One Saturday morning recently at Poor Phil’s, a friend said, “I don’t even know what liberals stand for. I know they’re anti-pro-life.”

That twisted assessment brought three things into focus:

1) Conservatives have no clue what liberals believe. That’s because they aren’t listening, don’t really want to know because the answers are threatening, or they’d much rather tell us what we believe, based on the tortured divinations of blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

2) Conservatives have ruled the debate in this country, so they only note the opposition in terms of their own stated priorities. Therefore, liberals are anti-pro-life, anti-protecting-the-sacredness-of-marriage, and anti-war-on-terror.

3) Liberals/progressives aren’t doing enough to widen the debate and state their priorities-clearly and often.

At least my conservative friend was asking, which made me start thinking about my “liberal agenda.” Here are my priorities (and I don’t care if they make my candidates “electable”):

Government has been, and can again be a force for good in our lives. Conservatives swept into power 26 years ago claiming, with some validity, that the New Deal (aka “big government”) had become bloated and inefficient. The result of their quarter century of dominance is that government is now bloated, inefficient and incompetent. It’s time to let someone else take a crack at taming the beast.

Government, at its best, serves as an effective check on the excesses of free-market capitalism, which concentrates the nation’s wealth in the hands of a very few. The greater the gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots, upper and working classes, the weaker our country. The gap is much wider now than 26 years ago. Government’s proper role is to help reduce that gap-without smothering the economic engine of the free (within reason) market. For the past 26 years, everything has been skewed in favor of the rich. It’s time for economic justice to become a national priority again.

Affordable health care for all Americans is a right-not a luxury. The current system is dysfunctional-except for those who profit handsomely from it. If the private sector refuses to cooperate in creating a more workable system, government must lead them to it.

The current climate of legalized bribery prevents elected officials from representing our interests because they’ve been bought off by “big money.” Meaningful campaign finance reform is essential if we want to return power to the voters.

But that can’t happen without a viable method for counting votes, making sure votes count and making more Americans eligible to vote. Without a system that isn’t so susceptible to fraud (or the suspicion of fraud), democracy cannot thrive.

Iraq and the recent Israeli clashes with Hezbollah have proven again that military might alone cannot defeat terrorism. We need a smarter approach. Our arrogant bullying has cost us our moral standing in the world. We need to start acting like “the good guys” again, which means serving as an impartial broker of peace in the Mideast, giving considerably more aid to address global health and poverty issues, vowing never again to use torture or start a pre-emptive war, and working to create the kind of conditions worldwide that make terrorism unnecessary. Most importantly, the struggle against terrorism must never be waged at the expense of our civil liberties.

Halt global warming worldwide and protect the environment at home-without stifling the economy. Yes, it can be done.

Abortion: As Bill Clinton said, keep it “safe, legal … and rare.”

Education: When the poor are poorly educated, everyone is hurt by it.

Same-sex marriage: Tolerance always serves us best in the long run.

Taxes: Create a saner, fairer system that provides adequate revenue, but builds in more accountability for spending those funds wisely and efficiently.

“Moral values” mean nothing unless we address the inequities in this country. All our problems are solvable if we have the will-and the willingness to stand up to those who are profiting from them. Government must take the lead, but first we have to vote in the kind of people who will stand up for us.

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