Mon, Apr

Is Liberalism the End of Civilization?


GELFAND’S WORLD - In the election we just had, a few Republicans continued to argue that it would be impossible for them to lose in a fair count.

The thought process seems to be this: They are unable to comprehend how any person could possibly vote for a Democrat. They must have reasons for thinking this way, but the best I can extract from listening to conservative spokesmen on talk radio etc. is that liberalism is somehow terrifying. The talk radio hosts don't explain what it is about liberalism that is so frightening to them, but they do a pretty good job of implying that a Democratic victory will signal the end of civilization. 

I think we ought to have a conversation about liberalism -- just what liberalism is and ought to be -- and then if conservatives think it is such a horrible thing, they can continue to vote against it. But let's at least have a conversation about why liberals wanted to abolish the restriction on preexisting conditions so that everybody could get medical insurance. 

But let's get one thing out of the way first up. Liberalism is opposed to the racial segregation that was the rule when I was growing up. Liberalism is opposed to the legal limits on home ownership based on race. Liberalism is opposed to the idea that somebody could be arrested simply for ordering a cup of coffee at a restaurant. All these things were facts when I was growing up, were defended by conservatives, and were only slowly ground down through legislation and Supreme Court decisions. 

Liberalism opposes white supremacy in the sense that we wish to guarantee all of our citizens an equal opportunity to vote. (There is a legitimate debate about returning the vote to felons, but it ought to be discussed at the level of what is right rather than what benefits the Republican Party.) 

Remember that it was 1968 -- well within the lifetime of many readers -- when interracial marriage was against the law in some American states. 

As long as we are considering old arguments, I should point out that there is a reason that liberalism opposes the imposition of religious practices in public schools and in government. It came to a head when the Supreme Court banned imposed prayer in the public schools. This is a diverse nation which is far from being universally Protestant. Children of other backgrounds and, indeed, children from Protestant homes who wish to develop their own thoughts, should not have to be indoctrinated in another man's religion while in school. 

But there are two elements of modern liberalism that have come to the fore in recent decades. They are starting to become mainstream and, in general, majority issues. 

The first is the belief that people should be able to get medical care at an affordable cost. For many of us, it was not possible to get insurance at all, back when any of hundreds of "preexisting conditions" made it that way. Were you a little overweight? Had you spent too much time at the beach in your youth and had to have a skin cancer removed? You had become uninsurable. 

It was an ugly system. Now that we have a prohibition on the preexisting conditions rules, the American people have become solidly supportive of this principle. But the conservative movement fought bitterly against the passage of the Affordable Care Act (they insist on calling it Obama Care) and when they had control of the House of Representatives, insisted on passing bills to undo the ACA dozens of times. 

It should be no surprise that modern liberalism supports a universal option that would allow any American to be covered by decent health insurance. The idea of Medicare for All, or even the slightly watered down "Medicare for everyone who wants it" is becoming more and more mainstream. We expect that one of these days, it will become law. 

Conservatives ought to be questioning why they reflexively oppose this reform. Calling it "socialized medicine" is not much of an answer -- conservatives are fully supportive of socialized fire departments and socialized police departments and of course the Army and Navy. Perhaps some conservatives might think about moderating their positions so that the United States would become as liberal on healthcare as those conservative nations Switzerland and Germany. 

In any case,  some version of universal access to health care is now part of modern liberalism. Notice that it would apply to everyone, and save all of us money. Lots of money. 

The other element of modern liberalism that is still being fought by the conservative movement is the realization that global warming is ongoing and is caused by our own carbon dioxide emissions. And this is the point where we as liberals have to confront right wing deception head on. The core of the argument should be that global warming exists. How we can fend it off is a matter of debate. There is plenty of room for both conservative and liberal input. For example, we ought to be investing large amounts of money in research, just as we did for the space program and in World War II. We're hoping for technological advancement that will ultimately be used by the private sector to build the tools to keep the temperature down. 

So the liberal argument is that global warming can be fought in different ways, but first we have to admit that it exists and then we have to start talking about it. 

Instead, the conservative movement pretends that there is no such thing as global warming. It is fair to ask why such an intellectually dishonest approach is being taken. I suspect that the conservative movement fears that remedies to global warming would be bad for business. 

And of course it is true that ultimately, the burning of gasoline in cars and the burning of coal in power plants will have to be reduced substantially. Business owners are correct to realize that this is the case. A few are starting to invest in new anti-CO2 technology, but the political movement to resist is still in control. 

The defenders of unlimited CO2 emissions try to push the argument a step further by attacking liberalism itself. In listening to talk radio and reading internet commentary, the slander of liberalism is obvious. 

What do I mean by this? I can best illustrate what I mean by quoting a bumper sticker that was popular (among some) back in the 1950s and 1960s. It went like this: 

Liberalism - Socialism - Communism 

The underlying logic seems to be that liberals, in their heart of hearts, would push the United States towards socialism and then communism given the chance. I would answer like this: Liberals are just people who live across the street from you and in your apartment building. They went to the same public schools, work in the factory and at the port, and generally want the same things you want. They just take a slightly different approach to the attempt to gain progress. They are not socialists or communists because, among other reasons, this country does not support indigenous socialist or communist movements -- certainly not since the middle of the last century. 

I personally don't know any liberals who want to abolish the police, much as conservatives flog that argument. I don't know any liberals who look forward to killing full term babies right before they are born, in spite of the assertions made by pretty much every Republican I've seen on Meet the Press in recent weeks. 

If you want to oppose liberalism, at least oppose the real liberalism rather than the fantasy version. 

The problem with reflexively opposing liberalism is that it becomes a game of taking away legitimate gains made by the American people. The fact that I could buy health insurance in the open market is a gain. Why are you trying to take it away from me? What philosophical tenet could possibly justify such a position? There is talk among current day Republicans of cutting Social Security and Medicare. If this is your way of snubbing the liberals, I suspect that it will rebound against you. 

In any case, liberalism is a home grown American product as much as anything else. I would be the first to argue that American liberalism can be modified. For example, we need to think carefully about rebuilding American manufacturing while maintaining American agriculture, and we need to do so while always considering that everything we do must be considered with regard to its effect on global warming. 

But it's long since time that people who watch Fox News and listen to talk radio hear the message that liberalism has a lot to offer them, the most obvious being that liberalism favors the workers while conservatism favors the owners.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected] )