Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Has "Liberal: Become a Dirty Word?

While liberalism in the sense of the New Deal is in retreat - witness the Democratic move to the center/right - most people are not aware of the intense criticism of liberals that comes from the left. In fact, liberalism - the Ameican version as opposed to the European model of Adam Smith - seems to be dead. When the NY Times is accused of being liberal or left, radicals have a good laugh. Arjun raises some interesting points.

Arjun Janah, a former NYC teacher, on liberalism

In this country, the term "liberal" has, since Reagan's time, been a pejorative. The right has achieved this by associating liberalism with real or perceived "liberal excess" -- with a permissive attitude of moral relativism that coddles criminals and errant children, ignores the rights of crime victims, parents and teachers, undermines legitimate authority, and refuses to accept responsibility. It has also successfully linked liberalism with "tax and spend" policies, bloated and oppressive big government, and with an affluent "liberal elite" associated with
Washington, the big cities on the coasts, and Hollywood, that supports legislation that adversely affects working class Americans while drinking lattes, owning multiple homes and sending their own children to private, elite schools and colleges.

The distancing of much of the left in this country from its working class origins may have contributed to this, as also the peculiar increasing insularity of much of that working class as it grew more affluent. But one cannot discount the power of the propaganda campaign carried out by big business, its animus against unions and its success in brainwashing the public into pathological fears about "socialism" as a foreign evil, closely associated with the bogey of Communism, and threatening to the "American way of life". The size and geographical isolation of this country, and the strength of its economy, have also led to an indifference or ignorance about the affairs of even neighboring states, such as Mexico and Canada. This has fed this insularity in a vicious cycle.

individualism, and the healthy skepticism about authority and government, that may have been part of this country's culture from the start, have thus been twisted into what may be a pathological fear of collective spirit and effort beyond the confines of one's church -- and of the legitimate uses of government for purposes other than defense.

This pathology has increased to the extent that most of the perceived "leftists" that remain among this country's legislators, government executives and media are mainly concentrated in a few cities and states, and would, by most other country's standards, be considered "center right". Indeed, that much-vilified bastion of liberalism, the New York Times, has yet, in my experience, to publish anything substantive in support of its own home city's union workers. And it has often been in the forefront, both editorially and in reportage, at the start of foreign wars, arguing the government's case. Iraq was no exception.

Nevertheless, in the Times, one still finds those who occasionally have the courage to defend traditional liberalism. In the article below, Bob Herbert rises to the defense of liberals, citing some of their notable achievements, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the advance of basic civil rights for minorities and women.

Arjun Janah

Read Herbert's column at Norms Notes right below Arjun.


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