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Modern American liberalism is a form of social liberalism that arose from progressive ideals such as Thomas Paine's asset-based egalitarianism, Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Modern American liberalism is a combination of social liberalism, social progressivism, support for a welfare state and a mixed economy. Keynesian economics play an influential role in the philosophy. It is often associated with the Democratic Party. Liberals support freedom of speech and freedom of religion as well as government entitlements such as health care and education. These policy stances adhere to the central premise that individual freedom can only exist where it is protected by a strong democratically elected government that has an active role in society and the economy,

John F. Kennedy, a self-described liberal, gives two different definitions of liberalism:

Most modern American liberals support a mixed economy, with free enterprise except in those cases where, in their view, it becomes a threat to the economic well-being of the country. American liberals support the right of all citizens to the necessities of life, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and protection of the environment.

Modern American liberalism grew out of the liberal tradition on which America was founded and, in the words of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, seeks to "promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". Most modern American liberals believe that this requires an active role for the government. However, some modern American liberals, who call themselves classical liberals, libertarians, or conservatives assert that the best way to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty is to minimize government intervention in the economy.

The word "liberalism" has a somewhat different meaning in the United States and in Britain than it does in continental Europe, where it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies.

American versus European use of the term "liberalism"

Today the word "liberalism" is used differently in different countries. (See Liberalism worldwide) One of the greatest contrasts is between the usage in the United States and usage in Continental Europe. According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (writing in 1956), "Liberalism in the American usage has little in common with the word as used in the politics of any European country, save possibly Britainmarker."

According to Girvetz and Minogue writing in Encyclopedia Britannica, "contemporary liberalism has come to represent different things to Americans and Europeans: In the United States it is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe liberals are more commonly conservative in their political and economic outlook." Continental Europeans often apply the term "liberal" mainly to an individual's economic liberties, such as free markets and hence they have many positions in common with American libertarians.

In late 20th century and early 21st century political discourse in the United States, "liberalism" has come to mean support for freedom of speech, separation of church and state, reproductive rights for women, civil liberties, equal rights for gay people, and multilateralism and international institutions. All of these aims are mostly shared by British and other European liberals. American liberals also believe in the relief of poverty by government intervention, universal healthcare, a progressive income tax, a positive role for organized labor, and the protection of the environment. In Europe these views are shared by Social Democrats, but not necessarily by liberals, especially in France and continental Europe, where classical economic liberal views are prominent among liberal parties. Britain's liberals would agree with most of these positions, but affirmative action would be described as an illiberal policy.

However, there are also major distinctions between modern American liberalism and the European notion of social democracy, specifically, the lack of socialist influences and programs. Firstly, while socialists generally follow the principle of maximin (and believe the state is the proper organization to achieve it), American liberals are more likely to limit government actions to the point where they guarantee a decent quality of life, and decent public services to working families and poor workers. Social democratic programs are aimed at providing national welfare programs for the entire country, while American liberal social programs are designed to assist only lower-class individuals. Secondly, American liberals are less likely to countenance nationalization of private sector industries as a solution to any problem; this is in contrast to socialists, who often have sought or implemented nationalization of industries in their countries. Third, American liberalism attempts to achieve a fairer distribution of power in society, as opposed to just a more fair distribution of wealth.

Though the British and Canadian liberal parties have an understanding of liberalism similar to those of the United States, the political discourse in Australia is different to both America's and Europe's. The Australian political party known as The Liberal Party holds an ideology which would be called conservative in most other countries. The United Kingdommarker's Liberal Democrats have an understanding of liberalism somewhat similar to that of modern American liberalism, although without the communitarian aspect. The Liberal Party of Canada also shares similar views to that of modern American liberalism, but in a distinctive Canadianmarker context.

Demographics of American liberals

While it is difficult to gather demographic information on ideological groups, some studies have been conducted. Liberalism remains most popular among those in academia and liberals commonly tend to be highly educated and relatively affluent. According to recent surveys, between 19% and 26% of the American electorate identify as liberal, versus moderate or conservative. A 2004 study by the Pew Research Center identified 19% of Americans as liberal. According to the study, liberals were the most educated ideological demographic and were tied with the conservative sub-group, the "Enterprisers," for the most affluent group. Of those who identified as liberal, 49% were college graduates and 41% had household incomes exceeding $75,000, compared to 27% and 28% as the national average, respectively.

Liberalism also remains the dominant political ideology in academia, with 72% of full-time faculty identifying as liberal in a 2004 study. The social sciences and humanities were most liberal, whereas business and engineering departments were the least liberal, though even in the business departments, liberals outnumbered conservatives 49% to 39%. Generally, the more educated a person is the more likely he or she is to hold liberal beliefs.

