ATLANTA MAYOR Andrew Young ought to have been awarded some sort of Rare Bird Award after the Democratic National Convention this summer. He was one of the few politicians perhaps the only one who publicly identified himself as a proud liberal. Michael Dukakis, in his acceptance speech, dared not utter the word. Neither did Party chairman Paul Kirk, in remarks on the opening night of the convention in which he extolled the Massachusetts governor. Even Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who spent a halfcentury nominating Dukakis one night, didn’t once use the word liberal. But Andrew Young made an offhand remark that, when you look back on it, seems almost enough to qualify him for the endangered species list. In praising different factions of the Democratic Party for working together, he noted that his state has a Democratic governor, Joe Frank Harris, who is “a proud conservative in the Georgia tradition.” Then he added, “and I am equally proud in the liberal tradition.” A proud liberal! But, of course, Mayor Young is not Conventional wisdom would tell him that such a remark would cost him support if he were trying to gain a national majority. Indeed, Michael Dukakis seems to live in fear of the word liberal. The more the Republicans try to attach the label to his candidacy, the more Dukakis rejects it. “The ‘I,’ word” to him is “leadership,” he said recently, after Ronald Reagan told the Republican convention that Dukakis’s policies are “liberal, liberal, liberal.” There’s no denying that, as a matter of campaign strategy, Dukakis is doing the cautious,, sensible thing in trying to avoid the liberal label. Suppose the governor, by some peculiar circumstance, were to stand up with a stiff spine and make an inspired and spirited defense of liberalism along the lines of “If by liberal you mean someone who believes that the rights of unpopular minorities must be protected from the whims of the majority; if by liberal you mean, as well, someone who thinks the government’s job is to protect the liberty of the many against the power of the privileged few; if by liberal you mean someone in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, then yes, I am a liberal.” It’s not hard to imagine the next day’s headlines: DUKAKIS: ‘I AM A LIBERAL.’ Republicans seem to have decided that if only they can get the public to believe Dukakis is a liberal then victory will be theirs. This is not much of a message to base an entire campaign on, but they probably do not underestimate the negative connotations that are now attached to the label. Reagan Republicans have been, in this political era, simply allowed to define the word. In the public mind liberal most often now seems to mean “soft-hearted.” A liberal is one who favors giving handouts to the weak and to the lazy. Just as a liberal parent is thought to be one who is so permissive as to lose control of the child, a liberal government lacks the resolve to control miscreants and to face threatening forces in the world. It has been the misfortune of the word liberal to emerge from the 1960s in strangely battered condition: the successes of liberalism Social Security for example are no longer associated with the word, but the failures of liberalism are. Some of the failures resulted in something more devastating than criticism from the right: a loss of faith among would-be liberals themselves. The Cold War liberalism that was capable of brutalizing Third World countries as well as a generation of young American soldiers succeeded in depriving liberalism of its claims to a higher ideal, a more noble outlook. It’s interesting to recall that only a few generations ago the word was not an epithet but instead was invested with inherently favorable connotations. In fact, in the 1930s when the word was first coming into regular usage in American political debate, Republicans and Democrats competed for the right to claim it. As late as 1936 Herbert Hoover was arguing that the Republican Party “must become the true liberal party of America.” The New Deal, of course, won the day by redefining liberalism as a means of using the state to expand the liberty including the economic liberty of ordinary working Americans. Said Roosevelt: “I am not for a return to that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few.” Nor has the word liberal been discredited in all parts of the country. Here in Texas _ it may not be a popular term, but it is an r i ft, THE TEXAS NO server SEPTEMBER 2, 1988 VOLUME 80, No. 13 FEATURES On Prison Construction 6 In Central America By Alan Pogue 12 Houston’s Power Elite By Joe Feagin DEPARTMENTS 14 Dialogue 2 Editorial 3 Journal 4 Political Intelligence 18 Books and the Culture The Neon Night Swallowed Him Up By Rosalind Alexander Afterword A Texan Looks at 011ie By. John Henry Faulk 20 23 honorable one. This is partly because the liberal tradition here thanks to people like Ralph Yarborough, Ronnie Dugger, Molly Ivins is an admirable tradition of stoutness and high ideals. It is also because conserva : tives have had such a lock on this state’s power that they deserve credit for most, if not all, of the screw-ups and shortcomings and ignominy in Texas politics. As for Michael Dukakis, the man without a label, he is moving along with the notion that he can sell the voters on “competence,” and “leadership” and the idea that we need a better manager in the White House. Sillier notions have brought electoral success in past years, so who’s to say Dukakis’s strategy won’t get him elected? But sooner or later those who are ready to help close out the conservative era will need a name for themselves and their movement. If Dukakis were to take power and, like FDR, move toward giving average Americans a new deal, and if such programs met with popular acclaim, he could call it whatever he liked. If his Presidency were to lead to a war or to Carter-like disarray, liberals will thank him at least for not further sullying their once-good name. D.D. EDITORIAL The Man Without a Label THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.