Friday, November 21, 2008

It’s Okay to Be Called a Liberal

Michael Lind in says that liberals can come out of the closest again and drop the word “progressive.”

If the conservative era is over, can liberals come out of their defensive crouch and call themselves liberals again, instead of progressives?

In the last two decades, Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, have abandoned the term “liberal” for “progressive.” The theory was that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan — had succeeded in equating “liberal” in the public mind with weakness on defense, softness on crime, and “redistribution” of Joe the Plumber’s hard-earned money to the collective bogey evoked by a former Texas rock band’s clever name: Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Dope.


The word “liberal” is a badge of pride. What is more embarrassing in 2008, to be associated with self-described liberals like Roosevelt and Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan, or with conservatives like Reagan and George W. Bush and Tom DeLay? I much prefer the public philosophy of the mid-century liberals, for all their blunders and shortcomings, to that of the three movements in American history that have called themselves progressive: the moderate-to-conservative progressives of the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980s and 1990s; the deluded pro-Soviet progressives of the mid-20th century; and the Anglo-Protestant elite progressives of the 1900s, who admired Bismarck’s Germany and wanted to keep out immigrants and sterilize the native poor.

John F. Kennedy said it best in 1960.

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

Long-time readers will recognize that quote; it’s been on the sidebar almost since the day this blog went on-line.