What's Wrong With Being Liberal?

President's Use Of L-Word Signals Desperation by Helen Thomas

There he goes again.

President George W. Bush, having run out of attack slogans, has gone back to the old Republican standby of accusing his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., of being a liberal.

What's wrong with that?

It's ironic that the Bush 43 is accusing Kerry of being a "tax-and-spend liberal." This is the same president whose legacy will include a huge budget deficit that will be with us long after he has left office.

The attempted demonization of the word "liberal" began with Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980 and was picked up by George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Various dictionaries describe liberals as open minded, generous, progressive, leaning toward individual freedom, broadminded and ahead of the times.

Those interpretations of the word "liberal" seem to add up to a compassionate person. This president who calls himself a "compassionate conservative" surely cannot object to the label.

Unfortunately, the American people have yet to see the "compassionate" part of Bush equation. When a president wipes out overtime for millions of workers, restricts enforcement of health and safety regulations for workers, limits the union bargaining rights of government workers in Homeland Security and freezes their salaries, blocks the government from negotiating less expensive drugs from drug companies under Medicare, and gives huge tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers, can you really call him "compassionate"?

Maybe, for the rich.

Born into wealth and privilege, living the good life until he settled down at the age of 40, there was no time for Bush to develop a social conscience. So it's understandable how he would not show much compassion for the poor, the jobless and minorities.

He has chipped away at government social programs, putting them in competition with private religious charities for funding. Through vouchers, he is promoting private schools over public schools.

And he is seeking to weaken Social Security by privatizing a portion of the program.

Bush also has attacked Kerry for choosing a trial lawyer, Sen. John Edwards, as his running mate. Edwards has amassed a fortune through his success in winning malpractice verdicts for clients injured through the negligence of others.

Liberal presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 20th century played a transforming role to give disadvantaged citizens a break. They also moved against the plutocrats and the opponents of civil rights to work toward a more equal society.

None of their reforms came without a struggle or political costs.

Their contributions enhanced America's greatness as a caring democratic nation, concerned with the health and welfare of every citizen.

Bush's shrill derision of liberalism seems to be a sign of political desperation these days. What would the nation have done without the New Deal during the Great Depression? FDR also understood what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said: "Government should do for people what they cannot do for themselves."

Roosevelt's rallying cry at his 1933 inauguration was, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

It was a time when Americans were losing faith in the capitalistic system. Roosevelt saved the system with strong regulation and government support of financial institutions, as well as innovative programs to restore prosperity and health and welfare for hard-hit families.

Among Truman's "Fair Deal" contributions was wiping out the color line in the armed forces. The Kennedy administration lent its activist support and intervention to the civil rights movement in the South and signaled a war on poverty.

Johnson's "Great Society" legislation was the embodiment of liberalism. In his first two years in office, Johnson signed the first Medicare bill, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights act, federal funding to education at all levels from Head Start through college, child and maternal health measures, and public housing.

Liberals know all about compassion. What's more, they practice what they preach, which is more than the president can say.

© 2023 Hearst Newspapers