A friend sent me a variety of definitions of the word, “liberal” from his1858 American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster. Springfield, Mass. Perhaps it has greater breadth of meaning than the term as we use it today:
”liberal (noun) one who advocates greater freedom from restraint,
especially in political institutions.
1. Of a free heart; free to give or bestow -- as a liberal donor.
2. Generous -- a liberal donation.
3. Not selfish, narrow or contracted; embracing other interests than
one's own -- a liberal mind.
4. General; extensive; embracing literature and the sciences generally
-- liberal education.
5. Free; open; candid -- liberal communication
6. Large; profuse -- liberal discharge of matter by secretions or excretions
7. Free; not literal or strict -- liberal construction of law
8. Not mean; not low in birth or mind
9. Licentious; free to excess (Shakespeare)”
When I say that I am proud to be a liberal, I really mean it. It’s meaning, as I see it has become so laden with sneers and challenge that today the word ‘liberal’ is almost like the N word – a word that we each see in different lights.
My light says that to be liberal one sees a man-made civilization that, unlike a God made civilization, is not perfect. We see the flaws and believe enough in the human race to 'dream' that some of these flaws might someday be eliminated. It is a vision of a Utopia, somewhere off in the distance that makes us itchy to get closer. It is Thoreau's dream of men leading more profound lives, and his impatience with hindrances to that goal.
When I look at my conservative friends, and here in my state I have many, I see a fear in their eyes brought on by reluctance to welcome changes. They are fearful of a black president. They fear a woman president. They are afraid of communicating with leaders of countries they see as our enemy. They are afraid that to challenge big business will mean the loss of their own small place on the hierarchy. They accuse liberals of wanting to live in a "Nanny State." They seem to believe that dealing with life is a kind of game and if one knows the rules one can win - win what? Or if I fashion myself and look like someone who has power, then I will have power.
They label, distort and do whatever is possible to maintain life and our society as it is. We are told we should be grateful to live in America. We are! We are told that man needs to stand on his own two feet. Agreed, but put shoes on him first, and respect him/her as an equal thereafter, not as a charity case.
Change may not always be good, and mistakes will be made, but the idea of working toward a goal, like Henry's, of a better life for all, is my motivating dream. On the other hand, perhaps I just don't understand that the conservatives also have a dream. What IS that dream?
A depressed TV commentator said recently that the man of the dream never seems to win - the machine always does. He mentioned those dreamers who like John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were killed and those who were silenced by election –Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, etc etc etc.
Did the steam engine thwart Henry Thoreau’s dream? What did Henry see as the impediments to his dream? He mentions the posturing, sterile, phony attitudes that passed as polite society. He questioned the idea that money is any answer to a rich way of life. He cautioned us to look deeply at what we see - noticing the insignificant, the details of our world. And he asked us to look forward, beyond where the truth is, but where it 'comes trickling into this lake..."
His attitude toward the Irish, and other less fortunates, was not scorn, but a frustration that they didn't or couldn't see a better life. He gave the Irish boy a coat. What is wrong with believing that if we give a man a pair of shoes and an education that that, somehow, will build a better civilization? Shoe by shoe, classroom by classroom - As dreams go, it's a decent dream.
However, we need to ask: What is the Conservative's dream? And we need to listen. We're listening........