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June 1999, Volume 6 Nr. 10, Issue 70

Liberals

I admit it. The 31st of May, a Monday at 7 p.m., the ending of a three- day Memorial Day weekend is not the best choice for scheduling a non-traditional political event. That being said, I was not prepared for the low turnout for the arrival of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization’s (IFCO) Pastors for Peace IX Humanitarian Aid Caravan to Cuba at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Rutland, Vermont.

Though not exactly the best date (not my choice), nonetheless, there was a lack of attendance and participation by people whom one would expect to participate and show support for an international religious contingent risking imprisonment and fines for defying the almost 40-year old embargo of food and medicines to Cuba.

I have many friends, associates and acquaintances who in light of the present day U.S. political climate pass themselves off as liberal. They are liberal on social, peace, justice, humanitarian, economic and religious grounds. That would place (conservatives would agree I assume) the president of the United States into that category. It might prove instructive, however, to examine the word "liberal" a bit closer.

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for and was elected to the presidency not as a traditional liberal but, rather, as a "New Democrat". The president along with many others, spinelessly, have opted out of being branded as liberal. It was most important for them to shed the label which Rush Limbaugh and others have so aptly defamed. (One his "truisms" is that there is no such thing as a new democrat).  They have accepted the demonization of the term "liberal" by right wing think tanks, radio talk show hosts, religious broadcasters, conservatives and conservative politicians. Perhaps, there is good reason to be wary of modern day liberals?

I call them spineless because rather than standing up for the best beliefs that liberalism has to offer, many or most self-internalized liberals found themselves hiding under rocks worried that their modified brand of liberalism might be erroneously construed as (or at least accused of as being) Marxist or worse. In the movie "The fourth of July" depicted wounded returning Vietnam veterans negatively when they protested against the war.  Even disabled Vietnam veterans who spoke out were called communists and threatened with bodily harm. This took place not in the McCarthyism of the fifties but in the Nixonian era of the early seventies - not that long ago. Here we are in the post-Gingrich/Jesse Helms turn of the century and people are afraid to speak their mind.

Self-imposed ideological McCarthyism becomes a mental and political imprisonment of self by the self. The concomitant side effect of such self-induced inflection may bear unpleasant or nagging symptoms through unavoidable inherent contradictions. Put another way, liberals may not be what they think they are - so much the easier for them to shed the term as descriptor. Instead, irritating side-effect-reduction- seeking, non-attracting, non-offensive self-descriptor terms become an alternative label. Some examples include, New Age, Progressive.

What’s A Liberal?

According to popular belief today and political dictionaries a liberal is someone who believes that the government has the responsibility to alter the social conditions such that a more just and equitable society is the result. Liberals are in favor of helping the poor, the minorities and the disadvantaged. Liberals are typically involved with peace and social justice issues and reducing the military budget while defending civil liberties.

Turn Left, the home of liberalism on the web has some useful definitions:

Liberal. Signifies an openness to change and respect for individual liberties within a societal framework in which all have equal opportunity (See Rawls Theory of Justice or Walzer's Spheres of Justice)

Progressive. One who actively campaigns for (liberal) change.

Neo-Liberalism. A strain of liberalism with its main emphasis on pragmatic approaches to change.

Democrat. A member of the Democratic party. Note that Democrat is not synonymous with liberal. There are some conservatives and moderates in the Democratic party, even if the majority of Democrats could be considered liberal.

Socialist. One who advocates government ownership of the means of production (i.e. business). Often misused by right-wing ideologues who confuse regulation of certain aspects of the economy with government ownership of business.

Democratic Socialism. Similar to regular socialism, but with a strong emphasis on democratic decision-making, both in politics, and in the running of economic entities.

Radical left. Generally those who do not believe lib-eralism or progres-sivism are approach-es which do enough to change the do-minant paradigm in society. Radical left-ists are willing to forego traditional ideas of individual liberty (which some of them see as simply another way the dominant paradigm keeps them down) in order to impose programs for change. Differ from liberals in that most liberals want to keep the current paradigm.

Communist. One who advocates communal ownership of all property. There is no central government in a communist system.

Anarchist. One who opposes all forms of government. Often confused with libertarians, who share many anarchist beliefs; however libertarians still think that there should be a minimal government.

Libertarianism. Libertarians believe in an extremely tiny government whose role is limited to common defense and arbitrating disputes between private individuals (enforcing contracts). Libertarians do not want any government regulation of the social or economic spheres, with complete individual liberty in all areas of life. Conservatives generally agree with libertarians on much (but not all) of their economic platform, while liberals generally agree with libertarians on much (but not all) of their social platform.

It is interesting to note that here in Vermont where Bernie Sanders has been serving as the State’s lone independent, (self-and-otherwise described) socialist and progressive in congress, his office attacked his harsh critics as being "radical left". The radical left had criticized Bernie’s reactionary and visceral support of the US/NATO bombing in the Balkans. When one considers that liberals accept the current paradigm this is not so surprising. What is surprising is that Bernie should accuse "others" of being part of the radical left, a label which at one time he proudly embraced.

