Citizen-Times, 9/2012

I deeply believe that America’s future depends on our coming to a strong liberal majority.

Not the fringe that the media loves for their sign-waving and shouts of anarchy. I mean historic liberalism.

A speech by John Kennedy in 1960 describes historic liberalism well (Google “pbs kennedy if by liberal”). And one piece of that speech is particularly relevant to the choice we face in November:

“I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities….When [government] has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.”

And that’s precisely what happened in the 20th century. Liberals were in power when all the great and positive changes in American life took place: women’s suffrage, Social Security, minimum wage, GI Bill, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, 40-hour work week and overtime pay, unemployment compensation, child labor laws, school lunch program, Fair Pay Act, Medical Leave Act.   (Nixon enacted the Clean Air Act, but by today’s standards he too was a liberal.) We assume these benefits in our lives every day ─ but almost all, if not all, were opposed by conservatives (plus the Marshall Plan, FHA mortgages, Interstate highways, the TVA, rural electrification).

That’s been the pattern. Conservatives want government to stay out of the way and let “the market” solve problems in whatever way it will. Liberals get things done. Our great presidents, like the Roosevelts and Truman, understood the proper role of government. They solved problems. Indeed, that’s the great difference between historic liberalism and historic conservatism that’s relevant in 2012: problem-solving.

This is not a time for conservatives. We have problems, and conservatives have historically refused to confront problems head-on. Oh, they occasionally make a show of problem-solving ─ as George Bush did with prescription drug coverage, to take an issue from Democrats in the 2002 election campaign ─ but their heart is in the 19th century, when government trained an army and delivered the mail. They make a show of government restraint, but under both Reagan and Bush, the federal bureaucracy and budget deficits grew like weeds. It was Bill Clinton who brought budget surpluses.

I’ll give John Kennedy the final word: “Liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences 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.”