©by Richard Proescher
Word count: 1,086
How Did It Come To This?
Something happened within the past thirty or so years that produced a fundamental change in our society. It was not one occurrence, but rather an accumulation of many planned occurrences. We can plot this change by tracing how the word liberal became a pejorative word. Of course, there was a time when we accepted the dictionary’s meaning of this word.
The presidential campaign of 1988 introduced an unfortunate political benchmark. The two leading candidates where Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dukakis. The Bush campaign, spearheaded by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes sold crucial swing voters on a caricature of Michael Dukakis as a weak, criminal-coddling and unpatriotic technocrat. They used a video ad showing Willie Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence for committing armed robbery and rape while out on furlough from prison. Horton was a black man. Dukakis was a progressive liberal, but after the successful Bush campaign using Horton as an example of the defect of liberalism the negative label stuck.
However, the story wasn’t as simple as it was presented. Massachusetts Furlough Program was similar to numerous other states– programs generally regarded by penologists as a useful tool in reducing recidivism. More than 115,000 furloughs had been granted in Massachusetts before Dukakis’s first term as governor. Furlough programs were actually routine during the time when rehabilitation was being emphasized in the prison system.
The Massachusetts program had been initiated by a Republican governor (Frank Sargent), and two prisoners in California furloughed under Governor Ronald Reagan had escaped and killed. Plus, even with its furlough program, Dukakis’s state was actually tougher on convicted murderers than almost any other state, thanks to a mandatory life sentence law. Under Dukakis, Massachusetts had the lowest murder rate of any industrialized state.
The demonization of liberals accelerated after the successful Horton ad. The current political polarization reflects this in a dramatic way. Many talk radio pundits refer to liberalism as a mental disease. Michael Savage, an ultra-radical neoconservative, along with such others as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Ann Coulter, has been a contributor to the ongoing demonization of liberalism. He is the author of a number one New York Times best-selling book Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder. Savage also says, “Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation.” Kurt Schlichter’s in his e-book, I Am a Conservative, expounds on two essential truths: that encroaching liberalism is indeed a disease and conservativism it’s only cure.
The 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called America’s colleges and universities “indoctrination mills” for godless liberalism. After the Boston Marathon bombing, Rush Limbaugh accused American educational institutions and “liberal elite intellectual thought,” of radicalizing young people in the United States– including the two bombing suspects.
The clinical and forensic psychiatrist, Lyle Rossiter, author of The Liberal Mind: The psychological Causes of Political Madness, has diagnosed an alarming percentage of the population as suffering from the grotesque form of mental derangement known by some as moonbattery. He says liberalism is a willful failure to mature beyond adolescence that can have catastrophic consequences for society. “Based on strikingly irrational beliefs and emotions, modern liberals relentlessly undermine the most important principles on which our freedoms were founded.” With luck, however, the official diagnosis of this disease by a mental health professional will facilitate the search for a cure.
When North Carolina politicians decided to build a state zoo, former Senator Jessie Helms questioned the expenditure, asking, “Couldn’t we just build a fence around Chapel Hill?” He referred to UNC as “the University of Negroes and Communists.”
Ann Coulter, like Santorum, brings religion into the mix with her statement, “To the extent one is practicing liberalism, one is not practicing the religion of our Father.”
S. E. Cupp, author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity, believes liberalism is a revolution with a singular purpose: to overthrow God and silence Christian America for good.
Our political polarization is reflected elsewhere. Remember when one brand never put down a competing brand name in its commercial? Now it is common practice to name another brand; brand X is far superior to brand Z, we are shamelessly informed. This aggressive competition in advertizing and politics creates division and an atmosphere of them against us and my way is the only way. The end result is that we lose touch with our shared common humanity–a necessary ingredient toward solving our commonly shared problems.
There is much that is unsavory in our society. Many people take things to extreme, exercised poor judgment, and have a lack of concern for what is in the best interest of the community of their fellow human beings. There is a Hopi Indian word that expresses this disorder. The word Koyaanisqatsi means Life Out of Balance. It matters not so much what your political or religious views are; what does matter is that you not demonize people because they don’t share your views.
We’ve been in this predicament before. Many times before. The end result is a mounting atmosphere of mistrust that spills over into a calamitous upheaval if not brought into balance. It is during these times that otherwise rational human beings justify the most brutal acts of inhumanity to man. The sermon of the Anglican Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, delivered in 1915, was not altogether unique in the sermons then used to justify the carnage of the First World War. Its uncompromising coldness of heart is worth repeating:
…to save the freedom of the world, everyone who loves freedom
and honour, every one who puts principle before ease and life
before mere living, is banded in a great crusade—we cannot
deny it—to kill Germans, to kill them not for the sake of killing,
but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill
the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown
kindness to our wounded….”
The political discord happening in America today is reminiscent of what was happening 150 years ago before the outbreak of the Civil War. It also has an eerie resemblance to what was happening in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. When far right pundits refer to liberals as vermin, we should remember that this is the term Adolf Hitler used to describe Jews. It is a dangerous use of free speech. Our combative language has become the virus that eats at our national strength. We are all responsible for this.