Redefinition

During the first half of the nineties liberals found themselves the target of an orchestrated campaign to blame every societal ill and shortcoming on them. Something interesting took place. Many self-described liberals all of a sudden became progressives and other things. They become part of a "new" me dedicated to dramatic social change and progress. As an example, the DuPage County, Illinois Progressive Independents for Action state as,

"…major areas of concern for progressive social change are the Economic System, Tax System, Health Care, Worker Policy, Welfare Policy, Family Life, Education, Social Equality and Electoral Policy."

A liberal could hardly disagree with any of these concerns. Thus, the change in classification is just that. It is, however, a safer classification. It took a while for back seat liberals wearing progressive trench coats to reveal themselves. While maintaining liberal thought, philosophy and attitudes of least resistance Nuage Progs/New Liberals cloaked themselves in alternative cop-outs of every conceivable variety. None of this takes anything away from the progressive movement, a movement which does not alter its self-image with shifting political winds and the possible negative consequences of being progressive. Nuage progressives on the other hand appear to be progressive in nature.

Modern Nuage Progs may profess a revulsion to violence but, seldom act to minimize it. Quite the contrary, in the name of stopping evil, they are all too willing to accept it. The most recent case in point is the civilian and military target bombing by US/NATO forces in the Balkans.

How many Nuage Progs took any action to organize and protest about the illegal use of cluster bombs or the bombing of water supplies and electrical generating plants? How many liberals as much as lifted a telephone and called their representatives decrying the military’s testing of most of its new and never used death devices? How many spoke out against the controlled propagandist press reporting of the war? People have been blown apart, "ethnically" cleansed having homes burned on all sides. Even in Vermont where a supposedly progressive climate pervades one hears little about the evil of war, of folly of using force to solve humanity’ problems, of continuing along the same millenium-old and counterproductive path of might makes right. Instead, one hears about how some violence is so abhorrent that violence is the only answer. This is why the radical left in Vermont so effectively challenged Bernie’s position and his acceptance of dominant violent military paradigm. In my opinion, to be called the radical left in this situation by one who has during his career been seen as such is a compliment. Or, perhaps, is it an indicator of how far the other way things have gone? An even more interesting question is perhaps some in Congress wear trench coats and in their quest for further political advancement have taken the coat off?

No Wonder

If Nuage Progs/new liberals do act they are more likely to act from a very safe and calculated vantage point where minimal commitment soothes the conscience just enough to get by. Being inconvenienced is out of the question. You can always count on new liberals not to be there when the going gets tough or when some extra energy is necessary to further an ideal. You can, however, count on a liberal to use a "green" credit card, to subscribe to an "alternative" corporate magazine (something with the word alternative in the title), use a socially aware telephone company and have their pension funds invested in socially responsible investments as determined by the greater corporate investment system. Many even use recycled toilet paper in an effort to feel good about saving the planet with a minimum of effort. Just a few wipes will do ya.

In the United States, Nuage liberals are part of the problem. To them a high yield socially responsible mutual pension fund and/or investment is more important to have than to openly criticize Wall Street, the major abuser of humanity's natural resources and the exploiter of working class people everywhere. Nuage liberals believe that it is more probable that aliens will reveal themselves showing humanity the solution to its most pressing problems than solidarity and hard work in the struggle for a better future. This future it is well worth to note is not assured given the incredible pace of population, pollution, genetically engineered food and globalization (neo-liberal) growth.

Thus, though a disappointment it was not a surprise to see a low turnout at the Pastors for Peace Caravan event in Rutland, Vermont. It was after all, an inconvenient date, late in the evening on the last day of a holiday weekend. Two weeks later, the Caravan (almost a dozen routes) did cross the Mexican border. There Mexican longshoremen donated their labor and loaded 200 tons for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals which made their way to Havana, Cuba. There, the Reverence Lucius Walker and Caravan particpates spent ten days touring medical facilities and helping with the distribution of the aid. Eighty-six Caravan participants went to Havana many traveling the entire distance from Canada through the United States on a school bus. I suppose many would see them, those that arranged the events, gave the participants food and shelter as members of the radical left. So be it.

Many years ago when living in New Jersey we made friends with Clay Colt and Kate Donnelly. Long time activist, they run a movement business called Donnellycolt which acquires, produces and sells bumper stickers, buttons, tee shirts, etc. One button I remember seeing says, "Subvert the dominant paradigm." While all paradigms are not worthy of subversion, the near 40-year old Cold War economic embargo of Cuba is. It is time to end the emabrgo.  It is time for "liberals" to take an active  stand on this issue.    Perhaps, that way (amongst others) they may shed the fear of speaking out.

1999 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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