Asheville Daily Planet, December 2018
Florida’s governor went into a rant: “I won’t stand idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”
An old friend sent me an email. She said she was raised “an evangelical, liberal-hating Republican.” She wrote that she’s become disenchanted with Republicans but wasn’t ready to become a Democrat. “I don’t want to be under the same roof with all those wacky liberals,” she said.
Blame Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh for taking a great word from history – “liberal” – and turning it into a hot iron for GOP candidates to brand their opponents with.
A Notre Dame poli sci prof named Patrick Deneen has written a book called “Why Liberalism Failed.” I heard him interviewed on Ezra Klein’s podcast.
The title is an unabashed lure to conservative book buyers. Deneen’s liberalism, that he says failed, goes back to the Enlightenment, to the philosophers whose ideas inspired our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They set thing in motion, he says, that resulted in our crumbling society today.
Conservative columnist David Brooks, in his critique of Deneen’s book, wrote: “The liberal democratic moral….stands for the idea that our covenantal institutions — like family, faith, tradition and community — orient us toward higher loves and common dreams that we then pursue in the great gymnasium of liberty.”
Exactly. Our great freedoms are built on the foundation of liberal thought. John Locke, the 17th-century “father of liberalism,” whispered in Jefferson’s ear as he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
An article in The New Yorker magazine last July put it neatly: “Liberalism is a perpetual program of reform, intended to alleviate the cruelty we see around us….[We hope for] a future society, flawed, like our own, but less cruel as time goes on.”
We aspire to ever-greater things, and our basic liberal principles propel us to achieve them. It can be truly said that liberalism contributes something otherwise missing in our government: problem-solving.
Think about it. Democrats – all of whom Gingrich and Limbaugh would call liberals – were in power when all the great and positive changes in American life took place: women’s suffrage, social security, minimum wage, overtime pay, GI Bill, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, on and on.
With full power in Washington for two years, what problems have the Republicans even tried to solve? Securing Social Security? Disaster preparation? Global warming? Healthcare? Strengthening ties with allies? Balanced budgets? None. And the big reason for their failure is their philosophical refusal to confront problems head-on. Government is enemy, not friend. They make a show of doing something when necessary, but their heart isn’t in it.
In today’s America, Democrats are the keepers of our long liberal tradition. No question about that. Republicans look backward to some utopia before the New Deal, when Republican governments helped business but certainly not the people in need!
Democrats now have control in the House of Representatives – which makes me worry. They have opportunities to make life “less cruel” for our people. They can work with Republicans to make healthcare a reasonable reality, for example.
But will they? Many Democrats who worked hard in the recent election are howling for impeachment of Trump, something that would totally distract from the people’s work. Political correctness can result in the elevation of people not ready for leadership. Incoming freshmen could clique together as a power bloc.
It is urgent that Democrats connect themselves with liberalism’s historic difference – namely, how problems get solved, how government meets the needs of the ordinary people who elect them.
Let’s give all those liberal-hating Republicans the positive experience of good liberal government. There’s no better way to heal the divide in our land.