There is a well-known bumper sticker, popular among educators and their supporters, that proclaims: If you can read this, thank a teacher. Undoubtedly, the message is intended to highlight the important role played by these professionals and to suggest that a modicum of appreciation is their due. That such a seemingly obvious sentiment required dissemination on the rear of vehicles speaks to the lack of respect and understanding educators are oddly afforded at times. The same might be said of liberals who perhaps ought be honored with a bumper sticker of their own: If you enjoy progress, thank a liberal.
This nation owes a great debt to its liberals. A determined and visionary lot, they fought against the currents of history and around the obstacles of repression and disfavor to give birth to democracy and further advancements in liberty and equality. Their achievements are many: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the emancipation of the slaves, womenâ€™s suffrage, social security, civil rights, et al. Indeed, there is little in the way of social and political progress that cannot be credited to liberals. Nevertheless, to some Americans, liberal is a dirty word, synonymous with heathen or fanatic and invoked with suspicion if not disdain. Such disapprobation hardly seems deserved.
In the sedan (or SUV) that is America, liberals are the gas pedal, and conservatives are the brakes. One group seeks forward progress, while the other seeks to halt or even reverse direction. To resist progress as thoroughly as many conservatives do is to encourage stagnancy and to fight the natural course of evolution (which perhaps helps explain the appeal of creationism or intelligent design). All too often, this fight gets ugly. It was not so very long ago though it feels like a lifetime (or perhaps 2800+ lifetimes) that George W. Bush espoused compassionate conservatism What does it say about conservatives that their compassion is not implied but must be pointed out? Conversely, who would think to espouse compassionate liberalism? The very term is redundant. The irony of Bush’s words is that, rather than masking, they expose the inherent intolerance and meanness of the conservative cause.
Nearly a century and a half ago, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote a letter to a conservative member of parliament, in which he stated: . I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. Stupid or not, many prominent conservatives do have a knack for stupefying their liberal counterparts, who often seem to flinch or flee when tagged with the “L” word, as though branded unclean. Such a paradoxical reaction only serves to embolden their detractors and lend credence to the notion that it is somehow bad or weak to be liberal. What do liberals have to be ashamed of? Their numerous achievements and aspirations are worthy of pride. In point of fact, it is not the avowal of liberalism that lessens their stature but its disavowal.
Unfortunately, many liberals have yet to acquire this lesson. Perhaps, when they learn, they will know greater success and self-worth. Perhaps, when they learn, this nation will cease its unnatural retreat from progress. Perhaps, when they learn, they will thank a teacher.