I recently served on a panel at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs that was titled “How Liberals Think,” a question I’ve pondered as long as I can remember. Beyond the classic dictionary [New Oxford American Dictionary] definition, “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; and (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform,” let’s address it as the more fundamental question: Which side of history do you want to be on?
I want to be on the side of the American Revolutionaries. Not the conservatives who sided with King George.
I want to be on the side of Lincoln and the abolitionists. Not the conservatives who were willing to spill their countrymen’s blood to preserve their ability to enslave their fellow man for economic gain.
I want to be on the side of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, not with the conservatives who passed the 18th Amendment that created it.
I want to be on the side of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, not the conservatives who opposed it.
I want to be on the side of scientific fact, not with the conservatives who, 85 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, just passed legislation in the Volunteer State weakening the teaching of evolution.
I want to be on the side that advocated entering World War II, not the conservative isolationist obstructionists who delayed it.
I want to be on the side of The New Deal that created social insurance so we would never again face bread lines and destitution, not the conservatives who opposed Social Security.
I want to be on the side of the Interstate Highway system, not the conservatives who opposed infrastructure spending.
I want to be on the side of The Great Society, which expanded social insurance to create Medicare. Not the conservatives who opposed it.
I want to be on the side of the Environmental Protection Agency, not the conservatives who opposed protecting our air and water from pollution.
I want to be on the side of self-determination, not the conservatives who traded guns for hostages to sidestep Congress and fight an illegal war in Central America resulting in the Iran Contra Scandal.
I want to be on the side of welfare reform, not the conservatives who would allow the poor to starve in the richest country in the history of the world.
I want to be on the side that opposed the Iraq War, not the conservatives who lied and ginned up evidence to push us into Iraq.
I want to be on the side of Ben Franklin who said, “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” Not the conservatives who created The Patriot Act.
I guess all that makes me an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican/FDR-LBJ Democrat. Eisenhower built the freeways, and warned against the military/Congressional/industrial complex; Nixon opened China and created the EPA. FDR saved the world (despite the isolationist Republican Congressional and business leaders who wanted no part of WWII), and created social insurance; LBJ fought for civil rights and enhanced social insurance with the creation of Medicare.
Republicans used to be communitarians like Reagan and Eisenhower, but neither of them could get through primaries now. They’re not doctrinaire enough. I don’t even recognize the Party of Lincoln, and wonder what a life long Republican thinks of what has become of the Grand Old Party.
Here’s what Thomas Mann, of the nonpartisan Brookings Institute, and Norman Ornstein of the very conservative American Enterprise Institute write in their new book, It’s Worse Than You Think:
However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become a insurgent outlier, ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
By the way, I don’t have much patience for the Democrats as a party either. I guess I am an independent.
The entrenched, monied interests in Washington prosper when they keep us yelling at each other instead of at them. It is a great diversion. If we ever discover that so many of us who think we disagree actually agree, the game will up for them. But in the meantime, they promote the bickering and sniping, and hope they can keep us thinking the other side is unreasonable and even evil. The fact is we are mostly a centrist country whose common interests greatly outweigh our differences, but don’t tell anybody.