The L Word
Ronald Reagan years ago did a magnificent job making the word something to be avoided. George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush have done their best to carry on the tradition; the minute any Democrat wins the nomination to become his party’s presidential standard-bearer, the entire Republican attack machine gears up to rear back and roar, “Liberal, Liberal, Liberal!”
But what is a liberal? A liberal is someone who believes that there is a place for government, and the Constitution clearly outlines it. A liberal is someone who knows that unchecked private power leads to inequality, corruption, graft, and hatred.
Our form of democracy, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “is the worst form of government known to man—excluding all the rest.” By no means is it perfect. For the greater part of U.S. history, our government had enshrined the most odious form of political cancer within it: first slavery, then Jim Crow. It took a civil war and massive nonviolent protest, combined with legal action at every level for almost half a century, to get us to this point. And we still haven’t solved all the problems stemming from the decision in 1776 to declare black people three-fifths of a person in the eyes of government.
Having said that, African-Americans are still the biggest fans of good, honest government. We, predominantly, are unapologetic liberals.
Liberals know that the only check on the robber barons of Halliburton, the criminals of Adelphia, the stock swindlers, and the inside traders is the strong regulatory mechanisms of a diligent government. We know that when government does its job there are no savings-and-loan collapses that cause thousands, if not millions, of honest, hard-working people to lose their life savings while two or three white-collar criminals get away with millions and short stints manicuring the greens at Allenwood federal penitentiary. We know that when a strong and attentive government keeps its eye on the market, there are no predatory energy traders, like the ones at Enron who laughed at the prospect of cheating little old ladies out of their savings while literally stealing millions and millions of dollars from the citizens of California—and in the end, only a handful of people walk away in handcuffs on the evening news.
This is what liberals believe:
We believe in a government that keeps our food safe via the Department of Agriculture, repairs our roads and the interstate highway system via the Department of Transportation, keeps our skies the world’s safest through the efforts of the Federal Aviation Administration, and dispenses the world’s safest and most modern medications under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration.
By and large, our government provides us on the whole with honest police, safe oceans, clean drinking water, and a decent public-education system. If you take these things for granted, feel free to move to some Latin American country, where the bribe is still the most efficient method of arranging public services. Move to Africa, where health care is nonexistent. Move to Russia, where years of distrust instilled in the populace from the old Soviet system keeps a population wary and the Communists not too far removed from the seats of power.
But conservatives will tell you that being liberal is something to be ashamed of. These are people who say they want to shrink government down to the size, according to Bush family ally and Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist, “where it can be drowned in the bathtub.” They do not see taxes as something that, while never loved, are necessary to keep America the envy of large swaths of the globe. They would tear down mechanisms that keep track of the stock market, keep the air clean, maintain the ecological balance by protecting endangered species, and prevent private concerns from reducing our national forests to tinderboxes of empty stumps and asphalt roadways. They’d let shysters sell you patent medicines, contract your children’s education out to people who care less about results than the bottom line, and give the nation’s Social Security fund to stock-market speculators ready to skim billions in fees off what they see as the jackpot of a lifetime.
In their world, the poor are to be derided, the infirm are to be ignored, wealth is valued over work, and victims of discrimination are told to “stop whining.” To them, workers are costs, not assets, and if you have little or nothing, it’s because you don’t feel like working to get it.
These are the people who made “liberal” a bad word. These are the ones who care not to be their brother’s keeper, or to be the village that raises the child. They mock the concept of “compassion” by linking it to “conservative.” There is no such thing. “Compassionate conservative”? Please.
Because it stands for caring, and hope, and trust in your fellow man, you can call me a liberal any day. I’m proud of it. We’ve earned it.
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