A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
The Finer Points of Liberalism
By Rebecca Knight
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Conservatives have managed to convince many Americans that being a "Liberal" is akin to the worst that humanity has to offer in the political arena. In discussing politics with those of unknown affiliation it is humorous to watch the facial expressions when Conservatives find out they are conversing with a Liberal. The utter disdain and contempt slowly creeps across their countenance as if they must quickly escape for fear of a Liberal belief somehow seeping through the pores of their skin just by shaking the hand of a Liberal. Their feelings of superiority are instantly recognizable. Usually they will launch into some Right Wing diatribe all Liberals have heard a million times before, as if they have the intellectual capacity to convince the pitiful Liberal of the error of their ways with sixty second sound bites. They thrive on this type of intimidation, but what they fail to realize is that while they may be fooling the uninformed, they can never convert a politically astute Liberal.
Those who believe that Liberalism is an anachronism for evil are uneducated in the fundamentals of the American political system. Our nation was founded on Liberalism, embodied in the Declaration of Independence with the words "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Liberalism is rooted in liberty, which is to defend the very freedom of all people who make up our great nation.
The very definition reflects the positive aspects of Liberal thought. Liberal means to be favorable to progress and reform, in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom, open-minded or tolerant, and characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts. Liberals want to change things to increase personal freedom and tolerance, and are willing to empower government to the extent necessary to achieve those ends. All of these definitions represent honorable goals.
So, if Liberalism as proven by definition and historical perspective is a commendable pursuit, why does it have such negative connotations in today's political atmosphere? Perhaps the answer lies in the ability of the Republican Right to more effectively get their message across with help from corporate America, which has systematically purchased the debate. Conservatives also possess an inherent willingness to win no matter what it takes, which is evidenced by the blatant inaccuracies they use in denouncing Liberalism.
Liberals must stop allowing the Right to define what Liberalism stands for. To rebut the Conservative monopolization of the political debate and their negative labeling of Liberal ideals, Liberals must strive for a resurgent movement of strong voices and consistent messages. This is the calling of our times.
Liberals stand for individual control over our own lives. Liberals perceive the role of government as providing the framework for individuals to develop and contribute to society. Liberalism is not socialism, which advocates that the government own everything. Liberalism is not Communism, which advocates that everyone own everything equally.
Liberalism is not "big government," which is the Conservative's preferred negative label for Liberals. This inaccurate sound bite is based on the misconception that proponents of social programs to help the needy are more responsible for the size of government than those who advocate corporate welfare and religious indoctrination.
Liberals are advocates of civil rights, public education, tolerance of differences, a social safety net, employees' rights, environmental protection, strong families, personal responsibility, free enterprise, the rule of law, and progress. Liberalism is an optimistic philosophy by being strongly supportive of moral, economic, and social progress to benefit all humanity. Conservatives might agree with some of those ideals, but, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."
Conservatives have wrongly espoused their belief that forty years of liberalism has ended in failure. In reality, Democrats have been in control of Congress the majority of the last sixty years. Have the last sixty years in America been failures? That position is ludicrous and cannot be confirmed by evidence or even common sense. 1933-1975 is classified as the New Deal era, a period in which America experienced its greatest economic growth. 1975-present is classified as the corporate special interest era, which has seen a stumbling economy, excluding the Clinton years. (1)
"It's my money; I earned it!" How many times have we heard that one? The next time you hear it, try this simple question: Did you earn it on your own? Can anyone earn a penny without the printing of our currency, public roads, rural electrification, government subsidized telephone wiring, satellite communications, police protection, military protection, the criminal justice system, fire and paramedic protection, an educated and immunized workforce, protection against plagues, public-funded loans, protection from business fraud and unfair business practices, the protection of patents and copyrights, research and development, collection and analysis of data, preventative economic policies by the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Energy Management Agency, public libraries, agricultural and biological services, the National Weather Service, and public job training? Actually, we seem to be getting quite a return for our tax dollars.
"Tax cuts spur economic growth." Been there. Done that. The facts don't back it up. The period of 1933-1973 saw the highest tax rates on the rich, 70 to 91 percent. It was also the period of highest growth. The general tax rate also climbed during this period, but leveled off in 1969, and the growth slowed down as well. Most wealthy nations pay higher general taxes than the U.S. and they are also growing faster. (2)
"A capital gains tax cut will spur the economy." Historically, this is untrue. Economic slumps, unemployment, and reduced saving and investing follow cuts in the capital gains tax. Conjecture that a capital gains tax cut will help the little guy is also a myth. Statistics show that only seven percent of all taxpayers report capital gains and over two-thirds of those are reported by people making over $100,000 annually. "The little guy" does own capital assets, but sells them infrequently. The wealthy make their income from capital gains. They deal in them constantly. (3) This is irrefutable evidence that a capital gains tax cut will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy.
