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Go ahead, make my day - call me a liberal
by Linda Valdez
Arizona Republic
August 8, 2004

The speech bubble over the dog's picture says: "Hi, my name's 'No, No, Bad Dog.' What's yours?"

That dog is an American liberal. L-word became an epithet because liberals gave up without a fight years ago.

They ceded the moral high ground to guys with the big radio voices who insist conservative means God and country. Liberal, on the other hand, was equated with all things godless and unpatriotic.

Whoever dreamed up this hooey probably never imagined it would be so easy to sell. But liberals were too busy building houses for poor folks, protesting the felling of old-growth trees and not bothering to vote. They just shrugged.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, who should have given those liberals a reason to vote, went on the defensive.

Now they cringe like the Bad Dog to hear John Kerry and John Edwards described as having "the most liberal and the fourth-most liberal" voting records in Congress.

Like it's an insult.

Like they did something nasty on the living room rug.

But liberal is not a dirty word or an obsolete philosophy. So all you e-mailers who try to blast me with messages that start "You liberals . . . " are going to have to realize I don't take it as an insult.

And I don't think anyone else should, either.

America is steeped in liberal values - even if huge numbers of Americans have been indoctrinated to think "values" is a word of, by and for the conservatives.

It is, in fact, the government that is supposed to be of, by and for something. And that something, as Abe Lincoln said, is "the people." It is a legitimate function of the government, as the Constitution says, to "promote the general welfare."

Liberal ideas have done a great deal to fulfill the quest for a "more perfect union." So much so that many people take the blessings of liberalism for granted.

There's Social Security. Ask Granny if that was a good idea. And Medicare and Medicaid. There might also be a comprehensive national health insurance program for the rest of us if Bill Clinton's efforts hadn't been derailed.

Those who say social services are expensive are right. But failing to provide them can have a bigger cost. And besides, it was Ronald Reagan who produced the kind of deficits that George W is apparently trying to match. Tell me again, whose philosophy is fiscally responsible?

Liberal thinking also codified civil rights, opening up new opportunities for women and minorities. All those who think that was a mistake, please sit in the back of the bus for a few decades. Those who think it would have happened eventually without federal interference, please re-read Langston Hughes' poem A Dream Deferred.

Liberal ideas also make your pocketbook safer. Do you feel confident putting your money in the bank? Thank the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a creation of FDR's New Deal, which also gave us the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate the stock market. Corporate scandals raised questions about the quality of oversight. But Enron and WorldCom sure didn't make a case against regulation. Just the contrary.

Americans accept government regulation in all sorts of areas - from laws against pollution to handicapped parking spaces - because they understand that the government has a role in furthering the greater public good.

In the August cover story on "Liberalism Regained," Ralph Nader asked Harper's magazine the rhetorical question: "When was the last time you saw a major Democratic candidate brag about how many lives the Democrats saved by pushing through air- and water-pollution laws, auto-safety laws, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Bill?"

Nader represents the "divided-we-fall" approach to re-legitimizing liberalism. As obsolete as a Corvair.

Howard Dean, on the other hand, is rallying the liberal troops to remake, and retake, the Democratic Party from within - in November and beyond. In June, he spoke to a Campaign for America's Future conference about the importance of emulating the long-term organizational strategies that brought the Republicans to power.

"We know what the right wing has done, and we are going to have to do it," he said. The conference was called Take Back America.

At a not-for-prime-time rally by the same group during the Democratic convention, Dean again called for Democrats to follow the right's example. Run candidates for everything from library trustee on up, he urged.

It just might work.

But only if the Bad Dog liberals learn something else from their more successful political opposites: Never act like you're ashamed of what you believe.

Linda Valdez is a Republic editorial writer.

Posted: September 1, 2004


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