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Political titles - 'Liberal'

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I'm intrigued that a number of people on this site use the term 'Liberal' in the manner that I might use the phrase 'Oh no, look at what I've got on the bottom of my shoe!' It's obviously a real insult, but coming from the UK, where we have a middle-of-the-road political party called the Liberal Democrats, I just can't see where all the ire is coming from. We might laugh a bit at the Lib Dems but they don't equate with dog mess for us.

So, if it's possible to explain very politely and without insults (you should know I was a member of the Lib Dems while I lived in the UK) I'd be grateful if some of you could explain why the word Liberal holds such power in the US.