A story, probably apocryphal:
Impatient driver is waiting at intersection as pedestrian crosses in front of him. Pedestrian is slow. Driver leans from his window and yells, "Get out of the street you (bleep) liberal."
As I said, the story - I picked it up in a magazine somewhere - probably didn't happen. But it sure feels true, doesn't it?
We are, or so we have lately been told, no longer a nation of red, white and blue. Now we are simply red and blue - squishy, effete, egg-headed, godless and liberal along the coasts; principled, tough, instinctive, God-fearing and conservative in between. It is a mantra that has been repeated to such a degree that nobody bothers to question it anymore: Conservatism is triumphant, liberalism is spent.
But what if we've been had?
Paul Waldman believes we have. He is a senior fellow of Media Matters for America, a liberal, nonprofit media watchdog group. No, he's hardly a disinterested observer. But humor him. He's here to make a rather provocative argument:
"We've been told by conservatives and by mainstream media for years that this is a conservative country, but if you actually look at the facts, you find that this is a myth."
Media Matters and the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal activist group, have helpfully assembled said facts in a report released this month, "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth."
The report analyzes years of public opinion surveys from such respected and nonpartisan organizations as Gallup and the Pew Research Center. On issue after issue, those surveys present a picture starkly at odds with the conservative stereotype.
Abortion? Sixty-two percent of us oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
Stem cells? Sixty-one percent of us support using them for research.
Guns? Sixty percent of us would like to see more government restriction.
These are not exactly conservative positions. To the contrary, they bespeak a fairly liberal electorate. So how is it we've come to think of liberal as a bad word?
An anecdote by way of answer: In teaching on college campuses, I've noticed that my young, female students tend to reject being called "feminists." They happily accept the rights feminists have won for them, not least of which is the right to be college students. But the "F-word" itself repels them.
Similarly, says Mr. Waldman, the GOP has managed to rebrand the "L-word" as something so repugnant you wouldn't touch it without a hazmat suit, something, well ... squishy, effete, egg-headed and godless.
What's interesting, says Mr. Waldman, is that whether or not they accept the L-word, Americans are clearly moving further left all the time. For example, 30 years ago, conservatives and liberals sparred over whether women could do "man's" work and black people could marry white ones. To both questions, the country said yes. "What had been the radical position is now the consensus opinion." These days, we still argue race and gender, but the battle lines have moved - left. Which is, Mr. Waldman says, what they historically do.
He sees the same dynamic at work in gay rights: "Five years ago, we weren't even talking about gay marriage. The argument was whether it was OK to discriminate against gays in housing and employment. We're not even talking about that anymore."
As I said, Mr. Waldman has an ax to grind. But for my money, he raises a worthwhile question: By what trick, con job or bamboozlement does a nation that supports gun control, abortion rights and stem cell research believe itself to be conservative?
Public Enemy was right: Don't believe the hype.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.