If we're to believe John McWhorter-- and I have no reason not to-- people who occupy the left side of the political spectrum are having a branding crisis. Link here.
Psychologists would call it an identity crisis.
It occurs when people do not know what to call themselves. For lack of a proper label, they do not know where they stand or if they stand for anything at all. Lacking a brand they do not know who they are or what they are.
How do you attract adherents to your cause or to your political perspective if you cannot label it.
Worse yet, if your brand does not express a clear concept, that means that you are less capable than the folks who sell detergent and cereal. Those folks are masters of branding.
Compared to the masters of branding, you are floundering in search of a brand that will give you some self-definition.
McWhorter likes the liberal brand, but this brand has lost some of its appeal. Around 20% of Americans consider themselves liberal while around 40% consider themselves conservative.
If you were selling soap, you would be losing market share, and thus in need of either rebranding or rethinking of your beliefs.
As everyone knows, and as McWhorter and Timothy Garton Ash have stated, the term "liberal" has somehow become a pejorative, a term of derision. For Ash's article, see here.
Whether it was because of the machinations of Ronald Reagan or the rhetorical skills of Ann Coulter, the great minds of the American left have been unable to defend their liberal brand.
For failing to defend it, they lost it. Having let themselves be defined by Ann Coulter most of them are too embarrassed to reclaim it.
If there really is a market in ideas, liberalism's stock has been in an extended bear market.
Without in any way diminishing the havoc that Ann Coulter has wrought on the liberal brand, I would respectfully suggest that today's liberals might also be somewhat queasy about claiming the brand because, truth be told, they are really not very liberal.
Classical liberals, the kind that produced many of the most basic economic and political principles in the Anglosphere, would today be considered libertarians. Except, as Ash notes, on the European continent where liberal still refers to someone who believes in free market capitalism.
Today's American liberals do not believe in free markets, free trade, free speech, or free elections.
They want to regulate and control markets, even to the point of having government bureaucrats determine the socially just distribution of goods and services.
They have done everything in their power to stymie free trade agreements, the better to serve their labor union masters.
When they find speech that they do not like, they label it hate speech and try to have it banned from the airways... by invoking something called the fairness doctrine.
As for free elections, today's liberals believe in what is called card-check, which deprives workers of the right to vote by secret ballot on whether or not they want to join a union. And we haven't even mentioned the work of ACORN.
If the results of free markets and free debate and free elections do not correspond to their fantasies, then these so-called liberals want them to be declared null and void.
Back in the old days people were called liberal minded if they respected differing opinions. Far too many of today's liberals believe that differences of opinion are signs of mental illness or moral corruption.
Or, examine Ash's definition of liberalism: "Liberalism has become a pejorative term denoting-- to put the matter a tad frivolously-- some unholy marriage of big government and fornication."
When it comes to sex, it is fair to say, liberals are thoroughgoing free spirits. You might find this to be somewhat contradictory, but I don't think so.
In the first place, liberalism tends to promote a sexuality as an instrument to produce social anarchy. They want to use sexual energy to subvert the capitalist order.
Sorry to have to say it, but making sexual freedom into sexual license does not really enhance individual pleasure. It works to inhibit the advance of civilization.
Based on the unproven, and absurd, premise, that primitive sexuality was much more fun than our more civilized version, liberals have wanted people to get back in touch with their inner sexual demons, the better to return to a more primal source of their being and a simpler social order.
Be that as it may, left thinking people have basically abandoned the notion of calling themselves liberal. They have tried substituting the term: progressive. Doubtless because they feel some special fondness for our greatest progressive president, Theodore Roosevelt, and his jingoistic militarism.
The pusillanimous left, having caved before the fearsome words of Ann Coulter, decided to rebrand itself as progressive.
Unfortunately, McWhorter reports, the term is not sticking. Only a quarter of those who think they are liberal will cop to being called progressive. That would comprise something like 5% of the population.
Perhaps the term has not been sticking because it too, like liberal, is a misnomer. It does not make a lot of sense to call yourself progressive when you do not really believe in progress.
Left thinking people tend not to believe in the great march of civilization. In fact, they tend to think that civilization's progress was purchased on the backs of an exploited working class, or even a sexually repressed middle class.
They do not believe that advanced industrial society is a good thing; they tend to believe that it is destroying the environment.
They do not believe in free individuals using their rational faculties to make decisions in the marketplace. They think that we are all prey to irrational emotions and impulses, and thus, need the benevolent, but strong, hand of government to rein us in.
They do not accept the free market's way of distributing goods and services, or the free market's way of allocating income, and want the government to redistribute and reallocate in a way that corresponds to their ideals.
To use McWhorter's word, they are not progressive as much as they are retrogressive. One might well argue that conservatives (and libertarians) are more truly progressive than those who insist on labeling themselves as such.
In his words: "After all, conservatives do not typically see their views as urging us backward. Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian economist revered by American conservatives, argued that democratic socialism threatened a form of brutal tyranny that all supporters of a free society would view as primitive and unenlightened-- retrogressive, as it were."
If the left insists on returning us to a more natural state, a state where our primitive impulses have freer reign, then it is surely not promoting progress.
And if it insists that everyone accept its tenets as unshakable and indisputable dogma-- whether global warming or same-sex marriage or social justice-- then it is clearly trying to return us to the dark days before the Enlightenment and before the free trade in ideas.