Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
Me? A Liberal? Actually, yes.
November 15, 1996
I am tired of hearing the word "Liberal" used as an obscenity. Before the recent election, candidates were yelling at each other, pointing their fingers like children going, "Ya, ya, ya, you are more Liberal than I am," as though liberalism were a mortal sin.
By a timely coincidence, my knee hurts. My friend the philosopher suggests that it has been traumatized by years of knee-jerk liberalism. Finally this year's election rhetoric gave me a major trauma. When people ask me why I am limping I tell them I have an old Liberal injury.
The dictionary defines liberalism as, "a political philosophy advocating personal freedom for the individual, democratic forms of government, gradual reform in political and social institutions." That doesn't really sound life-threatening.
The political philosophy of Liberalism has had a long and varied history. It arose in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, in protest against the prerogatives of kings, aristocrats and the church.
Today I would like to think that the word simply means a body of political and social beliefs, even as the words Democrat and Republican and Conservative do. But no. Today the person who is Liberal is accused of being at worst guilty of murder or treason, at best immoral. Wait a minute here!
In today's world the Liberals are the idealists, the people who still believe, in spite of everything that has happened, that they can make the world a better place for everybody. Realistically, they know they're outnumbered, but it is a belief that shapes their lives.
They believe that government, especially one where those who govern are elected by popular vote, is not inherently evil. They believe that as human beings we have some obligation to our fellow human beings. They believe in personal freedom, in freedom of speech and religion. They believe in the common good, the things people cannot do alone.
Searching my files for material on Liberalism, I found some notes which were labeled "from Phil Donahue: Phases of Liberalism." They were not dated , but I had typed them on my old L. C. Smith portable which I tossed out some 20 or 30 years ago.
It takes a long while to create a true Liberal. Phase one is the fun phase. "Hey, there's work to be done, problems to be solved, poor to be fed. And I can do it."
Phase two is the angry one. Nobody understands the problem but you. Righteous indignation abounds.
Phase three people meditate. They analyze and try to answer all the questions they have been afraid even to ask .
Phase four is where the saints are made. It is where the Liberals finally come face to face with unfiltered reality. Either they go by way of yoga, guitar lessons or just plain dropping out, or they stay in there swinging despite the knowledge of their powerlessness.
For the saints, "there is no thunderous applause, no gratitude, no headline victories. They are people who have seen the world as it is, and who recognize the awesome enormity of the problem, and who nevertheless continue in the struggle with a lot of love and only a little anger."
Their vision has helped build the country. C. E. Owen, an 80 year old from Canton, Georgia, wrote in the Atlanta Constitution, "All of us should thank God every day for stout hearted Liberals of the 1930's and 1940's. The Liberals brought electric lights and indoor plumbing to our farm homes." On the other side of the country, I have a friend whose grandmother labored for years helping to bring electricity into the farm country of Montana. She was a Liberal.
Liberals are not criminals. They are not traitors. They are patriotic Americans. They love their families. They go to work and complain about the traffic. Most of them probably have dogs. Most of them are Christians. Most of them are Democrats. Some of them are Republicans. Most of them say, "You believe your thing and let me believe mine."
No, "Liberal" is not a dirty word. It is a proud word. It is an idea of freedom that has been around for several centuries.
I am still limping from my Liberal injury. It's probably not going to get better very soon.