What’s done more to make this country a great place to live than anything else?
A lot of folks would say “individual liberty,” “a free market economy,” or maybe they’d go with something like “equality of opportunity.”
The big elephant in the room in American politics, the driving force behind every positive change in our nation, from the abolition of slavery to child labor legislation, from Social Security to Civil Rights, has been American liberalism. Its creed – “equal rights to all, special privileges to none,” first espoused by Jefferson, made alive by Lincoln, and made whole by Lyndon Johnson, has defined the struggle for a more perfect union for nearly two and a half centuries.
I count myself among those who think the best America is yet to come.
I wear the title with a badge of honor, in spite of conservative attempts to paint liberalism as something foreign, something out of the mainstream or something undemocratic.
Many people would rather substitute “progressive” for liberal, or even “moderate” instead, but fundamentally I stand by the idea of liberalism as the guarantor of American freedom and the insistence in the basic idea of fairness.
What is liberalism? Liberalism is a belief in liberty, a belief in fairness. It is the belief that the average person should be free from coercion at the polling place and in the marketplace.
In the 1820s, liberalism demanded the end of property restrictions on voting as a barrier to the liberty of the non-rich; from the 1840s to the 1860s, liberalism demanded slavery be ended and black Americans be made full citizens; from the 1890s to the 1970s, liberalism demanded that everyone, not just the wealthy few, get a fair shot at a good life.
Today liberalism still stands opposed to the roving eye of the censor, to the unjust employment practices that deny workers a right to organize, to equality for gays and lesbians.
Liberalism has transformed a backward, aristocratic, agrarian republic into a thriving, egalitarian, industrial democracy, following the path of such liberals as Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
Liberals have fought the good fight, but they’re afraid to stand up for themselves. The old conservative line goes that “liberals are so open-minded they won’t take their own side in a debate,” and that needs to change. Liberals shouldn’t run from their liberalism, they should run to it.
Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.