Stop Calling Leftists 'Liberals'

Bill O’Reilly was figuratively scratching his head last Monday night on his "Talking Points Memo," almost to the point that it was bleeding:

No matter who wins the Democratic presidential nomination, they will toe the liberal line. That’s because the Democratic liberal party has been taken over by the far left. Few moderate Democrats have any currency in the party.

…my question tonight is, what happened to liberalism? The liberal philosophy is based upon fairness for the underdog -- helping those who are down and out. Protecting the defenseless. Yet, unborn babies don’t count. How does that work when the liberal line urges social justice?

…The decline of liberalism began with a real war, Vietnam. The left voiced major objections and they were right. The war was fought in a dishonest way and hundreds of thousands of American working men and women primarily were killed or wounded.

…Today we have the most liberal president in America’s history, Barack Obama, elected twice. But his economic policies have not improved the lives of the poor or African-Americans. Every statistic tells the same story; there are fewer good jobs, salaries are stagnant on Obama’s watch. That’s because the feds cannot run a free marketplace.

Emphasis mine. It goes on and on in that vein.

The answer is right in front of his face, it’s in his very words. In fact, note the incongruity between his first sentence and his second. If the “‘liberal’ party has been taken over by the far left,” why would it toe the “liberal” line?

Bill, you keep using that word “liberalism.” I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Here’s the answer, Bill. Nothing happened to liberalism. Liberalism is alive and well, in places like the libertarian movement, where it’s always been. What happened is not that liberalism changed, but that “progressive” (another false label) leftists stole the label from the true liberals decades ago.

And no, there is nothing “liberal” about “social justice,” which is an endlessly malleable phrase that simply means “stuff leftists like this week.” Nor, laudable as it may be, is liberalism “based upon fairness for the underdog.” If there is such a thing in your incoherent world view, that is O’Reillyism. And the reason that we have had the worst economic recovery since the Depression is for the same reason that it was so bad during the Depression; Obama is not a “liberal”at all, let alone the “most liberal,” and his economic policies are (and Franklin Roosevelt’s were) precisely the opposite of that label.

Classically, liberalism stands for economic freedom, freedom of expression, civil rights of individuals, and limited government under the rule of law. In fact, in much of the world outside of the U.S., in Europe and Australia and even Canada, it still means that, and is considered “right wing.” But there is nothing “liberal” about the modern American left, or the Democrats’ leadership or base, and there hasn’t been for decades.

As Orwell warned decades ago, the totalitarian left refashions the language to suit its chameleonic political needs, and misappropriating the word “liberal” is simply part and parcel of that. In fact, Lewis Carroll anticipated Orwell’s warning by several decades, in Through the Looking Glass:

“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that’s all."

And they do consider themselves our masters, both intellectually and morally. When someone merely says something with which they disagree, they call it “violence,” requiring “safe zones.” But when they commit violent protests (as with Occupy Wall Street), they declare it “speech.” When someone objects to treating people differently based on the color of their skin, or says that not just black lives, but all lives matter, they call it “racism.” When someone objects to dismembering babies in (and occasionally out) of the womb like a human chop shop, they call them  a "violent extremist." When someone declines to accept a commission to create art for a ceremony that they find morally problematic, they are oh so tolerantly declared “intolerant” and “hateful.”

And when, as a result of this kind of hateful intolerant behavior, their brand becomes increasingly tarnished, they falsely declare themselves to be to be “liberal,” knowing that traditionally, that has been an admirable and truly progressive world view.

Yes, as Bill notes, the party was taken over by the hard left decades ago, and abandoned even any pretense of liberal values, even while continuing to call themselves fraudulently by that phrase, and slandering true liberals everywhere. And the reason that they get away with it is because people like Bill O’Reilly allow them to, using their purloined word to falsely describe them himself.

Long before Orwell or Carroll, the Chinese philosopher Confucius said that, when words had lost their meaning, it was time for a rectification of names, because “…if names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”

At least since 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress, it’s fair to say that affairs have not been particularly carried on to success, at least for the American people. It is past time to rectify the names, to take back the language from these lexigraphical thieves. And I modestly propose that we start with the word “liberal.”