In Austin last week, Barack Obama spoke these words to his supporters:
"Oh, he's liberal,” he said. “He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should do something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"
Begging your pardon, Barack, but there is something liberal about all of these things.
These are liberal policies, liberal goals.
It's a crying shame that one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination (and, at this point at least, the likely nominee) feels as if he must deny the word liberal - even as he advances liberal policies!
As Obama goes on with his 'nothing liberal' rant - "Who, me? Liberal? No way! Uh-uh - not me!", the Republicans are falling all over themselves trying to 'out-conservative' each other. To them, 'conservative' is a badge of honor; in fact, if you don't embrace conservatism, you're not even worthy of consideration. As I've said before, the worst epithet one Republican can hurl at another is 'liberal'. Crazy-ass John McCain has been called that by his detractors.
He should be so fortunate.
What has this wonderful conservatism brought us over the last forty years? A black hole of war and war profiteering that is sucking our nation dry as it kills millions? An economy that has taken money from the poorest to give to the richest and decimated a once-thriving middle class? A social climate of bigotry and division, where discrimination is not just morally acceptable, but divinely ordained? A place where the 'Golden Rule' is "He who has the gold makes the rules"? Where we kill others to force 'freedoms' upon them while eviscerating our own freedoms at home? It has turned a once-respected country into the most feared and reviled country in the world, run by lawless thugs who have no aspirations beyond their own enrichment and power.
Some legacy. How proud they must be.
The Sixties brought the Republican party to a place of crisis. The defeat of Goldwater, the civil rights movement, the explosion of social and cultural upheaval – riots, assassinations, hippies, feminists - all these left conservatives floundering like a fish out of water. Scornfully branded ‘the Establishment’, their traditional way of life had gotten away from them, and they were determined to get it back. Capitalism itself was under attack. Everything that was wrong with the world, it seemed, could be directly attributed to liberalism. It was time for serious measures.
In 1968, a group of conservative millionaires and corporate heavyweights convened to discuss this alarming state of affairs. There had been a seismic cultural shift, and conservatives were on the wrong side of it. Lewis H. Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper's Magazine, tells the story:
The hope of their salvation found its voice in a 5,000-word manifesto written by Lewis Powell, a Richmond corporation lawyer, and circulated in August 1971 by the United States Chamber of Commerce under the heading Confidential Memorandum; Attack on the American Free Enterprise System. Soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court, lawyer Powell was a man well-known and much respected by the country's business community; within the legal profession he was regarded as a prophet. His heavy word of warning fell upon the legions of reaction with the force of Holy Scripture: "Survival of what we call the free enterprise system," he said, "lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations."
The venture capital for the task at hand was provided by a small sewing circle of rich philanthropists—Richard Mellon Scaife in Pittsburgh, Lynde and Harry Bradley in Milwaukee, John Olin in New York City, the Smith Richardson family in North Carolina, Joseph Coors in Denver, David and Charles Koch in Wichita—who entertained visions of an America restored to the safety of its mythological past—small towns like those seen in prints by Currier and Ives, cheerful factory workers whistling while they worked, politicians as wise as Abraham Lincoln and as brave as Teddy Roosevelt, benevolent millionaires presenting Christmas turkeys to deserving elevator operators, the sins of the flesh deported to Mexico or France. Suspicious of any fact that they hadn't known before the age of six, the wealthy saviors of the Republic also possessed large reserves of paranoia, and if the world was going rapidly to rot (as any fool could plainly see) the fault was to be found in everything and anything tainted with a stamp of liberal origin—the news media and the universities, income taxes, Warren Beatty, transfer payments to the undeserving poor, restraints of trade, Jane Fonda, low interest rates, civil liberties for unappreciative minorities, movies made in Poland, public schools.*
*The various philanthropic foundations under the control of the six families possess assets estimated in 2001 at $1.7 billion. Harry Bradley was an early and enthusiastic member of the John Birch Society; Koch Industries in the winter of 2000 agreed to pay $30 million (the largest civil fine ever imposed on a private American company under any federal environmental law) to settle claims related to 300 oil spills from its pipelines in six states.
