By John Wund
Recently, I read a “Stumptalk” column in which a very liberal position was promoted. The writer was simply speaking from the heart without consulting the required list of allowed positions. He also seemed to forget to lace his letter with the usual “magic words” (Benghazi… oooo!, Obamacare… aaaah!) and the obligatory, juvenile name-calling. I was about to pick up the phone to compliment the author on his position, but in the final sentence or two he reverted to blaming “liberal leftists” for the woes of the world.
It made me think. Not so much about the occasional complicity of “leftist liberals” in supporting flawed policies, but rather about how mentally debilitating it is to listen to slogans day in and day out.
When a society thinks in slogans, it is easily deceived. Slogans are like chants that ripple over our tongues, sounds that have lost almost all descriptive meaning. (Rah-rah-rah! Sis-boom-bah!) If we want to “reason together” toward a common good, then we must pay careful attention to the descriptive meaning and stop using emotional slogans and “magic words.”
Some years ago, I wrote a piece on the meaning of the English word, “liberal.” I combed the most respected source available (the OED) to find ways “liberal” is traditionally used (generous, free, etc.). In a political context, there was only one definition.
A liberal political position, according to the OED, is one that is favors reforms “…tending in the direction of freedom and democracy.”
The terms “liberal” and “conservative” were first used to describe a political stance only in the 19th century. During that time, the Liberals sat on the left of the Parliament assembly and the Conservatives on the right. And, so, liberals are leftists and conservatives are right-wing. That’s where they sat. “Left” and “right” means nothing more in a political context than “liberal” and “conservative.”
When the Stumptalk columnist used the term “leftist liberals,” it demonstrated either an unfortunate inability to recognize redundancy or, more likely, the use of an emotional slogan in order to solidify identification with a particular “political team.” Sis-boom-bah!
The OED tries to be as thoroughly accurate and succinct as possible. Its definitions may seem dry and remote. A famous Parliamentary leader, however, expressed political positions in a much more understandable way. William Gladstone said, “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”
Am I a liberal? You bet! I love freedom and democracy. I believe in general human rights, not serfdom in deference to an hereditary, propertied elite. Americans, when asked their opinion on specific policies, broadly support liberal programs. I think some in the “Tea Party” probably feel the same way. In fact, I’ll bet some are actually to the left of me on certain, if not many, issues.
So, let’s discuss political programs in real, descriptive language instead of hot-button phrases and slogans produced by “talking heads.” Old habits die hard, but for our vast, multicultural country to survive as a society, those habits need to die. If we, the people, cannot reason together, our country will be ripped apart by those who salivate at the prospect of picking our bones for what scraps remain.