The Blog

Take Back the Word

Liberalism isn't what it used to be.

12:00 AM, Apr 12, 2005 • By JOEL ENGEL
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Invoking Nazis and/or the Taliban to describe duly-elected officeholders of another party is many things (tiresome, ridiculous), but it is not liberal.

Referring to illegals as "undocumented workers," and to those who'd like to enforce immigration laws as evil and racist, is many things (self-destructive, short-sighted), but it is not liberal.

Joking about Charlton Heston's Alzheimer's because you don't abide his politics is many things (cold-hearted, intolerant, sophomoric), but it is far from liberal.

Calling the then-recently departed Yasser Arafat a "wily" and "enigmatic" "statesman", as the New York Times did, is many things (nauseatingly PC, for one), but it is not liberal.

Regulating what children can and cannot eat at home so that they don't become obese, as Hawaiian legislators recently tried to do; or trying to pass legislation which would require that every home be retrofitted for wheelchair access, as Santa Monica legislators did, is many things (repressive, despotic), but it is not liberal.

Shouting down speakers in the name of free speech is many things (fascistic, tyrannical, churlish), but it is not liberal.

Excusing Kofi Annan and the United Nations for the worst palm-greasing scandal in history--one that lengthened the reign of a tyrant and led to the deaths of countless thousands--is many things (inexcusable, also shameful), but it is not liberal.

Sadly, the list goes on (and on and on and on). Which is why those of us who consider ourselves classical liberals--and believe that language has power--ought to take back the word "liberal" from those on the left who debase its meaning. Many of them, I suspect, are like the body surfer who's surprised to find that the ocean current has carried him half a mile from his towel on the beach. They would do well to get their bearings and gauge how far the political tide has removed them from their core beliefs.

Me, I know where my towel is--in the same place it's been for 40 years. If that makes me "conservative," well, a liberal by any other name . . .

Joel Engel is an author and journalist in Southern California. His latest book, By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War, was just published by Dutton.