May 1, 2004

An Open Letter to John Kerry

By In Essays

During the Democratic primary I heard a reporter ask you the classic lose-lose question for any Democrat up for election: Are you a liberal? Naturally, it’s a loaded question. If you respond by saying, No I’m not, then you offend the left wing of your party. If you say, Yes, I am, you open yourself up to all the negative stereotypes that the Republican attack machine has at its disposal. So what you did instead was equivocate, saying, I really don’t think that labels matter very much. Then you proceeded to explain how you are liberal on some issues but conservative on others-as if seeking neutral ground would help you score points with the general public.

Unfortunately, this strategy won’t work; Michael Dukakis found that out the hard way when George Bush Sr. trounced him in their presidential match up in 1988. And yet, given the opportunity to answer this question once and for all (and knock it out of the park, as the cliche-challenged political pundits are so fond of saying), you, who should know better, who served as lieutenant governor when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, made the same mistake as your former boss by giving the same type of irresolute answer. And remember Machiavelli’s warning about this: “Irresolute princes, for the sake of avoiding immediate danger, adopt most frequently the course of neutrality, and are generally ruined in consequence.”

No wonder liberals like you (and Dukakis and Al Gore) get derided and punched around by big mouth conservatives on AM radio and Fox News. And no wonder you are accused of flip-flopping and lose elections. Didn’t you learn anything from Howard Dean, the candidate who “gave the Democratic party back its spine”? Now I know that since you are the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, your strategy is to cool the left-wing rhetoric and “move to the center” of the political spectrum so you can capture more moderate and independent voters. But please, the next time you are asked in a public forum whether you are a liberal, you’d better have a good answer ready.

I’m no $200 thousand a year political consultant (although I’m available for the job at a moment’s notice), but it seems to me that the next time one of those mainstream news weasels or partisan political commentators asks you about being a liberal, you should look him (or her)– let’s be fair to the gals!–in the eye and say something like this: First of all, thanks to about 25 years worth of repeated misrepresentation and distortion of the word liberal by media whores like you, Americans are a little confused about the actual meaning of the term. But look it up in the dictionary, Jack (or Jane), and you’ll find that liberal means progressive, generous, and open to change and reform. And if you bother to read history (and not the propagandized crap you get from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation), you would know that some of our greatest statesman and patriots have been dictionary-definition liberals, including Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Moreover, up until Ronald Reagan became president, many Americans were quite proud to be liberal, and anyone who favored a pre-New Deal, conservative philosophy of limited government, states rights, and tax cuts for the rich was considered a bit loony- like Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley Jr. But once Reagan got in, all that changed. You and your corporate masters were finally able to put a happy face on conservatism. But that wasn’t good enough for you. No, you felt compelled to repeatedly associate liberalism with socialism, anti-Americanism, and lawlessness, and whenever the word liberal was used on television or radio, you made sure it was accompanied by words like “big spending” or “unpatriotic” or “radical.” And by the time poor old Michael Dukakis ran for president, you had poisoned the well so thoroughly that not only did many Americans have a negative image of the term, but even liberals themselves were reluctant to use it.

But now, thanks to George Bush and his disastrous foreign and domestic policies, liberals are beginning to stand up for themselves again. So in answer to your question– Yes, I am a liberal. But not in the misleading, negative way you and your gang of right-wing propagandists define the word, but in the way the dictionary defines it, since I am in favor of progress and reform and I consider myself a generous and compassionate individual who cares about democracy for all Americans and not just the privileged few. That also makes me a populist, another word that scares the hell out of you and the Big Business interests who pay your salary.

Anyway, that’s the answer I think you should give the next time you are asked about being a liberal. And one other thing– you have to mean it!

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