Copyright © 2007 Henrietta W. Hay
What is a Liberal?
April 20, 2007
We use the terms "liberal" and "conservative" pretty loosely today, chiefly
because they have become political words.
But liberal without the quotes is not a buzz- word. It is a deep conviction.
It is a belief.
John Kennedy’s oft quoted words say it best. "For liberalism is not so much
a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind
and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason
and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow man the amount of
justice and freedom and brotherhood that human life deserves. For a liberal
society is a free society, and for that reason a strong society.”
I received an especially sensitive and intelligent letter recently from a
Paonia woman of my generation. She says, "I am as conservative as you are
liberal, and at times I get so mad at you that even when I am foaming at the
mouth, I admire you."
Now that is quality dialogue: two people who can admire the person and
disagree with the ideas. She goes on to wish I would be more specific about
why I feel the way I do.
I think she deserves an answer, but it is a hard one to pin down.
I grew up in a strong Republican family. My mother was active in local and
state politics. In fact, she was a delegate from Colorado to the Republican
National Convention in Philadelphia in 1940. She helped nominate Wendell
Willkie. She said I should always vote a straight ticket, because that was
the only way to maintain the two party system.
Then I went to C. U. and realized Englewood was not the center of the world,
and I had a part in it and a responsibility to it. I realized that I did not
often agree with my much loved but violently Republican mother.
I voted for Roosevelt, but remained a Republican. Then along came Nixon and
I became an Independent. But with the beginning of the women's movement in
the '70's I finally saw the light.
I became active in the issue of women's rights. We started a NOW chapter and
liberal women who hadn't known they were liberal gathered together. We
fought a lot of battles. The position of women in America today is largely
the result of the women's movement of the seventies. I became a loud, very
active liberal at that time.
I have been asking a number of other people the same question. "When did you
become a liberal?" I even asked a couple of conservatives when they became
I asked my friends at the round table in the coffee shop and they pitched
in. One said she had always been liberal in her feelings. Her parents and
grandparents were also and it was the natural way to be. Another had strict
Republican parents and became a liberal in college. A third was rebelling
against her strict conservative religious background.
Then I asked a couple of conservative friends. One said her parents had
raised her as a conservative, and she still is one. But she said she did
vote for Roosevelt. Another said she had always believed in the Republican
Party and believes deeply in its principles.
The political differences between the two philosophies have become serious.
But dialogue is still possible. Perhaps my Paonia correspondent will let me
know how she became a conservative. Oh yes, we do have one thing in common.
She says anyone who likes cats can't be all bad. There is hope