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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-28-06 09:33 PM
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Edited on Tue Mar-28-06 09:53 PM by Time for change
For as long as Ive been old enough to vote (three decades) the term liberal, as used in political discourse, has increasingly been used as a term of abuse. This fact was notoriously demonstrated in the final Presidential debate of 2004, when George Bush cited evidence that John Kerry was the most liberal member of the Senate, as if that was some kind of insult.

Consequently, Democrats began to run from the liberal label and have been increasingly continuing to do so for the past few decades. One relatively benign way of doing this is to utilize other labels to define themselves, such as New Democrat or progressive.

The reason why this bothers me is somewhat similar to the reason why many of us DUers are bothered by the failure of most of Senator Feingolds colleagues to support his censure resolution: What it amounts to is a retreat in the face of fear of political consequences. In the case of the censure resolution, Democrats are refusing to utilize an opportunity to call to the attention of the American citizenry the gravest abuses of the Presidency in the history of our nation, for fear of the political backlash that might result. The downside of that decision is that, since the corporate media can be expected to give these issues substantially less coverage than they deserve, many Americans will continue to remain ignorant of the perilous state of our nation. Though these Democrats refuse to take this opportunity because they are afraid of the political consequences, many of us believe that they may thereby be creating the opposite of their intended effect, thereby missing the opportunity to take back Congress in 2006.

I believe that running away from the liberal label is somewhat similar to that: By running away from that label we are tacitly admitting that the conservatives are right to denigrate the term. So what? We call ourselves progressive and thereby avoid the notorious liberal label. According to one definition, progressive means favoring progress toward better conditions. Gee, who could be against that? But then what do we do when the Republicans or the corporate media make progressive a term of derision? Change names again?

By saying all this I certainly dont mean to imply that liberals, individually or as a group, havent made serious mistakes. Of course we have. Some liberal programs have been wasteful or have been abused by their recipients. But that shouldnt be a reason to refute or to pretend to refute the basic principles of liberalism. Liberalism is a wonderful tradition, and the good majority of Americans agree with its general principles and greatly admire its most prominent proponents (e.g., Lincoln and FDR), even while being brainwashed by our corporate media into believing that liberal is a dirty word.

Some of liberalisms best known historical proponents and greatest achievements

A quick look at some of historys best known liberals and their principles or achievements should be enough to make one wonder how anyone can get away with excoriating the word liberal today. It is worth noting that, although most of these liberal principles are well accepted today, liberals initially had to fight tooth and nail for each of them, against the conservatives of the day, in order to make them a part of our policies and institutions:

As noted by Gary Vance, an evangelical Christian minister:

Jesus was the ultimate liberal progressive revolutionary of all history. The conservative religious and social structure that He defied hated and crucified Him. They examined His life and did not like what they saw. He aligned Himself with the poor and the oppressed. He challenged the religious orthodoxy of His day. He advocated pacifism and loving our enemies. He liberated women and minorities from oppression. Jesus was the original Liberal. He was a progressive, and He was judged and hated for it.

Yes indeed, Jesus was the ultimate liberal. And yet it is the conservatives who have now hijacked his name while at the same time excoriating his principles.

Thomas Jefferson, as the principle author of our Declaration of Independence, enshrined the unalienable rights of man as the basis for our Constitution and our birth as a nation. The rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, against those who would oppress them, is perhaps the most basic tenet of liberalism, from which all the others flow.

Susan B. Antony, whose work on behalf of womens rights began in 1854, is known as the mother of the suffrage movement within the United States. Though she faced fierce opposition from the conservatives of her day, and unfortunately she didnt live long enough to see the victory that emerged from her efforts in 1920, today conservatives can no longer even question the right of women to vote. And considering the fact that women voted against George W. Bush, for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, in much larger proportions than did men, I shudder to think where our future might lead without that right.

Abraham Lincolns life long hatred of slavery was his most notable characteristic, and the end of slavery in the United States with his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was his greatest gift to our country and the cause of humanity. His stance against slavery prior to his being elected President was about as liberal as one could get while remaining a viable national politician in those days.

Theodore Roosevelt was our first President to recognize and act on the fact that, with the coming of the industrial age, corporations had accumulated too much power, which they utilized to gain ever more power and wealth for themselves, at the expense of the great majority of American citizens. To curb their power, he invoked anti-trust laws and defended the right of labor to organize. Recognizing the need for consumer protection against the corporations, he pushed through the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which saw the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. And, he was our first President to make the protection of our environment a national priority. Our current pResident, just as he does with Jesus Christ, uses Roosevelts name for his political advantage, while trying to undo most of his great achievements as quickly as he can.

Franklin Roosevelt, faced with the worst economic crisis in the history of our country, used his executive powers to create a vast array of new government agencies and programs, including the Social Security Administration, to lift our country out of the Great Depression. His conservative opponents of the day hated him with a passion and claimed that he was a Communist. Yet his programs and polices gained so much acceptance by the American people that todays conservatives cannot openly attack them. Instead, they try to dismantle them while claiming that they trying to save them.

