Defining liberalism
        by Greg Boll   (gregboll@Writing.Com)
According to Webster, the word liberal is defined as "characterized by or inclining toward opinions or policies favoring progress or reform; not intolerant or prejudiced; broadminded." Liberals are not people striving toward a socialistic state. Neither do they favor abortion on demand, ipso facto. Nor are they intent on taxing all money for redistribution to "lazy bums" who make their living by mooching off the government.

Liberals, as the dictionary says, are those who desire and work for positive reform. Credit is owed them for such progressive legislation as occupational safety regulations, automobile safety rules and environmental guidelines -- many of which affect us all in positive ways each and every day. Liberals are not intolerant or prejudiced. To them we owe most of the equal rights legislation passed in the last two decades -- legislation prompted by a desire to fulfill the creed expressed in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."

Some claim that liberals have placed burdens on business and industry, which have resulted in extra costs for consumers. In instances, this may be true. If so, the liberals were, nonetheless, motivated by concern for the public. They also remembered the original, intolerable conditions which prompted regulatory legislation.

Government over-regulation? Yes, in some instances the trivial regulations and additional paperwork may seem useless and unproductive. Liberals and everyone would be delighted if there were no need for government involvement in business and industry. But dare we return to those days when captains of industry were given free reign -- days which saw huge trusts, unscrupulous business practices, unfair wages, excessive work hours, and unsafe working conditions? The efforts by liberals to correct these conditions were motivated by humane concern for the workers' welfare and protection of the consumer.

Liberals are not primarily concerned with regulating the "big bad businessman." Perhaps the best general definition of the typical liberal is one who has compassion for his fellow citizens. He sees government as one vehicle for assistance to maintain a decent standard of living for those with urgent needs. A liberal is one who sees the vast wealth of this land and realizes a need for redistribution of a limited amount of that wealth. LBJ noted, "We have enough to do it all...We're the wealthiest nation in the world. And I cannot see why, if we have the will to do it, we cannot provide for our own happiness, education, health and environment." And JFK warned, "If we do not help the many who are poor, we cannot save the few who are rich."

A liberal is one who sees the ghetto child come to school in the morning hungry and realizes that a government-supported school lunch program will probably prevent malnutrition and, at the same time, promote better performance in school. A liberal is one who sees the developmentally challenged child of a poor family and recognizes that a government-supported education program may help that child become a productive, useful member of society -- a chance he might otherwise be denied. A liberal is one who sees the young father trying to support a family after being laid off and realizes that unemployment and food stamp benefits for a limited time will help him feed his family and avoid repossession of his home, car, and other belongings. A liberal is one who sees the college student who, with government assistance, such as Basic Education Opportunity Grants or Guaranteed Student Loans, can receive the education now which otherwise he might have to delay indefinitely or forget about entirely if forced to rely on his own funds.

And yet, liberals cannot be categorized. There are many liberals who support nuclear power, but not unconditionally. There are many liberals who support a strong defense policy, but not unconditionally. They want a sensible balance between guns and butter. They don't want millions spent for a new bomber if it means that thousands of children will go to bed hungry in America tonight. There are many liberals who support tax cuts for business if they can be assured that the money will be poured back into the factories to create more jobs. Unfortunately, many companies tend to use their extra profits to buy up other companies, which results in more profits, not more jobs.

One misconception of liberals is that they are semi-heathen humanists out to destroy all that we as Christians hold dear. True, some, but not all, liberals support abortion on demand and integration quotas for private schools if they are to retain their tax-exempt status. Certainly, these efforts should be opposed.

Anyone can come up with horror stories about the excesses: welfare queens, large oil fields which lie dormant in the name of environmental protection, and excessive regulations which unduly burden well-intentioned organizations. Liberals do not support abuses and excesses any more than conservatives do. Indeed, there are horror stories which can also be told about the excesses of conservatism: minorities denied equal rights, poor and sick people denied government aid because of fund cutoffs, and huge conglomerates which bankrupt and/or devour smaller companies through ruthless business practices and yet manage to avoid federal antitrust suits, all in the name of free enterprise.

Common sense and restraint should be an important part of any policy. William Penn once said, "Frugality is good, if liberality be joined with it. The first is leaving off superfluous expenses; the last bestowing them to the benefit of others that need. The first without the last begets covetousness; the last without the first begets prodigality. Both together make excellent temper. Happy the place where that is found."

Greg Boll

---This editorial appeared in the May 25, 1984, Worthington Daily Globe, in the May 27, 1984, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and in the May 30, 1984, Saint Paul Pioneer-Press.
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