Sorry Conservatives, “Liberal” is What America is All About


One year ago, the conservative right criticized the Super Bowl festivities for celebrating our inclusive society and denigrating the word liberal, a term that defines our democracy. Reflecting on this attack on who we are as a people I wrote the attached article that was published in the “what do you think?” column of What’s Up Magazine. The issue is of course still relevant. With another super bowl on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how the advertisers and halftime celebration react to last years criticism of our inclusive society. It is worth considering what international interests are served by denigrating democratic liberal standards. 

The classic definition of liberal is: a worldview founded on the idea of liberty and equality, characterized by freedom of speech, press, religion, free markets, equal rights, democratic society (rule of the common man as opposed to an elite or monarchy), rule of law – sounds like the values that built the United States into a world leader. So why is “liberal” now a term loaded with negativity?

Its opposite might be considered the conservative, the right – culture cautious about change, and adhering to traditional attitudes. Unadventurous and reactionary, 40% of Americans call themselves conservatives. The Atlantic Magazine, in an article titled “What Americans Mean when they say they are Conservative” identified 21 identifying statements. One of these statements said that conservatives “desire to preserve the political philosophy and rules of government articulated in the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.”

This is interesting because these documents embody the philosophy of John Locke, who is noted as the father of liberalism. Locke, an English philosopher, was born in 1632 and is considered the most influential thinker of the Enlightenment period. Christian thinking adherence to the verbal inspiration of the Bible, and a life inspired by Jesus and the Golden Rule, underlay much of the thinking in his essays and treatises that are the foundation of Western philosophy. He believed in human nature characterized by reason and tolerance, and the consent of the governed to protect life, liberty, and property, broadly defined as human interests. This is the basis of Thomas Jefferson’s famous writing regarding “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton called John Locke “one of the greatest men that ever lived.”  The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution ( the oldest surviving and still active government codified constitution), and the Bill of Rights embody the principals of liberalism defined by John Locke, disciple of Christianity, profound thinker of the Enlightenment, and Father of Liberalism.

The next time the term liberal is defiled, that means that so is our American way of life as defined in the Declaration of Independence and secured in our Constitution. Left or right? You can not have it both ways.

Ellen Moyer is a life-long Democrat and was the first woman to serve as Mayor of Annapolis, Maryland, having been elected in 2001. As mayor, she established the Annapolis Conservancy Board and the city’s Greenscape program.

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This OpEd has been modified from an earlier version of the article that appeared in What’s Up Magazine.

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