A few definitions from dictionary.com for the term liberal include:
- Favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
- Favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
- Favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
- Free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
You'll recall that conservatives favor tradition and generally suspect things that that fall outside traditional views of "normal." You could say, then, that a liberal view (also called a progressive view) is one that is open to re-defining "normal" as we become more worldly and aware of other cultures.
Liberals and Government Programs
Liberals favor government-funded programs that address inequalities that they view as having derived from historical discrimination. Liberals believe that prejudice and stereotyping in society can hamper the opportunities for some citizens.
Some people would see liberal bias in an article or book that seems sympathetic to and appears to lend support to government programs that assist poor and minority populations.
Terms such as "bleeding hearts" and "tax and spenders" refer to progressives’ support of public policies that are designed to address perceived unfair access to health care, housing, and jobs.
If you read an article that seems sympathetic to historic unfairness, there could be a liberal bias. If you read an article that seems critical of the notion of historical unfairness, there could be a conservative bias.
How do you know if a media presentation or book has a liberal bias?
When critics claim that the press is too liberal, they are often basing the claim on the belief that the press is voicing a view that is too far outside outside traditional views (remember that conservatives value tradition) or they are supporting policy that is based on the idea of "fixing" an injustice.
What Is Progressive?
Today some liberal thinkers prefer to call themselves progressives. Progressive movements are those that address injustice to a group that is in the minority. Liberals would say that the Civil Rights Movement was a progressive movement, for example. However, support for Civil Rights legislation was, in fact, mixed when it came to party affiliation.
As you may know, many people were not in favor of granting equal rights to African Americans during the Civil Rights demonstrations in the sixties, possibly because they feared that equal rights would bring about too much change. Resistance to that change wrought violence. During this tumultuous time of change, many pro-Civil Rights Republicans were criticized for being too "liberal" in their views and many Democrats (like John F. Kennedy) were accused of being too conservative when it came to accepting change.
Child labor laws provide another example. It may be hard to believe, but many people in industry resisted the laws and other restrictions that prevented them from putting young children to work in dangerous factories for long hours. Progressive thinkers changed those laws. In fact, the U.S. was undergoing a "Progressive Era" at this time of reform. This Progressive Era led to reforms in industry to make foods safer, to make factories safer, and to make many aspects of life more "fair."
The Progressive Era was one time when government played a large role in the U.S. by interfering with business on behalf of people. Today, some people think the government should play a large role as protector, while others believe that the government should refrain from taking a role. It is important to know that progressive thinking can come from either political party.
Taxes and Liberals
Conservatives lean toward the belief that the government should stay out of the business of individuals as much as possible, and that includes staying out of the individual's pocket book. This means they prefer to limit taxes.
Liberals stress that a well-functioning government has a responsibility to maintain law and order, and that doing this is costly. Liberals would lean toward the opinion that taxes are necessary for providing police and courts, ensuring safe transportation by building safe roads, promoting education by providing public schools, and protecting society in general by providing protections to those being exploited by industries.
Conservative thinkers might see bias in an article that expresses a favorable view to taxes or to increasing government spending for initiatives like those mentioned above.
For more information on liberal or progressive values, go to Liberal Politics.