I jokingly call myself a “bleeding-heart liberal.” I’m not a left-wing radical; but, given a choice between leaning liberal and cruising conservative, I choose the former nine times out of ten. But I don’t always walk in lock-step with the liberal mindset that some, friends and enemies alike, would have us believe is carved in stone.

For example: I have real problems with late-term abortions. When does a “fetus” become a “baby?” I don’t know…does anybody know? At what point in time does a collection of cells that, barring any one of nine million cosmic mishaps is destined to develop into a human being, become a viable life? With the advances that have been made in neo-natal care, any fetus that has survived into its seventh month can arguably be called a baby. If it looks like a baby, and cries like a baby, isn’t it a baby? And if you have to kill it because a woman couldn’t exercise her “right to choose” a couple of months earlier in the process…well, then, isn’t something screwed up?

This is where the left-wing lock-steppers get all red in the face and start sputtering the discourse about reproductive rights, and women’s rights, and how right-to-lifers are not about protecting unborn babies, but rather about keeping women in a place of social servitude. And if a woman’s right to choose is not kept sacred for the entire nine months between conception and delivery, then the last fifty years of hard-won women’s rights are going to swirl right down the toilet. We’ll be back in the kitchen in our house-dresses, aprons and Donna Reed pearls before you know it. Or being dragged by the hair into some cave. And I think…whoa. Maybe I’m not really cut out to be a liberal after all. ‘Cause I’m not even coming close to buying this stuff.

But then, I realize: I’ve never been poor; I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never been a frightened pregnant teen-ager; hell, I’ve never even been pregnant. And I haven’t been to divinity school, or medical school, or law school. So I am probably not the best person to pronounce judgment on the issue. Come to think of it, if I had been any or all of these things, I still wouldn’t be the best judge. The point is: I don’t know. And I want to be assured that the people who do make the judgments on questions of this magnitude don’t know, either. I want them to understand there is a kaleidoscope of different perspectives on every issue, and every one of those perspectives demands consideration.

Which, now that I think of it, is the essence of liberalism, isn’t it? That we don’t know. That we recognize every viewpoint, and allow it its fair review. That we don’t resort to advancing a set of archaic proverbs recorded thousands of years ago—a body of literature so old and so obscure that we can assign it any meaning we please—as having the answers to all of twenty-first century humanity’s complex problems. Because we’re too lazy or too intimidated, too rigid or too uncurious, to find our own answers.

Unfortunately, that may be what makes liberalism so…ineffective. “Liberal” means “broadminded, unprejudiced, tolerant.” The openness to ideas, the cosmopolitan inclusiveness of the philosophy, make it almost impossible to choose one person, or even a manageable few, to crystallize the vision of the movement; to lead the charge in the myriad of diverse issues and viewpoints we embrace. But every movement that hopes to promote significant change needs a leader. Who’s in charge? Who is going to call the shots?

We’ve always had a problem choosing one, or two, or even half a dozen issues to advance above all others. Every change we stand behind, great and small, is vitally important to someone. And the antics of the Bush Administration have added items to the list that weren’t in our wildest dreams ten years ago: war for oil, torture, due process for political prisoners, cashing in constitutional rights for “security.” But there are too many of us trying to keep too many plates spinning; they are falling and smashing with disturbing regularity. We need to come to some consensus on what will define us as a political force. We need to choose the biggest plates, confidently hand them to the one or two individuals best suited to getting them up in the air, then gather around and keep those plates from hitting the ground. Better to opt for success on a few great issues, than mediocrity—or failure—on a thousand smaller ones.

And, standing around waiting for the act that’s currently on center stage to self-destruct and get the hook? That shouldn’t even be an option.