Great Liberal Presidents

It worries me that the word “liberal” has become an epithet in so many parts of the country. Lest I confuse anyone, I’ll start with what I hope will be a noncontroversial definition.

When used by those on the right wing of today’s political spectrum, “liberals” are those who believe in (a) a strong, centralized federal government that (b) guarantees (and enforces) social programs aimed at ending poverty and providing universal healthcare, (c) proactively works to protect minorities against discrimination, and (d) believes that immigration should be as free as we can make it, especially in cases where refugees are fleeing to this country to escape persecution.

Sound un-American?

Maybe not, if we reflect for a moment on the beliefs of some of our greatest Presidents in history.

George Washington believed in a strong, centralized federal government. Having experienced, first hand, the feckless nature of the decentralized government with which he had been shackled as Commander in Chief during the American Revolution, he firmly believed that states needed to cede power to a stronger national government. He sided with Alexander Hamilton in that regard, and differed with Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Washington’s party was called the “Federalist Party” for just that reason.

Abraham Lincoln not only believed in a strong centralized government, he used that government to put down a revolt that was based on the primacy of states’ rights. One could argue that the “liberal” idea of a federal government coming to the aid of oppressed minorities in individual states had its greatest champion in Old Abe.

Franklin Roosevelt was called a Socialist because of his many social programs aimed at ending poverty during the Great Depression. I find it ironic that many of today’s most vociferous opponents of socialism are eking out a hand-to-mouth existence in retirement. They would be starving were it not for their monthly Social Security checks.

Harry S. Truman, in Executive Order 9981, ended the practice of segregation in the armed forces.

John F. Kennedy was vilified by the right for his issuance of executive orders that defied the actions of Governor George Wallace, who was refusing entrance of African-American students into the University of Alabama.

Lyndon Johnson was called a socialist because he used his legislative skills to push Medicare, Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  (Some of those same retirees who are screaming the word socialist at today’s liberals would be in bad shape without their Medicare coverage.)

As The Spirited Reasoner, I can see the good side of conservatism, too. Conservatives correctly oppose governmental waste, regulatory overreaching, and the type of centralized governmental power that reduces individual freedom.

What’s my point?

There are have been some awfully fine liberals. And there have probably been an equal number of awfully fine conservatives.

We need to stop using labels to silence the thoughts of those whose beliefs just happen to be different from our own.