Josie In Winter
Terrorism and Democracy

Politics and Professionalism

I get annoyed when conservative commentators get hostile when a musician or an actor takes a liberal political stand.  Whenever that happens, the Limbaughs and O'Reillys are sure to fulminate about the perverseness of celebrities daring to have political opinions.  The irony that their political opinions make them celebrities seems to escape them.  And it almost seems like cheating to point out that Ronald Reagan was a professional actor who would never have achieved the prominence he did if he hadn't leveraged his celebrity.  Actors are as entitled to be passionate about politics as anyone else -- but because they're individuals, not as actors.

Same with librarians.  As Marcus notes in a recent post, we tend, as a group, to lean left.   I don't know why.  One might speculate, I suppose, that a commitment toward freedom of information is bundled up with a host of other beliefs that push one toward a more liberal political bent.  But "liberal" and "conservative" have become such confused hot buttons these days that I'm hesitant to take that very far.  Leave it as an empirical fact.

But it isn't universal.  Individual librarians run the full gamut of the political spectrum, and I know Republican-leaning librarians who have found themselves in uncomfortable situations when they're with a group of their peers who are enjoying some convivial Bush-bashing without realizing that not everyone at the table shares the same views.

How we deal with that is complicated.  Politeness among colleagues demands that we be sensitive to the views of others when we gather together.   It doesn't mean, however, that we don't get to express political views -- as individuals.  We just shouldn't be surprised if everyone at the table doesn't feel the same way.

As librarians, it's a different issue.  We may have a professional stake in the Patriot Act or copyright legislation.  It is probably not an issue for librarianship whether or not Sam Alito is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. 

But the lines aren't always clear.  When we gather at conferences, we gather as librarians, but that doesn't mean that we check our individuality at the door.   If my president were to be impeached (let me indulge in fantasy for a moment), I would oppose any attempt on the part of the Medical Library Association to take a position on whether or not that was a good thing.  But if I were in the audience when a speaker made positive comments about it, I would certainly cheer.  Those opposed are more than welcome to boo.



Thanks Scott. I agree completely with what you've said. But the more I think about it, I'm getting at something different.

Heretical Librarian's (HL) situation is really not about librarianship, as you point out. It's the general problem of (in middle school parlance) "not fitting in."

This problem is not just liberal vs. conservative, but also occurs within the liberal ranks. For example: I am a "liberal" who finds affirmative action to be an anachronistic insult to minorities who are perfectly capable of succeeding on their own. That's a heretical view that I usually don't feel comfortable expressing among progressives. Maybe I need to grow a spine; all I'm saying now is that I can relate to HL's dilemma.

What bothers me most about self-professed liberals--admittedly a slippery label--is that we make such a spectacle of our commitment to tolerance and enlightenment. In the end we are just as prejudiced as our conservative counterparts. Only the prejudices themselves are different.

Mark D

Congratulations, you have both rediscovered what the founding fathers discovered 200 years ago. The "American Way" was never about being liberal or conservative, though both camps like to claim the label. Read the Federalist Papers, the Jefferson/Adams letters, and the speeches of George Washington there is a theme that underlies the entire text of the debate during the formative years of the Republic. These men basically worried about two things (in the context of believing in strong government accountable to the people); 1) the government had to be strong enough to ensure the peace but not so strong as to tempt the men in government to despotism; and 2) differences of opinion excite passion and discord they were determined to create a system of government where the majority could govern but not reign over the minority. This belief boiled down into a single phrase; "a nation of law not men."

My objection to the Bush administration does not rest in the fact that I am liberal and Bush is conservative. In this day and age, I don't even know what those terms mean anymore. My opposition to the Bush administration rests in the fact that at a very fundamental level, Bush in particular and Republicans in general, no longer believe in the principles of the Republic. They believe in the rule of men over law. They believe in the rule of the majority. Bush goes further and believes in the role of the ancient Roman concept of elected Dictator. This pathology is not limited to Republicans, when Democrats are in power they too can fall into this trap.

As for librarians, yes librarians (of all political views), can fall into this trap as well - ask any publisher who has ever tried to express a negative view of open access. We have all suffered the tyranny of the majority at library conferences. That doesn't make librarians bad it just makes librarians human.

Terry Ballard

Beautifully written piece - made me proud to be a librarian. "Liberal" and "Conservative" have become a problem indeed. It used to be that "Conservative" had certain principles like "You can't spend money you don't have," or "Keep government off our backs." Remember that? Those quaint old ideas have no place in a Post-911 world. Nowadays, "Conservative" means that you believe whatever drops out of Bush's mouth on any given day. All it takes for a news reporter to be branded as "Liberal" is to tell the truth. No spin - just the truth. It's a new world all right. I miss the old one.

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