This was originally published on Liberal America on February 27, 2017.
Many right-wingers just love to use the term “bleeding-heart liberal” to describe us. They especially use it when we talk about compassion and inclusion for everyone. You may have heard it if you spend any amount of time debating with conservatives.
What Does ‘Bleeding-Heart Liberal’ Mean?
This is the definition from Urban Dictionary:
“A person who is considered excessively sympathetic toward those who claim to be underprivileged or exploited.”
When Was It First Used?
This term was first written as an insult against liberals by Westbrook Pegler in a 1938 column. Pegler hated liberals, Communists, and other groups. He referred to us as “bleeding hearts” in response to a bill that was up in Congress to curb lynchings.
The phrase “bleeding heart” was used in religious literature in the 19th Century. One politician used it this way in an 1862 speech:
“I come to you with a bleeding heart, honest and sincere motives, desiring to give you some plain thoughts.”
“Bleeding-heart” was used as a reference to Jesus Christ’s heart, which is supposed to symbolize compassion and love.
The term was brought back to use in political contexts in 1954 when Joe McCarthy used it. In 1963, it was used by a satirical columnist, Russell Baker, in a list of political insults:
“If one is called a ‘phoney,’ about the only thing he can do is come back with some epithet like, ‘anti-intellectual’ or ‘bleeding-heart liberal’…or ‘you must be one of those peace nuts.’”
Conservative Bleeding Hearts?
Can conservatives be compassionate? Urban Dictionary gives these definitions for “compassionate conservatism:”
“A conservative who wants to get more votes from liberals.”
“The phrase that attempts (unsuccessfully?) to force progressive ideas into a regressive box for the sole purpose of selling warm fuzzies to cold hearted bastards.”
This seems like an oxymoron to me. This is the same party that wants to keep the minimum wage low and cut food stamps and take away healthcare.
I’m proud to be a bleeding-heart liberal.