Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Liberal Democrat -- Some Things Just Don’t Change!

Horatio H Daub was a man of stature in the early to mid 20th century community of Pembroke, Massachusetts. Better known in the community as “Dick” Daub, he was Pembroke’s first Fire Chief. Born in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, three years after the end of the Civil War in 1868, Dick died in 1956. Dick was my great grandfather. He could be very confrontational, certainly feisty, strong-willed, direct, and spoke his mind in the most uncomplicated of ways. For some reason, one day he decided to explain to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans. In his wisdom, or so I believed at the time, he said, “Republicans are for the rich, and Democrats are for the poor.” Well, as it has turned out, his wisdom was a conventional catchphrase that presumably had been around for a while -- perhaps from the Democratic Party’s origin in 1828 when the Democratic - Republican Party split during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. It was my first introduction to any political thought. But, more importantly, that cliché has turned out to be an enduring, simple truth.

For many years, The Democratic Party has been linked with liberalism, even though the ideology of today’s Democratic Party may be a far cry from its classical liberalism origins.

What Is Classical Liberalism?” John C. Goodman, a libertarian economist, writes, “Prior to the 20th century, classical liberalism was the dominant political philosophy in the United States. It was the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence and it permeates the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and many other documents produced by the people who created the American system of government. Many of the emancipationists who opposed slavery were essentially classical liberals, as were the suffragettes, who fought for equal rights for women.”

Historians note that liberalism originated in the 16th century, emerging later from the influences of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the political revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was in response to the great inequalities of wealth and other social problems created by the Industrial Revolution that liberals, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocated limited government, limited state intervention in the market, and the creation of free public education, health insurance and other state-funded social services.

And then, as a result of the 1929 Great Depression and consequently FDR’s New Deal, the Democratic Party took a historic turn in support of a strong federal government with powers to regulate business and industry. Since then the Democratic Party have been progressive reformers. They historically have been the party of labor, supportive of federally financed social services and benefits for the poor, the unemployed, the aged, and the protection of civil rights. What has emerged is modern American liberalism, a form of social liberalism, which supports a mixed economy, where faith in the possibilities of improving social conditions are related to the idea of progress, and where compassion toward the poor, equal rights, and tolerance have endured.

That brings us to today, where we are again talking about reform and recovery, no differently in many ways from the era of FDR’s New Deal. And, again, the same criticisms, then as now, abound concerning the President’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” of 2009, as well as President Obama’s to date performance, and even referencing his agenda as “Obama’s New Deal”: constitutionality, too beholden to big business, "corporate welfare", betrayer and liar, communist, conspiracy, dictator, social fascism, subversive to the checks and balances of the democratic process, not doing enough, too much deficit spending, criticism of the Federal Reserve and a desire to return to the old economic order in believing that the market would correct itself without the meddling of direct government interference. Does it sound familiar?

Likewise, then as now, writers are still at predictions of doom-and-gloom: “The liberal class is finished. Neither it nor its representatives will provide the leadership or resistance to halt our slide toward despotism,” and “The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power,” writes Chris Hedges in “The World Liberal Opportunists Made” and in his new book “Death of the Liberal Class.”

On the contrary, they are not “finished,” and are not betrayers and liars, communist, subversives, or fascist. They do embrace socialism, but no more than their Republican counterparts do. The only difference is, where are their socialistic inclinations directed: are they focused on the rich, or the middle-class and poor?

So when considering the veracity of my great grandfather’s cliché, history is replete with numerous examples, FDR to the present, of Democrats legislatively supporting the indigent or disenfranchised. The fact still remains, regardless of how beholden Democrats are (Republicans are too) to big business, “Republicans are for the rich, and Democrats are for the poor.”