Predictably, the smear campaign has already begun. The current administration's guns have been turned on John Kerry, the Democratic party's likely Presidential nominee, for the past couple of weeks. But those guns are filled with less ammo than in the past -- in the past, those guns have been loaded with some heavy-duty ordinance: "Soft on Crime," "Draft Dodger" (hello, pot -- this is kettle...), and so on. This year, the ammo box is looking a little low. This year, the Right's entire salvo seems likely to consist of one shot fired over and over again: John Kerry is a ... Liberal.
At some point in our history, the label "Liberal" became political death. The Right flings it at the Left like poisoned javelins. The Left try to dodge, to bob and weave their way away from the hated word. Even proud Liberals run, because those that don't are skewered (Dukakis, anyone?) by public perception. The "Liberal" label, in our current political climate, is one to be avoided at all costs. At some point, in the collective public understanding "liberal" came to mean "elitist." The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth:
Liberal means Acceptance.
A lot of people will tell ya that Liberal means Tolerance. In a society whose perception is so shifted to the Right that it's okay to pass legislation based upon religious doctrine and hold suspected criminals indefinitely without benefit of charge, legal counsel or trial, sometimes Tolerance seems to be the best we can hope for for our marginalized communities -- our women, our elderly, our racial minorities, our religious minorities, our homosexuals, our working poor. But real Liberalism is more than just tolerance of those who are different. Real Liberalism accepts and embraces our differences. Real Liberalism includes all of our communities into a larger American community. Tolerance means that we can live in proximity with each other and continue on our paths without overt hatred or violence, which is great. But Acceptance means we include each other, that we weave our lives together, and that all parties grow stronger for the support of each other.
Liberal means Equality.
This follows logically after the Acceptance above. It's great to accept people's differences -- it's quite a lot harder to treat everyone, regardless of differences, equally. It's especially hard to fight for Equality for those who are different from you. This is what real Liberals do. They know in their hearts that everyone deserves equal treatment under a just legal system, and they fight to make those equalities a reality. Sometimes that involves doing something initially unbalanced (like giving extra advantages to a traditionally oppressed group) to try to speed the process of leveling the playing field. But a true Liberal realizes that that short-term sacrifice provides real long-term benefits. In a society of equals, the fundamental causes of violence and poverty begin to melt away.
Liberal means Social Responsibility.
Liberals understand that we have a basic human responsibility to our fellow man, to our environment and our international community, as well as to ourselves. We are part of a larger society, and the actions of one individual, of one company, of religious sect or state or nation affect us all. Liberals embrace social programs because they feel society has a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. Liberals embrace environmental protection because they agree that cheap gasoline today is not worth the price future generations will pay in pollution and loss of health and the unknown consequences of world-wide environmental upheaval. Liberals respect workers rights because we know that each of us has equal right to a living wage, a roof over our heads, and healthcare for ourselves and our children. Liberals are for the people, all of the people, and do what they can to help each other and society at large, not because it makes them money, but because it is simply the right and fair thing to do.
So, is John Kerry a Liberal? His voting record shows him to be certainly far more Liberal than Bush and Company. But in an election year, he can't admit to it. And that is a damn shame. Because the qualities that make a Liberal -- acceptance of others, a desire for equal treatment for all men and women, a sense of social responsibility -- are qualities of which he should be proud.
America needs to remember what Liberal really means. Every man and woman wants and deserves equal respect, dignity and justice. A Liberal in the White House could help bring us closer to that. George W. Bush and his cronies, who think "Liberal" is an insult, never can.