"Income inequality is not the cause of this nation's social problems." Studies by Harvard and Berkeley prove the correlation. (4) Poverty causes higher mortality rates, higher crime rates, welfare, and poor educational outcomes. Conservatives protest that those in these conditions would naturally earn less. It is much more reasonable to attribute these economic changes to economic policy.
"Welfare increases poverty." Historical evidence clearly shows that welfare reduces poverty. If that were not true, FDR's New Deal would have been a complete failure. The New Deal reduced the poverty level from about 50 percent to 20 percent. Johnson's Great Society reduced it to 11 percent by 1973. Since the rise of corporate interests in 1975, individual welfare benefits have been shrinking and the poverty level has been rising to over 15 percent today. (5) Yes, despite massive governmental anti-poverty spending, poverty still exists. How much higher would the poverty level be had the government spent little on welfare?
"Welfare is to blame for runaway government spending." In fact, welfare is only a blip on the radar screen of government spending, with means tested expenditures amounting to only 6% of the 2002 federal budget. (6) Conservatives misrepresent welfare spending by including middle class programs like Medicaid and student loans in the statistics they quote.
"People on welfare are lazy and stupid bums." Welfare payments often do not cover the bare necessities of life. No one would enjoy being lazy under such conditions. The GAO compiled a summary of over 100 studies concluding that welfare does not reduce the desire to work. Welfare recipients find it degrading and demoralizing and would prefer the chance to work. (7)
Conservatives contend that welfare recipients are usually black, teenage mothers who take advantage of the system by staying on it as long as ten years at a time. However, statistics show that whites form the largest racial group on welfare. Half of all welfare recipients leave in the first two years and teenagers form less than 8 percent of all welfare mothers. (8)
"Welfare can be replaced by charity." Conservatives are strong proponents of this idea, but the reality is that charity is too under-funded, too localized, too mismatched, and too ill suited to replace welfare. Why would Americans, who hate to pay taxes, be willing to open their purses to charity at a rate that would compensate for the loss of governmental funds for welfare? They would have to multiply their current level of charitable donations by ten times to make up the difference.
Conservatives argue that Liberals favor social engineering because the poor receive the most welfare. Quite the contrary! Based on the evidence it appears it is the Conservative who advocates social engineering for the benefit of the wealthy and corporate conglomerates.
Entitlement spending on households is distributed proportionately among the various household groups. However, federal spending tilts in favor of the rich when corporate welfare is added into the mix. The CBO reported in the late 90's that the average taxpayer's share of taxes to fund social programs is $400 per year, while corporate welfare costs that taxpayer $1,400 per year. (8)
Sources for federal government income for the 2002 budget break down as follows: Individual Income Taxes – 49%, Social Security Taxes 33%, Corporate Income Taxes 10%, Other 4%, and Excise Taxes 3%. (6) Corporations are not required to pass any standards to qualify for their tax breaks, while welfare benefits for individuals and families are limited by strict eligibility requirements and time limits.
"Doubling the money spent on public education hasn't improved it." The problem with this Conservative argument is that even though the U.S. doubled the amount of money spent per pupil between 1965 and 1993, most of the money went to special education for disabled students, school lunches, transportation and dropout prevention, which are indirect education benefits. Spending on direct benefits like smaller classroom size and larger teacher salaries has been insufficient to produce the desired results. However, some general benefits have been demonstrated by a lower dropout rate and better minority SAT scores.
Conservatives preach negativity about the societal conditions in America as if the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Where is their evidence for those assertions? Think about the monumental accomplishments in our nation's history. Have Conservatives forgotten about the abolition of slavery, doubled life spans, mass education, abolition of child labor, reduced infant mortality, advancements in civil rights, space exploration, human rights, global trade, telecommunications and travel, computerization, sanitation, reduced poverty levels, rising standards of living, and a multitude of other advancements?
Conservatives get their name by wanting to "conserve" a style of living. Their philosophy is based on "values." But how can a political movement define the codes by which citizens live their lives? The short answer is that they cannot because any attempt to do so goes against the freedoms inherent in our society.
Conservatives don't really fight for our rights. They fight for what they think our rights should be. The Conservative position is contradictory. A political movement cannot be for legislating away freedom in the name of "values" as defined by the movement and at the same time claim they are protecting individual rights.
Liberals fight to protect every citizen from having other peoples "values" or will imposed on them. Liberals support the right of every citizen to determine what each individual or family will believe in. Liberals fight against economic and political oppression. Liberals strive to keep government out of a family's religious choices. Liberals believe each person or family should be free to choose how to behave as long as it does not interfere with another's rights. Liberals fight against government legislating morality. Liberalism represents the proud tradition of defending our basic liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution.
These are the finer points of Liberalism!
The author of this article may be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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