Although small in comparison with the sums distributed by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the money was ideologically sound, and it was put to work leveraging additional contributions (from corporations as well as from other like-minded foundations), acquiring radio stations, newspapers, and journals of opinion, bankrolling intellectual sweatshops for the making of political and socioeconomic theory. Joseph Coors established The Heritage Foundation with an initial gift of $250,000 in 1973, the sum augmented over the next few years with $900,000 from Richard Scaife; the American Enterprise Institute was revived and fortified in the late seventies with $6 million from the Howard Pew Freedom Trust; the Cato Institute was set up by the Koch family in 1977 with a gift of $500,000. If in 1971 the friends of American free enterprise could turn for comfort to no more than seven not very competent sources of inspiration, by the end of the decade they could look to eight additional installations committed to "joint effort" and "united action." The senior officers of the Fortune 500 companies meanwhile organized the Business Roundtable, providing it by 1979 with a rich endowment for the hiring of resident scholars loyal in their opposition to the tax and antitrust laws.
And so the conservative movement began its climb up from the abyss. They knew that it would take many years and billions of dollars to build their machine. They put into place an interlocking series of organizations designed to produce a new generation of scholars, pundits, and intellectual leaders, supported by think tanks, scholarships, internships, and media outlets. Promising young college Republicans were nurtured and cultivated, and the path to prominence made smooth as they were escorted to high-profile jobs to establish them as leading lights and deep thinkers. The overriding idea was to denigrate liberalism in every way possible – the ‘liberal media’, liberal education, liberal values. This was not a natural ‘swing of the pendulum’ – it was bought and paid for. It was slow-growing, but inexorable, and soon the term ‘liberal’, which only a few years before was how most people described themselves; which stood for society’s values – a safety net for the poorest, tolerance, intelligence, inquiry, progress – became an epithet. Liberals were irresponsible, unrealistic, immature, decadent, and wasteful of other people’s money. They were immoral, licentious, hedonistic, irrational and self-indulgent. With the concerted efforts of the new think tanks, newspaper and magazine articles, and pundits-for-hire, these ideas seeped into the national consciousness.
Forty years later, it is time to understand that the assault against liberalism did not just happen. It was planned, financed, and implemented, and we are living with the results today. This is what happens when unregulated capitalism is allowed to rampage without the checks and balances that liberal policies foster.
Conservatives have spent billions and billions of dollars to make 'liberal' into a dirty word, and they have succeeded when people who should be calling themselves liberal emphatically deny the word in the same breath as they espouse liberal policies and values. Even the word 'progressive', which is nothing to be ashamed of, and represents the idea that society should be improved upon through action, is used by liberals who want to express their values without using the 'L' word.
I think this has to stop.
I've done it myself - I have called myself both liberal and progressive interchangeably, and I feel that both terms express my value system. However, when I choose not to use the word 'liberal', I am making sure that the conservative movement's money has been well-spent. If I back off of the word 'liberal', they win!
I don't know about you, but I am ready to take back that word. Wouldn't it be great if all that conservative smear money was wasted? We need to get back to what liberalism really means.Yes, we made mistakes as liberals (notice I'm not saying 'mistakes were made'?) but instead of scrapping the policies that brought us back from the Depression and gave us a middle class, we should learn from our mistakes and work towards making our great country the best it can be. We can't let fear of being called 'liberal' stop us from claiming our great legacy. Conservatives will revile us no matter what we do, and abandoning our values and moving towards theirs is not the correct response. It only makes them more arrogant, and we validate their position if we pander to them in the name of bipartisanship and compromise. You sure won't see them reaching across the aisle in the spirit of moving forward. As we saw just last week over the FISA issue, if they don't get their way, they simply walk out.
Senator Obama, there is something liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There is something liberal about wanting to make sure our soldiers are treated properly when they come home. There is something liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. And the sooner that some candidate has the sack to stand up and say that proudly, the sooner we'll start down the path of getting our country back.
Being called a liberal is 'okie-doke' with me, Senator.
Say it loud: I'm liberal and I'm proud!