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Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals Paperback – February 24, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143115227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143115229
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Alterman, journalist and proud liberal, readies his readership for the coming day when the word liberal is given a wash and rinse after being slimed by conservatives. Arguing that liberals are so downtrodden they may have forgotten who they are, Alterman provides a refresher course, explaining what liberals believe and why liberal policies are reviled, even though most people approve of their basic ideas as long as they aren’t identified as liberal. His insightful examination of so-called liberal problems (secularism, abortion, dovish foreign policy) leads into an extensive and sharp rebuttal of all the crimes attributed to liberals. In ironically entitled chapters—“Why Do Liberals Hate Patriotism?” “Why Do Liberals Blame America First?”—Alterman fights back with facts and wit. He busts myths in “Why Do Liberals Deny America Was Founded as a Christian Nation?” but he owns up to the fact that liberals do like to tax and spend (conservatives do, too, just on different things). Readers of Alterman’s What Liberal Media? (2003) will find some familiar points here, but this rock-’em, sock-’em defense effectively proves that not all liberals are wimps. --Ilene Cooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"It is difficult to imagine anyone better qualified to update Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s notion of liberalism as the 'vital center' of American politics."
-The New York Times

"A vigorous defense of liberalism as a credo-a credo, Alterman argues persuasively, that most Americans actually subscribe to."
-The Atlantic

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Customer Reviews

If you like facts, then read the book.
Benjamin D. Steele
The book is sort of like preaching to the choir, liberals will appreciate it but their numbers won't swell because of it.
J. Lindner
I found the text to be not very accurate.
Edward C. Hansohn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Kellie M. Powell on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Republicans have devoted a lot of resources to the smearing of liberals, but Eric Alterman is not going to let them get away with it. He has a mission to correct misconceptions spewed by conservatives and regurgitated by mainstream media. His well-researched Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America is chock-full of the staggering statistics, rational reasoning, and liberal principles that are under-represented - and sometimes completely absent - in the so-called "liberal media." This history of liberalism is an opportunity for young progressives to read about a time when liberalism was unbelievably popular, and to discover the origins of stereotypes that plague modern liberalism, many of which are baseless.

In chapters like "Why Do Liberals Hate Patriotism?", "Why Do Liberals Hate Religion?" and "Why Are Liberals Such Wimps?", Alterman attacks the assumptions that liberals are "soft" on national defense and crime and rejects the nonsensical labels - like "elitist," "tax-and-spend," and "anti-family" - that form the modern liberal public relations crisis. While any self-described liberal should realize the ridiculousness of these accusations, many are treated as fact by both conservative and moderate pundits and media sources. Proud liberals may feel the book is preaching to the choir, but as the old saying goes, "That's how you make them sing." Liberals have a lot of singing to do if they want to reclaim their good name, and provide the logic and compassion America needs to fight the reactionary politics and religious fundamentalism offered by conservatives.

Alterman insists that liberals have a unique opportunity at this particular moment, and also acknowledges the difficulties we face.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. S. Wilkerson on November 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Alterman never provides a succinct answer to the question, Why We're Liberals? The answer, however, is obvious. We're liberals because we couldn't be anything else. Our understanding of how the world works corresponds only with a liberal perspective, a perspective from which we have "a fundamental commitment to the values of the Enlightenment, [to] the force of reason and the ability of men and women to join together to create a society for the common good (p. 56)." It is an understanding, partly idealistic, partly pragmatic, that the individual is freest when all are free and a realization that all political endeavors must work towards the greatest good for the greatest number, the common good. We operate from the understanding that freedom is counterintuitive: the more freedom granted to the least of us, the more there is for all of us. Liberalism is a perspective, a way of engaging the world and others, not an ideology, and is therefore very broad in its inclusivity.

Alterman confesses that "liberalism is notoriously difficult to define (p. 56)" because the concepts of which it is comprised are individually difficult to define: fairness, reciprocity, equity in political and financial opportunities, a profound respect for our own humanity and for the humanity of others, an intense desire to see even handed treatment for all in our courts, our schools, and our political institutions, and a deep reverence for freedom and reason. These concepts are as hard to articulate into policy as they are difficult to define, and the liberal understands that the interactions of people are intensely complex, that that's the way he or she perceives the world because that`s the way the world is.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on April 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eric Alterman's "Why We're Liberals", is a thoughtful if overly dry book about liberalism in America today. It has some merit, much to the author's credit. For a generation, the right has pounded the left to the point where "liberal" is one of those four-letter words, and then some. Alterman reminds the reader that until liberals stand up and defend that term, (politicians especially) we're not going to move very far.

Much of the book has little to do with why so many of us are liberals, but rather focuses in on how conservatives view liberals and how they go about their mischievous deeds with inaccuracies that go beyond the pale. Alterman does a good job in citing quotations to that end and indeed that is his finest contribution. But he also has a proclivity to sink into polls and other factual numbers that don't elevate what should be a terrific exposé of the right wing. When speaking of Maureen Dowd he quotes a journalist as saying that "she's a liberal by default". Given Alterman's fixation on non-liberal thinking I felt myself in exactly the same position....liberal by default.

Alterman concludes with a terrific last few pages about why we are liberals. I wish I had seen more evidence throughout his book regarding the positive aspects of being on the left, but for those who want some comfort food, "Why We're Liberals" will provide some snacking along the way.
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Mark Daniels on March 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Not since Joe Conason's "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How it Distorts the Truth" have I found such a wonderful guidebook defending the liberal/progressive ideology while simoultaneously revealing the myths and lies of the republicans for what they are. For decades now, the republicans have systematically associated the "liberal" label with any number of negative stereotypes in the minds of the American people. Their smear campaign against liberals has become so successful that even the most liberal of politicians now shies away from the word for fear of it sinking their political career. Thanks to right-wing politicians and the Punditocracy, Americans have come to associate "liberal" with permissive attitudes, spendthrift "tax and spend" fiscal policies, elitism, political correctness, immorality, socialism, communism, and even treason.

And yet, as both this book and Conason's "Big Lies" point out, polls consistently show that a "supermajority" of Americans take the liberal position on almost every issue. America is liberal, it just doesn't realize it.

This book is actually very similar to "Big Lies" and makes almost all of the same arguments. It's better than Conason's earlier book, however, because the references are more up-to-date. ("Big Lies" was published in 2002.) I'd recommend either book - preferably this one - to any liberal seeking verbal ammunition in his/her arguments with republicans. Let Alterman's "Why We're Liberals" (or Joe Conason's "Big Lies") serve as your Liberal Bible: read it, re-read it, memorize what you can, and the next time a republican tries to trounce you with one of those bogus liberal stereotypes, you can fight back. The Right may have won the victory of semantics - successfully making "liberal" a dirty word - but we continue to win the war of ideology, because most Americans DO agree with our positions. We just have to effectively show them we stand for what they, too, stand for.
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