Hold Your Heads Up
By BOB HERBERT
Published: September 8, 2008
Ignorance must really be bliss. How else, over so many years, could the G.O.P. get away with ridiculing all things liberal?
Troglodytes on the right are no respecters of reality. They say the most absurd things and hardly anyone calls them on it. Evolution? Don’t you believe it. Global warming? A figment of the liberal imagination.
Liberals have been so cowed by the pummeling they’ve taken from the right that they’ve tried to shed their own identity, calling themselves everything but liberal and hoping to pass conservative muster by presenting themselves as hyper-religious and lifelong lovers of rifles, handguns, whatever.
So there was Hillary Clinton, of all people, sponsoring legislation to ban flag-burning; and Barack Obama, who once opposed the death penalty, morphing into someone who not only supports it, but supports it in cases that don’t even involve a homicide.
Anyway, the Republicans were back at it last week at their convention. Mitt Romney wasn’t content to insist that he personally knows that “liberals don’t have a clue.” He complained loudly that the federal government right now is too liberal.
“We need change, all right,” he said. “Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.”
Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.
There would be absolutely no chance that a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin could make a credible run for the highest offices in the land. Conservatives would never have allowed it.
Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.
The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.
“In the procedural motions that preceded final passage,” wrote historian Jean Edward Smith in his biography, “FDR,” “House Republicans voted almost unanimously against Social Security. But when the final up-or-down vote came on April 19 , fewer than half were prepared to go on record against.”
Liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Quick, how many of you (or your loved ones) are benefiting mightily from these programs, even as we speak. The idea that Republicans are proud of Ronald Reagan, who saw Medicare as “the advance wave of socialism,” while Democrats are ashamed of Lyndon Johnson, whose legislative genius made this wonderful, life-saving concept real, is insane.
When Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law in the presence of Harry Truman in 1965, he said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine.”
Reagan, on the other hand, according to Johnson biographer Robert Dallek, “predicted that Medicare would compel Americans to spend their ‘sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.’ ”
Without the many great and noble deeds of liberals over the past six or seven decades, America would hardly be recognizable to today’s young people. Liberals (including liberal Republicans, who have since been mostly drummed out of the party) ended legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination.
Humiliation imposed by custom and enforced by government had been the order of the day for blacks and women before men and women of good will and liberal persuasion stepped up their long (and not yet ended) campaign to change things. Liberals gave this country Head Start and legal services and the food stamp program. They fought for cleaner air (there was a time when you could barely see Los Angeles) and cleaner water (there were rivers in America that actually caught fire).
Liberals. Your food is safer because of them, and so are your children’s clothing and toys. Your workplace is safer. Your ability (or that of your children or grandchildren) to go to college is manifestly easier.
It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned.
Self-hatred is a terrible thing. Just ask that arch-conservative Clarence Thomas.
Liberals need to get over it.
There are a bunch of others (I'm getting caught up on articles at the Times, due to stockpiling the newspaper and reading lots of them all at once), but I note that no matter how horrifying things are getting, people on LJ are trying to steer clear of politics. I don't know how I feel about that; focusing on something that important is always good (although I could do without the barrage of email panhandlers) -- the trouble, of course, is the combative nature of politics in recent years. It's very much "us v. them" instead of Americans Who Disagree With Each Other; and sure,that's really not as new as we make it out to be, still, it's become very much a "voting for X makes you Unmitigated Evil" as opposed to "voting for X seems to be a bad idea to me, I'm voting for Y."
I recently shared with the women in my office an article about how it was our mothers and grandmothers (and in some cases, great-grandmothers) who fought for the right for women to vote--less than a century ago women couldn't vote. It took longer for African-Americans to win their right to vote. It's not just a privilege, it's a duty; and one that needs to be taken with some amount of seriousness. It bothers me that so many people would rather vote for someone they could share a drink with than someone who could actually run the country. I have many times voted my heart over my head (Howard Dean over John Kerry, back in the 2004 primaries), but in that case I'm generally aiming for someone I believe could run the country well, rather than someone I want to "hang with."
My first priority is that a president be able to Run The Country Well. I don't care what church they go to, who they're sleeping with, or what they like to eat for breakfast. Are They A Good Leader? First and foremost, before anything else (even their stance on the issues, although that comes a close second) -- will they be a good leader? I think Hillary would have been a VERY good leader; I think Obama has that ability. I think McCain could have been, many years ago -- I don't think he's too old, but he is crazy temperamental (and that's speaking as an extremely temperamental person myself) and his stances have been flying all over the place. He has been a very good senator. I don't know if he'd be a good president. And I won't go into what I think about Sarah Palin, because she scares the living $h!t out of me.
Personally, I want someone who will stay out of my bedroom; who will keep their religious beliefs inside their hearts (like Jesus kinda told us to do); who will put the country first (and not like McCain is claiming he will do) and that means the people who make up the country -- all of them, not just the rich ones. Am I liberal? Yes, indeed. Just like the liberals who founded this country to begin with, who wanted freedom before safety and the people before the government.