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Despite attacks, it's still a good time to be a liberal

December 04, 2009|By ALLAN POWELL

There is an old bit of folklore about "whistling in the dark" as you walk through a graveyard. The reason given is that whistling masks the real feeling of uneasiness about being in the presence of so many tombstones and corpses. This accounts for the squeaky voice that cannot disguise the pretense at bravado by arch conservative William Kristol in "A Good Time to be a Conservative", Washington Post (Oct. 27, 2009).

One can remember earlier days when some good minds having principled conservative views were leading the conservative movement. Sen. J. Glenn Beall, Sen. John Marshall Butler, and Maryland state Sens. Edward P. Thomas and Jack Cade are recognized by their peers and admirers as political leaders of integrity.

On the national level, you had personalities such as Sen. Barry Goldwater, who could write a book about the vision of a principled conservative. In their place we have only caricatures of these former leaders who act more like Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett's, "Waiting For Godot".

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Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove are as woebegone as the four drifters in that novel who, despairing of ever finding Mr. Godot," try to hang themselves. But, the rope breaks and they fail to escape the boring, meaningless life they cannot endure.

Kristol takes comfort from poll numbers that show conservatives to be at a new high of 40 percent of the voting population while liberals command only 20 percent. Even if these figures are reliable, it doesn't change the fact that the Republican Party is dominated by the lunatic fringe who still believe Elvis is alive.

Liberalism, or if you prefer, progressivism, has a rich heritage of moderate reform which still attracts idealists who care about improving the lot of human beings. What better proof could there be that it is a good time to be a liberal than to witness the courageous struggle for widespread health care? This will be accomplished despite the determined opposition of conservatives who already can afford their own.

My memories of a childhood which was all but absent of medical care brings forth genuine concern about the many families with children who are powerless when faced with illness. The only medicine that I can remember was sugar smothered in kerosene. As for dental care, we had only string to pull teeth which were never filled. How we survived to adulthood is a mystery. One possibility was the fact that five of the 10 joined the armed forces at an early age and then were the beneficiaries of health care.

It is liberals, teamed up with moderates, who will go down in history as the social force to bring about health-care legislation. The conservative response to human suffering was a slogan: "compassionate conservatism." Sure enough, they were reliable in keeping their word; they were compassionate to conservatives in the form of tax cuts and stubborn resistance to minimum wages for laboring people.

It is time to forget the poll numbers that allege that conservatives make up 40 percent of our citizens and that liberals make up only 20 percent. It is better to be in the company of a small group of caring human beings than a mass of people preoccupied by self interest.

William Kristol is whistling in an intellectual graveyard, but can never admit the fact. All that one hears from conservative leaders is a flat cacophony of negative charges about the role of government. On this, they have complete harmony. They have forgotten that you can have conformity in a graveyard but all of the participants are dead. You can have unity in a cake of ice, but everything is cold.

Liberalism has a long and distinguished tenure in the world of ideas. True, it will always struggle against the resistance of a deeply embedded conservatism. But social progress is dependent on the still, small voice which calls for gradual reform; seeing government not necessarily as an alien agency; support for natural rights; looking forward rather than backward and searching for balance between human rights and property rights. These values are good for any age and when they are active it is a good time to be a principled liberal.

 

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus at Hagerstown Community College.

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