Wendy and I lived for twenty years in a very pleasant somewhat conservative city in Northwest Missouri. As the years went by I became involved in local politics. I was one of the first citizens to urge the revision of the antiquated city charter. The issue came to a vote, and we easily prevailed.
I then ran for membership on the Charter Commission. I won handily and became the secretary of that body. I later ran for membership on the nine person City Council, under the newly updated charter, and was elected. My next encounter with the voters was a bid to become Mayor of the city. I was clobbered!
Among the many reasons I thankfully lost was a whispering campaign. “He’s a liberal, you know.” That accusation was right on target, but the “L” word in that part of the world was a kiss of political death. Fifty years earlier to be called a communist was the worst anyone could say about you. Half a century later “liberal” had replaced that accusation.
Just what was it liberals believed back then that caused them to be despised? Here are a few of the liberal issues I had written about as a regular political columnist for the city’s daily newspaper:
- The end to racism.
- Rights for Gay and Lesbian people (the marriage issue had not yet emerged).
- A rejection of war as a national policy.
- Equal pay for equal work.
- The first sign that climate change was going to become a national issue.
- Doing away with the death penalty.
- Civil liberties for everyone.
- Economic parity through increases in the minimum wage
- Abortion as a matter between a women and her physician
But ‘the times they are a-changin.’ A recent Gallup Poll reveals that to be a “liberal” is no longer considered unsavory, and significant numbers of Americans are applying that designation to themselves. We even have presidential candidates who not only talk frankly about liberal issues, but are self-identified liberals.
Run through the above list and note how each of the issues is currently being viewed as the position of more and more Americans. Support for same sex marriage is increasingly a done deal. Nebraska, a bright red State, has just outlawed the death penalty. Climate change is on almost everyone’s A list of issues. Changes in the minimum wage are taking place all over the nation. The present wars are increasingly unpopular and hardly anyone thinks it would be a good idea to involve ground troops in a fight whose goals are unclear. Racism is an unsavory word and civil liberties a popular cause. A woman’s choice in matters of pregnancy is a settled national policy. Economic inequality is on everyone’s political agenda. The political landscape may not be surging to the left, but a remarkable drift in that direction is widely in evidence.
What is more, the American electorate is changing. Old white men with old white ideas are finding their views decreasingly important. Even the Republican Party is shying away from the bastion of reaction, the evangelical right. Latinos and Latinas are having a greater political impact across the nation. Younger voters are turned off by dated issues. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision is under attack almost everywhere. Women are not only more nearly making equitable wages, but are more and more in positions of leadership in industry and politics.
Despite what more and more Americans are thinking about liberal views, it is still possible to buy anti-liberal votes, first of our Congressional representatives and second of anyone who watches the ubiquitous political TV ads paid for by right-wing money.