Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Origins of "Bleeding Heart Liberal"

I was asked today what the definition of a "bleeding heart liberal" is.  I have heard this term referenced thousands of times in political commentary and conversation.  The term can generally understood to mean someone with extreme empathy. It is often used by right-wing political pundits as a disparaging descriptor for a person with unrealistic liberal ideals. But I have never stopped to ponder the etymology of the term.

According to several web-forums and blogs the term was popularized in the 1930's and 40s by a conservative columnist named Francis James Westbrook Pegler.  Pegler was a vehement opponent of the New Deal and Labor Unions. One of his primary targets for political criticism was Eleanor Roosevelt.  The deeper roots of "Bleeding Heart" are said to surround a semi-religious medieval organization called the "Order of the Bleeding Heart" members of which supposedly honored the Virgin Mary and her 'heart pierced with many sorrows.' Though I can not find any solid information about this organization on the internet.

In any case, in the future if I am refered to as a "bleeding heart liberal" I'll take it as a compliment of the highest order. Whenever I hear this term used I automatically think of Jimmy Stewart's character George Bailey in the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life" and I think of my father.   I'll take being compared to the Virgin Mary and Eleanor Roosevelt to a disgraced early 20th century journalist any day.

Cheers to the bleeding-hearts of this world!

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