Assignment America: Phantom liberals

By JOHN BLOOM  |  Aug. 29, 2002 at 11:12 AM
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NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Where are all the damn liberals?

Please show me one. I'm waiting.

The last time I can remember seeing an honest-to-God liberal was in my youth, when schoolteachers would march in Arkansas to throw racists out of office. "It's time for a more liberal view of the world," they would say. They used it as a synonym for "tolerance," "broadmindedness," the casting off of old ways of thinking.

But now the Number One non-fiction bestseller in America is Ann Coulter's book "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right," and I can't even remember a politician who DESCRIBED himself as a liberal in the past, oh, 20 years. I mean, who was the last one? Bella Abzug?

The papers used to write "liberal Democratic Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy," but they don't even say that anymore. I would presume Kennedy would call himself a liberal, but I haven't asked him. Even if he is, he's not exactly repopulating the earth with his flock.

Phil Donahue calls himself a liberal. That's why nobody watches his new show.

I would imagine most of the commentators at Public Broadcasting Service are liberals, which is why nobody watches PBS.

So what is this about really?

I can't even find any practical use for the whole liberal-conservative dichotomy. They try to set it up on CNN's "Crossfire" -- on the RIGHT, this guy, and on the LEFT, this guy -- and the show always falls apart because people end up taking positions they don't entirely believe in. But it's not their fault. What's more likely is that the issue doesn't break down on left-right lines. It might be triangular, or hexagonal, or so sticky with warring scientific theories that the debaters can't even agree on what they're debating about.

Social Security is a good example.

Social Security is the most liberal governmental program in the history of the nation. It's actually a COMMUNIST idea -- the redistribution of wealth to create universal retirement income. Social Security is falling apart BECAUSE it's a communist idea. All big government-run economic plans like that eventually sputter and die.

So where's the conservative who will say "Get rid of it"?

Doesn't exist.

You'll find guys who say they want you to be able to take your Social Security money and invest it in Enron, which is some kind of twisted economic theory that doesn't come from Adam Smith or Karl Marx, but creates a mutation of both: let's take money from some of the people, give it to other people, but let them invest it in yet another group of people who are probably the same people who gave it to them in the first place, and if they lose all their money, it's not the government's fault, even though the government gave them the money in the first place.

And where's the liberal who will say: "Run a permanent deficit to pay for Social Security"? That, after all, is how you run a socialist program. But that species of politician doesn't exist either.

One of the curses of American politics is that we're saddled with just two political parties, which means that every topic tends to get polarized -- when what SHOULD happen is that there should be seven or eight widely divergent views.

In a parliamentary system, with proportional representation, American debate would flourish. We'd have a Green Party and a Red Party and a Pink Party and a Black Party and a Bull Moose Party, and each one might control just a fraction of Congress, but they would all hold key coalition votes. All these parties already exist, in one form or another -- mostly in the form of Political Action Committees. They just have no way to get into Congress.

So instead of real debate we have this constant hammering at the straw man called "the liberal."

Let me let you in on a little secret: THERE AREN'T THAT MANY OF THEM. And most of them are sociology professors anyway.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that entire careers -- Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Chris Matthews -- are based on killing people who don't exist? It's some bizarre form of reverse ancestor worship. It's ancestor desecration.

Another example: the environment. You simply can't break it down along liberal and conservative lines. There's no conservative in FAVOR of rainforest destruction. There's no "liberal" politician that I know of who believes there should be no harvesting of natural resources at all.

Historically the greatest proponents of conservation have been National Rifle Association members. None of them, as far as I know, have ever said, "Let's shoot Chinese pandas." And, by the same token, there's no leftist politician who believes we shouldn't have dams or logging. This is the kind of issue that always comes down to, "What's the best way to manage what we've got here?"

Was Abraham Lincoln a liberal or a conservative? I think I could make an argument either way.

Was Will Rogers a liberal? He said he believed that Americans were "fundamentally liberal," but if you tried to categorize him today, I think many of his positions would be claimed by self-described conservatives.

In other words, these labels aren't worth anything anymore. So why do we use them?

It's merely a sophisticated way to say "You're stupid and I'm not."

Surely we can do better than this.

(Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at or through his Web site at Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.)

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