Have you noticed that nobody wants to be called a liberal anymore? I first observed this phenomenon in the presidential debates
of 1988, during which Michael Dukakis and the entire Democratic Party denied that they were liberals. It marked a change from
my college days in the 1960’s. Back then, there were no conservative talk shows in Boston, and being a campus conservative
was considered only a notch above child molester. If you studied accounting or marketing, for example, you kept it quiet.
If you wanted to express a conservative-sounding idea, you prefaced it with the obligatory, “I’m not a conservative,
but…” In those days, nothing quite evoked the elemental essence of nerd or loser like being a campus conservative,
no matter how rational your arguments. It was an injustice, of course. But fashions run in cycles, not only for clothes and
music, but for polemicists as well; the same mass psychology still dominates public discourse, except that now it is open
season on liberals.
Maybe it’s just as well. Where would the country be if liberals, unhindered by conservatives, got everything they desired?
For president we could have… Let’s see: Hillary? Reverend Al Sharpton, anyone? How about Barbara Streisand for
Somewhere along the line, the so-called party of the underdog became the New World Order architects of the welfare state and
defenders of partial birth abortion. It has been a long slippery slide indeed from the days of Old Joe Hill, Eugene Debs and
Mother Jones. No wonder nobody wants to be called a liberal. But if you live long enough, you see that life runs in cycles.
Nevertheless, liberals have done some worthwhile things. It was those nasty liberals, after all, who pushed the envelope to
make slavery the most important human rights issue of the 19th century. And they pushed through Social Security and the GI
Bill despite opposition from conservatives.
We should remember that Americans died for the right to be treated like a human beings. Liberals stood for human rights,
while conservatives….I’ll get to that. A few years ago, I took a tour of the Boot Cotton Mills in Lowell, and
the guide told us about a woman who got scalped when her hair got caught in a spinning machine. The bosses sent her home without
pay and charged her for the bolt of cloth she ruined by bleeding on it.
Naturally, unions were opposed vigorously by conservatives who fought against the 40-hour week, health and safety laws, environmental
regulations, and the prohibition against child labor. Many people are cynical about unions nowadays, sometimes with good reason.
But if you want a country without unions, with no governmental “interference” in commerce, just look at any third
world hellhole. It’s a cheap-labor conservative’s paradise of corporate feudalism- where they can employ children,
pay people three bucks a day, foul the air and water, and it’s all legal. Remember those pictures in your history books
of 7-year-olds working in sweatshops in places like Lawrence? Stunted little kids that looked like old men? That was liberals
again that put a stop to it- opposed by the same cheap labor-conservatives like Rush “Oxy” Limbaugh.
In the 1930’s, the utility companies didn’t want to bring electricity into rural communities and banks didn’t
want to make loans to people who really needed money. The “free market,” wouldn’t justify it. So liberals
pushed through rural electrification and FHA loans. And let’s not forget public education and Medicare, all of which
were opposed by conservatives. I could keep going-there’s more- but I am running out of space.
I understand Dukakis not wanting to be called a liberal. The word has been tainted, and associated with campus Stalinists,
intellectual snobs, and Hollywood phonies. But after opposing so many things that benefit the working people of this country,
what exactly do conservatives do? True, they generate patriotic rhetoric: nothing wrong with that. They stand for deregulation
(i.e. the savings and loans, which will cost taxpayers 500 billion dollars). They stand against taxing-and-spending, which
is not a bad thing; there has to be balance. But just what have they stood for? Look at the champions of conservatism, like
Ronald Reagan for example, who wanted to lower the minimum wage to a buck an hour. With a record like this, who would want
to be called a conservative?