hand, if he is capable of directing this group of leaders he has put together, which strikes me as a bit like herding cats, he could accomplish something quite extraordinary.

Only time with him in actual power will tell us what the result will be, but I would say that I am more optimistic today than when I cast my vote.

There are some issues on which the cabinet concerns me, particularly the Iraq war, torture, and certain constitutional issues in domestic counter-terrorism. I will continue to watch these issues, and to hope that Obama’s view, as expressed in the campaign, is one he can see through with the team he has assembled.

But overall, think there is much cause to hope this coming administration will be better than I expected.