Today, the term liberal is nearly obsolete in the Democratic Party, being replaced with the term “progressive.” Liberal, unfortunately, has been used as a negative connotation by Republicans since the Vietnam era and, as a result, has caused Democrats to shy away from identifying as such. However, regardless of labeling oneself as a “liberal” or “progressive,” Democrats should embrace the labels that describe their values, not run scared because of the slander put on it by Republicans and the right wing.
My grandfather was a veteran of World War II, the son of two Italian immigrants who was the first in his family to attend college on the GI bill. He went on to be a staff writer at the Erie Dispatch-Herald in Erie, Pennsylvania and was a cofounder of the local writers’ guild, the first union at the newspaper. Unfortunately, he passed away young in 1975, leaving a widow and three children without a source of income. My father and his two siblings received Social Security survivor’s benefits, which kept the family afloat while my grandmother went back to school. All of these programs and ideas were championed by liberal Democrats and espoused the values that they believe in: affordable college, bargaining power in the workplace, and a safety net for families in crisis. These are the core values for which the Democratic Party has stood for nearly eighty years, and there is nothing at all to be ashamed about in supporting
programs that help those in need take the next step or that lend a helping hand.
During the 1960 campaign, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy gave a passionate defense of liberalism:
“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”
Well said, Jack. Liberals were the ones who abolished slavery (yes, Lincoln the Republican was a liberal). Liberals pushed for women’s suffrage. Liberals established Social Security so that seniors could retire and not live in poverty. Liberals established Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare to make health care available to the elderly, poor, and working class alike without going bankrupt. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Liberals passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. All of these acts were the product of forward thinking men and women who desired to provide compassionate, sensible, and responsible services to their fellow citizens. Conservatives stood in opposition nearly too every one of these initiatives.
Liberals have long since disappeared from the Republican Party but still reside within the confines of the Democratic Party. After a decades long exile of the term “liberal,” I hope to see not just Hillary Clinton embrace the term coming up this election cycle, but for the rest of the party base to do so at all levels of government. Don’t just say you are a “progressive,” say you are a liberal and defend it as a badge of honor (Matt Santos from The West Wing, anyone?). After all, this is the party of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton (yes, he counts), and now Barack Obama. People like my grandfather and his family would not have had the avenues for success in their lives if it were not for the proposals led by liberals. And for that, I can proudly say I am a liberal Democrat, and damn proud of it.
Brendan Sala is a Junior Political Science major at Cleveland State University, graduating in December 2016. Raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, he aspires to be a defense attorney and a public servant.
This piece is the sixth installment of a blog series about what our writers' political views mean. Check out others here!