×

John Sheirer: The proud liberal legacy in America



Tuesday, October 14, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — One of the strangest aspects of political discussions these days is that the word “liberal” gets tossed around as an insult. Some people even believe that calling someone a liberal automatically wins an argument. They don’t bother with facts, reason, common sense, or compassion when a mindless insult is all they have.

As one famous liberal, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The folks who use “liberal” as an insult would do well to learn an important fact: At every significant moment in American history, the liberal view has propelled our nation along that arc of justice.

Liberals brought us the American Revolution while conservatives believed that we should remain subjects of the British Empire instead of becoming an independent nation.

Liberals brought us a unified American nation while conservatives believed that we should be a grouping of separate, loosely connected states.

Liberals brought us the Bill of Rights while conservatives believed that defining our rights as Americans was redundant and unnecessary.

Liberals brought us an end to slavery while conservatives believed that some people have the right to own other human beings.

Liberals brought the right to vote to working-class whites, women and African-Americans while conservatives believed that only property-owning white males should choose our representatives.

Liberals brought us public education for the improvement of our nation while conservatives believed that education should be a product bought and sold like a commodity and reserved for only a wealthy elite who can afford to be educated.

Liberals brought us the National Park system while conservatives believed that the most beautiful American lands should be sold to the highest bidder and enjoyed only by those who could pay for admission.

Liberals brought us the job programs that kept millions of Americans afloat during the Great Depression while conservatives tried to repeal those programs and called them socialism.

Liberals brought us food, workplace and product safety while conservatives believed that there is an acceptable level of preventable illness, accidents and death to ensure maximum corporate profit.

Liberals broke up monopolies to protect small businesses while conservatives have always supported large corporations that drive out mom-and-pop entrepreneurs.

Liberals brought us rural electrification while conservatives believed that there wasn’t enough profit in bringing modern advances to parts of the nation that couldn’t afford to purchase them.

Liberals brought us freedom from child labor while conservatives believed that there was nothing wrong with corporations exploiting children at farms, factories and other dangerous jobs.

Liberals brought us an eight-hour workday, 40-hour workweek and weekends while conservatives believed that American workers should serve the unrelenting demands of their corporate employers.

Liberals brought us the minimum wage while conservatives believed that corporations should be able to pay workers as little as they could possibly get away with.

Liberals brought us Social Security to lift millions of aging Americans out of poverty while conservatives didn’t think the government should care whether or not people could survive once they were too old for the work force.

Liberals brought us basic civil and human rights for African-Americans, women and gay people while conservatives considered these basic rights to be special gifts that no one deserved but white males.

Liberals brought us Medicare and Medicaid to guarantee basic health care to senior citizens and the poor while conservatives believed that health care should be a product that only those wealthy enough to afford should be able to access.

Liberals brought us an overall social safety net to protect our most unfortunate citizens while conservatives dismissed anyone who wasn’t financially successful as lazy or irresponsible.

Liberals brought us the opportunity for all Americans, including women, African-Americans and gay people, to serve their nation in the military while conservatives fought for the discriminatory idea that serving our country should be a special privilege reserved exclusively for white, male, heterosexuals.

When confronted with the fact that liberals have always represented core American values, people sometimes tell me that liberals might have been OK at some fuzzy point in the distant past, but today’s liberals hate American and are trying to destroy our nation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today’s liberals have brought us affordable health insurance, programs that staved off another Great Depression after the crash of 2008, Wall Street reform and expanding marriage equality. We also keep fighting for immigration reform, campaign finance reform, expanded educational opportunities, minimum wage increases, pay equity, Internet accessibility, common-sense gun safety regulation, tax fairness and smarter military interventions.

Meanwhile, today’s conservatives continue to fight against those advances while promoting regressive policies such as suppressing voters, creating the fiction of corporate personhood, restricting reproductive choices, cutting education, shredding the social safety net, shifting the tax burden even more to the middle-class, keeping big-money corruption in politics and waging unwarranted full-scale wars.

Basically, liberals want to keep us arcing toward justice with optimism, equal opportunity and facts while conservatives campaign on scapegoatting, fear and misinformation. So, please, go ahead and call me a liberal. I’m thankful for the compliment.

John Sheirer of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.