We must remind American workers, the middle class, women, people of color minorities and the poor that, historically, liberals and progressives have been on their side. Note I did not say Democrats but liberals and progressives. From Radical Reconstruction to the era of “fighting Bob Lafollette,” the “trust busting” progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt to Congress Members and Senators who supported civil rights legislation (over the strident objection of Dixiecrats), there have been Republican moderates, liberals and progressives who have also stood on the side of the “many against the few.” Therefore, the liberal-progressive counter-offensive is not against Republicans per se but the conservative extremism which has consumed the present day Republican Party. This is an important distinction because in the current battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate, it is essential that liberals and progressives expose the reactionary record of conservatives as it relates to protecting and expanding the social and economic rights of workers, women, the middle class, people of color minorities and the poor.
We cannot allow the American electorate to have historical amnesia as it relates to the reactionary character of the adherents of rightwing ideology. One of the great mysteries of the messaging of liberals/progressives in the face of the contemporary onslaught from the right has been the utter failure to stand on what should be viewed as a proud record of accomplishments – fighting on the side of the majority. If conservatism is in vogue, then our mission must be to educate the electorate so that there is clarity about on whose side conservatives have stood historically and where they stand today. This is particularly important because we have a whole generation which has grown up with little or no knowledge of the historical contributions of liberals/progressives; a whole generation that has grown up during the pinnacle of the ascendancy of conservatism as reflected by conservative Presidents in the White House and conservative control of one or both branches of Congress for much of the past 30 years. For this generation conservative is fashionable, liberal is passé.
At virtually every turn in the history of this country, it was the liberal-progressive forces who advanced policies and regulations designed to enhance the quality of life for the majority of the American people, those on the bottom rungs of the social-economic ladder. Responding to mass actions in the streets and an imminent danger to capitalism as a core value of this nation, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal that rescued the legions of unemployed, millions of impoverished and untold multitudes of hungry and homeless people from the callous neglect and reckless, ruinous, pro-wealthy policies of his Republican predecessor. The New Deal became the cornerstone for an emerging “culture of rights” in American society, championed by liberals/progressives. Roosevelt stood on the side of the” many against the few.”
It was liberals/progressives who fought for the right of workers to organize and maintain unions, fought for Workers Compensation, Social Security, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Medicare, Medicaid, consumer and environmental protection legislation and regulations, civil rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. Lest we forget, and apparently we have allowed our fellow Americans to do so, it was liberals/progressives who launched the “War on Poverty” and other social programs to mitigate, if not eliminate, poverty in America. It was liberals/progressives who continued the concept of “public sector jobs” to put people back to work in times of economic distress, responding to high levels of unemployment among youth/young people by enacting the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) and the Joint Partnership and Training Act. It was Senator Hubert Humphrey who teamed-up with Congressman Augustus Hawkins to propose the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act which established 3% employment as the benchmark for a full employment economy and mandated that the President annually report to the nation on progress toward achieving this goal. Finally, lest we forget as the nation ritualistically honors him each year, at the end of his life, Martin Luther King was mobilizing/organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to call upon this nation via its elected representatives in Congress to enact an Economic Bill of Rights to guarantee a minimum standard of living/quality of life for all Americans in the areas of income, housings, health and education.
Time and time again, the record will show that in the main, conservatives have stood in stanch opposition to these people-oriented measures. Americans should never have been allowed to forget that liberals/progressives have consistently stood on their side over the opposition of conservatives! Nor should they have been allowed to forget how liberals/progressives utilized government, the public sphere as the great equalizer in our society. But, this is precisely what has happened. Under fierce fire from conservatives, with rare exception, liberals/progressives have retreated to the closet, running from rather than embracing a stellar record of accomplishments. In the void, conservatism has become en vogue. This must change. Liberals/progressives must boldly reclaim the mantle as the proponents/advocates for the “many against the few.” This clarity will enable the majority to more aptly choose on whose side they stand. By reclaiming its proud legacy of promoting and defending the interests and aspirations of workers, the middle class, people of color minorities and the poor, liberals/progressives will be well positioned to successfully challenge conservatives for primacy in the struggle for the future of this nation.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.