In the previous post I talked about my Bleeding Heart in the backyard. I thought “how appropriate” as I am often called a “Bleeding Heart Liberal.” Those who call me that probably think I am offended and will try to defend against what they believe is a derogatory term.

But, I am not one bit ashamed of being a Liberal, let alone a Bleeding Heart Liberal. So, where does that term come from? Robert Rouse over at Left of Centrist has a segment on his blog called “word of the day.” I don’t usually do a word of the day, but I wanted to do this term especially since I have several of the plants, and I consider myself a “bleeding heart liberal.” Although I could not find the phrase itself, I found the component parts which, when taken together, explain the term. The first definition is the word “liberal.” The definitions provided by Dictionary.com are as follows:

  1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
  2. noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
  3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
  4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
  5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
  6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
  7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
  8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
  9. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion.
  10. a member of a liberal party in politics, esp. of the Liberal party in Great Britain.

In looking at these definitions, why would anyone think a liberal was evil or did not have values?

The definition of “bleeding heart” is “a person who is considered excessively sympathetic toward those who claim to be underprivileged or exploited.”

Its origin may be the Order of the Bleeding Heart, a semireligious order of the Middle Ages honoring the Virgin Mary, whose ‘heart was pierced with many sorrows. The expression was introduced into political usage in the thirties by columnist Westbrook Pegler. By the 1990s the term was applied more broadly and, not without irony, even to ultraconservatives. Mr. Pegler’s most frequent “target” was first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Safire’s New Political Dictionary by William Safire-Random House, New York, 1993).

Thus, the definition of a “bleeding heart liberal” is one who, among other things:

  • is progressive
  • is open-minded
  • is tolerant
  • favors maximizing individual freedoms, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by government
  • favors representational forms of governments, not monarchies or aristocracies
  • cares excessively about those who are underprivileged or exploited

Ironically, Sam Brownback, a Christian conservative has taken heat lately over his statement that he is “also a bleeding-heart conservative.” He went on to say that he does a number of things working on human rights issues, prison recidivism rates, and on the social issues of rebuilding the family.

The term “bleeding heart” can apply to either Republican or Democrat; the word liberal; however, does not.




About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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  1. Jeff Pruitt says:

    Mandatory reading for people like Souder that think the word liberal is a slur of some sort…

  2. I’ve also wondered why people use the phrase “do-gooder” as a pejorative.

  3. Let’s see; free from prejudice, pro-progress, pro-freedom, open-minded, tolerant, caring. Why should we feel bad about this label? I’m fairly certain bleeding heart liberals also aren’t pro-war. I’m not ashamed of the title. Sticks and stones…

  4. Keith says:

    Some of those dictionary definitions are for Classical Liberalism, not American Liberalism, which are two different things in political science. Such as, “favors maximizing individual freedoms, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by government.” That statement is more in line with Libertarianism or American Conservatism (Classical Liberalism), than American Liberalism to which I assume you are referring. American Liberalism allows social freedom, but not economic or other freedom, as the other things are best left to the government to handle. So the post is a little skewed in not differentiating between Classical and American Liberalism. If you lived in Australia you would not vote for the Liberal Party, as they are Classical Liberals.

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  6. Beth Appel says:

    I just discovered Berry Street Beacon when searching for the source of Bleeding Heart Liberal since I am a self-identified BHL. I plan to go back and read more of what you have written. I wish we were neighbors.

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