Why I Am A Liberal Democrat

I’m often asked to explain why I am a liberal Democrat. Why am I not instead a Democratic Socialist? Are liberals just communists in disguise, as Trump and many more radical right wingers always try to label liberals as being?

Liberals Democrats, Democratic Socialists and Communists all share similar critiques of the capitalist economic system. The difference is that liberals think that the flaws of capitalism can be reformed. Democratic Socialists and Communists think that the flaws of capitalism cannot be reformed and the system needs to be replaced with something more humane.

As a liberal, I believe that capitalism has great benefits but also great flaws. If you ignore capitalism’s flaws, those flaws grow and eventually overwhelm any benefits that the system has to offer. History has shown that the boom and bust cycles of a capitalist system can unleash economic forces that overwhelm the ability of our most vulnerable citizens to cope.

Living in Silicon Valley, I see very clearly the stark contrasts between the benefits and flaws of capitalism. Sleek high tech companies and gentrifying neighborhoods contrast with a growing homeless population and struggling blue collar workers trying to keep pace with ever rising rents.

I ascribe to the philosophy that New Deal liberals had in the 1930s: the federal government has a responsibility to help its most vulnerable citizens from the worse effects of a free market system. The various programs introduced by the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society helped many poor Americans survive the worst effects of poverty and helped give many poor and blue collar Americans have economic opportunities that they wouldn’t have had with unregulated free markets.

I don’t believe in utopias though. Liberal Democrats have been wrong about some things and not all liberal programs have worked. But overall, I think l liberal Democrats have done much to try to insure that capitalism benefits everyone and not just a few.

My critique of capitalism is influenced by two sources: Catholic Social Thinking and the writings of Charles Dickens. Unlike Karl Marx, Catholic Social Thinking and Charles Dickens are making a moral critique of capitalism rather than a revolutionary critique. Both the Catholic Church and Charles Dickens saw that without moral constraints, a system based on maximizing profits and the pursuit of self interest is going to cater to the worst forms of selfishness and greed. This selfishness and greed destroys social cohesion by creating a dog-eat-dog world where the wealthy show no compassion for the poor and class conflict inevitably results.

The Catholic critique of capitalism began with Pope Leo XIII’s papal encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. The popes that followed Pope Leo XIII were all very different, but all of them, whether they were reform popes or traditionalist popes, were just as critical of capitalism as Leo. Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope John XIII’s 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra, Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evanellii Gaudium, all amplify Rerum Novarum’s critique of capitalism’s flaws and its devastating effects on the poor and lower classes.

Charles Dickens lived during the time of England’s industrial revolution, when the poor and working class suffered while providing the labor that made England the most prosperous nation in the 19th century. Dickens’ books, like A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Hard Times, all showed a deep compassion for the poor and it also offered a scathing critique of the British economic system. His books would inspire activists and leftists like Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, Howard Zinn, and Dorothy Day.

A video of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal

A video of the Papal encyclical Rerum Novarum’s critique of capitalism, its influence on Catholic Social Teaching, and the attempts of the Jesuits to implement its message of social justice

Here is a video by the British Library on Charles Dickens’ book Oliver Twist that expresses Dickens concern for the poor and his attempts to use his books to instigate social reform

Here is a video by the British Library where Michael Slater explains the background behind Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol and Dickens attempt to draw attention to desperate poverty in Victorian England

A video exploring the homeless problem in Silicon Valley

A video exploring the struggles of blue collar workers to pay rising rents in Silicon Valley

About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Angelo Lopez has had illustrations published in Tikkun Magazine, the Palo Alto Daily News and Z Magazine. From April 2008 to May 2011, Angelo's cartoons were regularly published in the Tri-City Voice, a weekly newspaper that covers the Fremont, Hayward, Milpitas, Neward, Sunol and Union City areas in California. He did a political webcomic starring his cartoon character Jasper for the progressive blogsite Everyday Citizen. Since December 2011, Angelo does a regular weekly political cartoon for the Philippine News Today, a Filipino American newspaper based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Angelo is a member of the Sunnyvale Art Club, and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. During the 1990s, he was a member of the part-timer workers SEIU unit in the city of Sunnyvale. Angelo won the 2013, 2015 and 2016 and 2018 Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartooning for newspapers with a circulation under 100,000. He has also won the 2016 RFK Book and Journalism Award for Editorial Cartoons. Angelo won first prize for the Best of the West contest in 2016 and third prize in 2017. Angelo is married to Lisa Reeber. They enjoy taking walks, watching movies and hanging out with their nieces.
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2 Responses to Why I Am A Liberal Democrat

  1. Hi, Angelo–I agree with most of what you say. Most Catholics believe that people should have enough income to live on. However, several years ago my son and I went on a tour of the Vatican. Signs of wealth were everywhere, including classical art, beautiful decor, and other such riches. Catholic churches contain many signs of wealth. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. Our little church is plain with few signs of wealth. The church principles have to do with treating everyone equally and respecting all opinions. I suppose if the UUs had more money they would have more fancy things in the church, but that doesn’t seem necessary.

    • angelolopez says:

      Thanks Diane. I am an ex-Catholic that still has fond feeling for the more progressive side of Catholicism. I have some of the same wariness that you and your son have of the wealth accumulated by the Vatican, although I love Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s School of Athens. When the Vatican was acquiring wealth and had large armies and territories, that was when the Church was most corrupted. It’s that old saying, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Catholic Church has always been at its best when Catholics fought for the poor and the marginalized. In the 1980s, I deeply admired those priests, nuns and lay Catholics in the Philippines and Latin America who were risking jail or death for speaking out for the poor and marginalized in their countries. They were a contrast to their superiors, who were often too closely aligned with the wealthy and the oligarchs who were oppressing the poor.

      I have a love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church and with Christianity in general. When I hear someone criticize Christianity, I have the urge to defend the Church. But when I hear some fundamentalist try to extol Christianity, I have the urge to point out the bad side of Christianity in its history. So I drive crazy both Christians and atheists.

      I attended a Unitarian Universalist church for a few months a few years ago. I really like them. As I’m getting older, I think I’m becoming more of a Universalist. Unlike many atheists who see no value in religion, I see value in almost all religious traditions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and such. It’s the Benjamin Franklin in me. If things don’t work out in the church I’m now attending, I may give the UU another try.

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