Have Both Progressive and Conservative Americans Lost Sight of ‎ What the Terms “Liberal” and “Liberalism” Really Mean?

•“He dislikes reporters and writers…If he feels that he has been criticized unfairly, and he considers most criticism unfair, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and complain to an editor…[I]n general, he views the papers as his enemy. The reporters, specifically. They want to know things that are none of their business, because they are little men.”

• “Then a rumor was spread in white neighborhoods that [political opponent] Merriam’s second wife, who was born in France, was part Black…Letters from a nonexistent ‘American Negro Civic Association’ were sent into outlying residential areas, urging a vote for Merriam because he would see to it that Blacks found homes and building sites in all parts of the city.”

• The owner of a small restaurant, Harry, put up a sign for his friend, who was running as a Republican against the Democrat’s incumbent politician. The day the sign went up, the local Democratic Party head came to the restaurant. “How come the sign, Harry?…I’d appreciate it if you’d take it down.” “He’s my friend…it’s staying up” said Harry. The next day the local party head came back and asked again, but Harry wouldn’t budge. So the next day the city building inspectors came. The plumbing improvements alone cost Harry [more than $17,000 in 2017 dollars].

None of the three stories above have anything to do with liberal governance–they all evidence illiberalism. And, if some of the quotes and stories above remind you of our current President, that is because our current President is illiberal. (The quotes and stories are all from the wonderful book by Mike Royko, Boss, about former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.)

As a nation we have lost sight of what the terms “liberal” and “liberalism” really mean and, in doing so, we arguably have also lost the capacity to distinguish liberal from illiberal politicians. For instance, one side of the political aisle accuses former President Obama of being illiberal, while the other side of the political aisle accuses Senator John McCain of the same. In fact, they both are advocates of liberal values, as are many other conservative Republican and progressive Democratic politicians. In our confusion, we have now elected an illiberal person as President, and face the risk that he will govern illiberally, with all the abuses of power and intolerance that fundamentally distinguishes an illiberal government from a liberal one.

So what does it really mean to be liberal? Click here to read.

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