â€œI suppose in all honesty, Iâ€™m a liberal,â€ said the late Walter Cronkite in a snippet of a 1996 interview that Chris Matthews played last night on his program Hardball. â€œBut I would like to define liberal,â€ Cronkite continued. â€œI think that the great problem with this label is it has been seriously misused for political purposes.â€
It was, to be sure, a meritorious assertion, but exactly how Cronkite meant it was not at all clear. To shed light on the matter, Matthews turned to his guest, longtimeÂ newsman and political partisanÂ Dan Rather, who explained:
â€œKeep in mind that he [Cronkite] wanted to redefine liberal as itâ€™s used in todayâ€™s political context. He meant that he was liberal in the sense that he was in favor of preserving those things worth preserving but changing those things that needed changing.â€
How did Rather know this, you ask? Well,Â he didnâ€™t know. In fact, heÂ made it all up, every word of it. Cronkiteâ€™s definition of liberal bore no resemblance whatsoever to Ratherâ€™s purported summation of it. We know this because inÂ 2004, Cronkite explained for himself, quite clearly, what he meant by â€œliberalâ€ — when heÂ criticizedÂ Democratic presidential candidateÂ John KerryÂ for not confidently embracing the â€œliberalâ€ label, whichÂ the newsmanÂ equated with being â€œprogressive,â€ â€œbroad-minded,â€ â€œunprejudiced,â€ and â€œbeneficent.â€
In other words, Cronkite saw â€œliberalâ€ as a broad term meaning essentially everything good, kind, sweet, and fuzzy. AndÂ in that regard,Â he didnâ€™t know what he was talking about any more than Rather did.
When the term â€œliberalismâ€ (from the Latin wordÂ liberalis, meaning â€œpertaining to a free manâ€) first emerged in the early 1800s, it was guided by a four-pronged value system that embraced individual rights, the rule of law, limited government, and free markets based on private property. These would remain the defining characteristics of liberalism throughout the liberal epoch (generally identified as the period of 1815-1914).
This leads to a point where Cronkite was right on target. The term â€œliberalâ€ has indeed been corrupted and misused for political purposes â€“ by the socialist Left. Portraying themselves as the agents of enlightened commitment to â€œliberalâ€ or â€œprogressiveâ€ causes, leftists in fact stand for the antithesis of each of the foregoing liberal ideals. Contrary to their self-identification as â€œliberalsâ€ and â€œprogressives,â€Â leftists are neither â€œliberalâ€ nor â€œprogressive,â€ but rather reactionaries seekingÂ to resurrect the traditions that characterized the epoch which preceded the rise of classical liberalism.
Consider these easily verifiable truths. The modern Left is the stalwart champion of:
1)Â groupÂ rights rather than individual rights, as exemplified by its support forÂ collective preferencesâ€”affirmative actionâ€”based on such categories as race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin;
2)Â the circumventionÂ of law rather than the rule of law, as exemplified by its support for the edicts of activist judges who legislate from the bench, and by its opposition to the enforcement of laws pertaining to immigration and nondiscrimination;
3)Â theÂ expansion of government rather than its diminution (by means of ever-escalating taxes to fund a bloated welfare state, and to authorize government control over virtually every aspect of human lifeâ€”education, health care, day care, energy, etc.); and
4)Â theÂ redistributionÂ of wealth (throughÂ steeply progressiveÂ taxes and mushrooming welfare programs), rather than its creation through free-market capitalism.
By calling themselves â€œliberalsâ€ or â€œprogressives,â€ leftists have entirely redefined the terms of debate. And as noted earlier, the media and the public have largely gone along with this fraudulent self-identification, as evidenced by the fact that few people nowadays draw any distinction between liberalism in its original and authentic sense, and leftismâ€”or socialism posing as â€œliberalism.â€ Thus we witness the travesty of the â€œliberalâ€ label beingÂ routinely attached to far leftists like the anti-capitalist filmmaker/multi-millionaireÂ Michael Moore, the anti-capitalist multi-billionaire George Soros, the MarxistÂ historian Howard Zinn, and the America-hating linguistics professor Noam Chomsky.Â Yet the ideals of each of these individuals are utterly antithetical to the tenets of classical liberalism as outlined above.
So, too,Â wereÂ the ideals ofÂ Walter Cronkite, the late leftist who advocated a â€œmarvelous middle ground between capitalism and communism,â€ and who called for a â€œguarantee that each of our citizens will have equal resources to share in the decisions of the democracy, and a fair share of the economic pie.â€