Harry Trumans best known liberal achievement was his integration of the armed forces. That may not seem so liberal today (and again, conservatives today are unable to openly criticize that achievement), but in Trumans day it was an extremely controversial and politically risky act, fought against passionately by conservatives. That act knocked down one more mighty barrier to racial equality in our country.

John F. Kennedy said in a 1960 speech that liberalism is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in mans ability, through the experience of his reason and judgment, to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.

Lyndon Johnsons Great Society program (following up on the efforts of his predecessor) was responsible for great progress in our country towards improving the opportunity of our citizens for a decent life, and included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Medicare, among many others. The Great Society programs as a whole have resulted in substantial improvements in public health in our country, manifested by a steady drop in the infant mortality rate until George W. Bush took office in 2001 and began to reverse those programs, whereupon infant mortality rate began to rise for the first time in several decades.

Marin Luther King, liberal though he was, is widely enough respected today that a national holiday has been named after him. Though he is best known for his fight for racial justice, in the latter years of his life he expanded his efforts on behalf of the opportunity for a decent life for all citizens, black or white. On the topic of economic justice and the income gap between rich and poor:

He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" -- including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow

King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power. "True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

George McGovern is known as a liberal primarily because of his early and vigorous opposition to the Viet Nam War, based on the fact that there was no legitimate moral purpose to that war. Though he was excoriated as a pacifist due to his opposition to the war, this was not pacifism at all, but rather a manifestation of the liberal principle that a country should go to war only for a very good reason. Since retiring from politics, McGovern has devoted himself largely to another bedrock liberal principle, manifested by his efforts to ameliorate world hunger.

A major contribution of Jimmy Carter to our nations liberal discourse was his elevation of the concept of human rights, applied to the international scene, to a national priority. Since retiring from politics he has continued to work on behalf of world peace, as well as other liberal principles, with the creation of the Carter Center.

John Conyers whole political career has been devoted to liberal principles and actions, but perhaps the ones for which he will be best remembered are his efforts to save our democracy by trying to fix our election system. With our democracy in great peril because of a dysfunctional election system, Conyers has led election reform efforts in the House of Representatives, starting with his Committee to investigate the scandalous 2004 election, which resulted in the landmark report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio.

That should be enough on this subject to make my point. The above discussion is a far from complete description of liberal principles and those leaders who have fought for them (and I recognize that some of those leaders also demonstrated some non-liberal principles in other areas), but it is simply meant to make a point by considering the great liberal thoughts, actions, and achievements of some liberal leaders who are best known to Americans.

Some destructive myths against liberals

It is the destructive myths against liberals, initiated by our political opponents, and more recently amplified by the corporate media, which have caused numerous Democrats to turn away from the liberal label. These include the myth that liberals encourage irresponsibility, the myth that liberals are soft on national defense, the myth that liberals are wild spenders and cant balance the budget, and the myth that liberals are anti-law and order. Because this post is already getting quite long I decided to discuss these myths in another post.

Ask yourself: What would happen if, rather than turning away from the label, we fought back by challenging those myths?


If the principles of liberalism could be summed up in a short paragraph it would be this:

Liberals believe in the sacredness of human beings, regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religious beliefs, sexual preference, etc. They therefore believe that all people should have the opportunity for a good life, and they are willing to question and challenge the status quo if they believe that is necessary in order to afford people that opportunity. Consequently, they believe strongly in the individual protections given to us in the first ten Amendments to our Constitution (which conservatives also claim to revere). More specifically, they believe in the following:

 Prevention of discrimination against individuals based on the above noted characteristics
 Freedom to criticize the government
 Right to privacy as long as that right doesnt have the potential to hurt others
 Opportunity for all to a decent education
 Opportunity for all to decent health care
 Opportunity for all to a decent quality of life
 Recourse to war ONLY as a last resort, and to protect the vital interests of the people of the United States
 Protection of our environment, so as to enable future generations to live decent lives
 Respect for law, including international law, so as to facilitate the peaceful co-existence of the nations of the world
 Controls over the powerful (e.g. corporations) to ensure that they dont oppress others
 Access of the citizenry to information, so that they can make informed decisions
 Fair and transparent elections, meaning the right to vote for all citizens and the right to know that our vote counts

The history of our nation reveals that liberals have continuously fought for these principles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but almost always against the fierce opposition of conservatives. And overall they have been so successful that today there are numerous liberal principles that are widely accepted that were considered beyond the pale not too long ago.

Yet today we find ourselves in the remarkable position that the word that most defines us and our proud heritage is denigrated so badly by the ultra-conservative Republican Party and their allies in the corporate media that most Democrats have turned away from that term, in word, and sometimes in deed as well, from fear of the political consequences.

I have nothing per se against tactical compromises in order to achieve crucial strategic goals. And I recognize that liberals are challenged mightily today by virtue of the fact that the corporate media attempts to excoriate them whenever they step out of line. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if the increasing avoidance of the liberal label by Democrats over the past few decades, in response to bullying by our political opponents, hasnt played right into their hands by producing the widespread impression liberalism is a failed political philosophy.

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