Liberalism and American Identity

Liberalism and American Identity

Patrick M. Garry

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 0873384512

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Since 1968, liberalism as a viable political ideology has been under attack, with the most aggressive assault occurring in the 1988 presidential campaign. While conservatives denounced the "L-word" and proclaimed its death as a political ideology, liberals and Democrats failed to defend America's proud liberal tradition. Liberals have yet to take the ideological offensive. Indeed, without a clear ideological identity, it is not surprising that the Democratic party appears uncertain as to its future political message. In Liberalism and American Identity, Patrick Garry presents a coherent and well-argued thesis of the meaning and importance of liberalism in American politics. His is the first work that attempts to rejuvenate political liberalism since the devastating attack on it during the 1980s. Presenting a workable definition of liberalism, which was lacking throughout the 1980s, Garry demonstrates the vital role it has played, and can continue to play, in American history. His examination of the liberal ideology and tradition in American politics reveals not only the nation's liberal identity, but also the conservative tendency to label liberalism "un-American" as a means to circumvent discussion of social problems. Garry defines liberalism, through historical examples and the beliefs and leadership of prominent Americans, namely Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy. He then applies these principles of liberalism to a discussion of current politics and the problems of crime, poverty, and national defense. Although arguing that the conservative attack during the 1980s greatly misrepresented the American liberal tradition, Garry also acknowledges that changes withinaccepted liberal doctrines during the 1960s and 1970s led to a deviation of contemporary liberalism from its roots. This betrayal of liberalism and its degeneration into special interest politics, he asserts, caused an identity crisis among liberals and alienated large segments of the

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“unnecessary and even dangerous.”3 Thus, to conservatives the corporate headquarters more closely symbolize America than do our courthouses and other public buildings. Given the conservative attitude toward government—the only good government is an inactive government—it is not surprising that government directed by conservatives is not only incompetent but often plagued with corruption. Persons who do not believe in government are less likely to treat it with respect and are less likely to

obligations as citizens, we have a moral or “American” stake in the well-being of all citizens. The existence of extreme poverty detracts from the value of communities and the pride we all place in them. For centuries, American pride has rested on the promise of opportunity, which offered a beacon of hope to its citizens and to the rest of the world. Indeed, in the not-too-distant past, being born poor usually meant dying poor almost everywhere in the world but the United States. The thought that

pandered to the desire of a wealthy minority to return to the past. Jimmy Carter applied this important lesson and carried forward a foreign policy modeled after Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Carter committed American support not to authoritarian regimes doomed to popular uprisings, but to countries following the principles of democracy and respecting human rights. The United States, Carter believed, had to get on the right side of international change by promoting human rights and supporting

existed. Writing in 1950, Arthur Schlesinger warned of those who would “use liberalism as an outlet for private grievances and frustrations.”5 Schlesinger termed these persons “wailers,” in contrast to the New Deal liberals he characterized as pragmatists and “doers.” For the doer, democracy carries the burden of civic responsibility; for the wailer, politics is a process by which the individual relieves herself of responsibility for government’s behavior. Unfortunately, interest-group politics

entitlements also coincides with the liberalism of FDR.5 Neoliberalism expressly affirms Roosevelt’s philosophy that the public interest is greater than the sum of group claims. The neoliberal advocacy of the entrepreneur and of the growth potential of the market also fits in with traditional liberalism. A socialist or command economy has never been a vision of American liberalism. To the contrary, liberals were the initial sponsors and advocates of a free enterprise, freely competitive economy.

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