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February 16, 2023

Three Cheers for Liberal Defectors

Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, and Michael Shellenberger provide an opportunity to focus the public’s attention on the important differences between “liberal” and “progressive.”

Conservative journalists, commentators and on-air talent at organizations like Fox News, The Blaze, Townhall, Breitbart, The Daily Wire, HotAir, PJ Media, The Federalist and others have been working for years to break the stranglehold that the Left has on the media, and therefore news and culture. They have made remarkable strides, and their impact is growing every day.

More recently, a less-frequently discussed but equally notable phenomenon has been taking place. Over the past few years, a notable number of left-wing authors have broken ranks with their comrades in pursuit of a work environment free of the censorship and bias that has been throttling real reporting.

Bari Weiss left The New York Times, moved to Substack, and then founded a new online newsletter called The Free Press that features writers of a variety of political persuasions. Glenn Greenwald was one of the co-founders of The Intercept, created purportedly in response to a perceived need for independent journalism. Greenwald subsequently left The Intercept, citing editorial censorship; he, too, moved to Substack. Michael Shellenberger, who used to describe himself as a progressive, wrote a scathing piece for Forbes magazine in 2019, criticizing so-called progressive policies in California that were contributing to the homelessness crisis in that state. Shellenberger has since authored two bestselling books, “Apocalypse Never” and “San Fransicko,” exposing the deceit and damage inflicted by the environmental and homelessness policies espoused by the Left. Matt Taibbi was once a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine. He now publishes his popular online newsletter, The Racket, via Substack.

Greenwald has become a relentless critic of American media, newly popular on the Right and now loathed by the Left. Weiss, Taibbi and Shellenberger have also made themselves personae non grata on the Left by helping Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk reveal the extent of the censorship that was taking place in the social media behemoth. Twitter’s former executives — often at the behest of Democrat operatives in government — were falsely labeling political conservatives as Russian operatives, suppressing truthful but damaging information about Joe Biden and his son Hunter in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, and shutting down the accounts of anyone with questions or information that ran counter to the “official narrative” about the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative treatment protocols, the efficacy of masks or the risks of vaccines.

These defections provide an opportunity to focus the public’s attention on the important differences between “liberal” and “progressive.”

Although “liberal” has been painted as left-wing in this country for at least the past hundred years, the Founders of this country would have characterized themselves as liberals, the word connoting at the time a belief in certain fundamental individual rights, including individual liberty (along with corresponding responsibility) and the right of self-governance.

Traditional liberalism was grounded in distinct, fundamental principles. The language in America’s foundational documents makes those principles clear. The Declaration of Independence states not only that there is such a thing as truth but that some truths are “self-evident,” including the truth that “all men are created equal.” It professes that certain rights — notably, although not exclusively, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — are inherent in mankind by virtue of our status as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

Progressivism has revealed itself, time and time again, to be unmoored from principles, which explains so many of the otherwise inexplicable inconsistencies it its application. Of course we want free speech — until we disagree with what’s being said. Justice and equitable treatment for minorities are righteous demands — unless the minorities are conservative. Women’s rights are important — until some biological men claim to be women. Protecting children is a universal objective — until some adults want to inject discussions of their own sexual preferences and identifications into preschool and grade school curricula. Preserving the environment is praiseworthy — until one bumps up against the ugly realities of burying wind turbine blades, acreage needed for solar panels, or mining the metals for electric car batteries. Black lives matter — except for those lost to abortion. Bodily autonomy is sacrosanct — other than the government forcing people to take experimental “vaccines.”

Progressivism is only about goals, and the power needed to obtain those goals — "by any means necessary …“ In that respect, it is just another offshoot of Marxism. Indeed, even the goals themselves can change, depending upon who has the power, and what they want. Trying to pin progressives down on fundamental principles is like trying to predict the movement of a school of fish. Without firm societal and governmental restraints — themselves rooted solidly in principles like liberty and due process — progressivism ultimately devolves into purity tests with grievous ramifications for those who fail them. Today’s "cancel culture” is a warning; what comes next are concentration and re-education camps, imprisonment, torture and executions.

None of this is to say that those who identify as “progressives” are themselves without principles. To the contrary, the vast majority are no doubt highly principled people who believe that the movements they support are manifestations of those principles.

Indeed, the belief in fundamental principles is what’s behind so many of the defections from progressivism: journalists who believe in truth; academics who believe in inquiry and collegial debate; politicians who believe in transparency, fair elections and actual democracy; anyone who believes in the protection of children and sanctity of human life.

We should herald those with the courage and integrity to recognize hypocrisy and demand adherence to principles. Individuals regardless of their political affiliations who share a commitment to fundamental principles have the best chance to bury progressivism and relegate it to the history books, where it belongs.


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