In the 2000, 2004 and 2006 elections, the vast majority of liberals voted in favor of the Democrats, though liberals may also show support for the Greens.

History of modern liberalism in the United States

The philosophy behind modern liberalism in the US can be traced to Thomas Paine who was an early advocate of progressive taxation and proposed universal, free public education, a guaranteed minimum income, and other ideas then considered radical.

Scholar of liberalism Arthur Schlesinger Jr., writing in 1956, said that liberalism in the United States includes both a "laissez-faire" form and a "government intervention" form. He holds that liberalism in the United States is aimed toward achieving "equality of opportunity for all" but it is the means of achieving this that changes depending on the circumstances. He says that the "process of redefining liberalism in terms of the social needs of the 20th century was conducted by Theodore Roosevelt and his New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson and his New Freedom, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Out of these three reform periods there emerged the conception of a social welfare state, in which the national government had the express obligation to maintain high levels of employment in the economy, to supervise standards of life and labor, to regulate the methods of business competition, and to establish comprehensive patterns of social security."

Some make the distinction between "American classical liberalism" and the "new liberalism."

Early modern liberalism

Herbert Croly, philosopher and political theorist, was the first to effectively combine classical liberal theory with progressive philosophy to form what would come to be known as modern liberalism in the United States. Croly presented the case for a planned economy, increased spending on education, and the creation of a society based on the "brotherhood of mankind," ideas that are now an integral part of American government. Croly founded the periodical, The New Republic, still in circulation, which continues to present liberal ideas.His ideas influenced the political views of both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. In 1909, Croly published The Promise of American Life, in which he proposed raising the general standard of living by means of economic planning and in which he opposed aggressive unionization. In The Techniques of Democracy (1915) he argued against both dogmatic individualism and dogmatic socialism.

The New Deal

President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to office in 1933 amid the economic calamity of the Great Depression, offering the nation a New Deal intended to alleviate economic want and joblessness, provide greater opportunities, and restore prosperity. His presidency from 1933 to 1945, the longest in U.S. history, was marked by an increased role for the Federal government in addressing the nation's economic and social problems. Work relief programs provided jobs, ambitious projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority were created to promote economic development, and a social security system was established. The Great Depression dragged on through the early and middle 1930s, showing some signs of relief in the late decade, though full recovery didn't come until the total mobilization of U.S. economic, social, and military resources for the Allied cause in World War II. The New Deal programs to relieve the Depression are generally regarded as a mixed success in ending the nation's economic problems on a macroeconomic level. Still, although fundamental economic indicators may have remained depressed, the programs of the New Deal were extremely popular, as they improved the life of the common citizen, by providing jobs for the unemployed, legal protection for labor unionists, modern utilities for rural America, living wages for the working poor, and price stability for the family farmer, though economic progress for minorities was hindered by discrimination, an issue often avoided by Roosevelt's administration.

The New Deal consisted of three types of programs designed to produce "Relief, Recovery and Reform:

Relief was the immediate effort to help the one-third of the population that was hardest hit by the depression. Roosevelt expanded Hoover's FERA work relief program, and added the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration (PWA), and starting in 1935 the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1935 the Social Security Act (SSA) and unemployment insurance programs were added. Separate programs were set up for relief in rural America, such as the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration.

Recovery was the goal of restoring the economy to pre-Depression levels. It involved "pump priming" (greater spending of government funds in an effort to stimulate the economy, including deficit spending), dropping the gold standard, efforts to increase farm prices that were too low to support common farmers, and efforts to increase foreign trade through the reduction of tariffs. Efforts contemporary with the New Deal to help corporate America were channeled through a Hoover program of loans and loan guarantees, overseen by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).

Reform was based on the assumption that the depression was caused by the inherent instability of the market and that government intervention was necessary to rationalize and stabilize the economy, and to balance the interests of farmers, business and labor. Reform measures included the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), regulation of Wall Street by the Securities Exchange Act (SEA), the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) for farm programs, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance for bank deposits enacted through the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (also known as the Wagner Act) dealing with labor-management relations. Despite urgings by some New Dealers, there was no major anti-trust program. Roosevelt opposed socialism (in the sense of state ownership of the means of production), and only one major program, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), involved government ownership of the means of production, specifically the construction of power plants and electrical infrastructure—which otherwise would probably not have been built.

In international affairs, Roosevelt's presidency was dominated by the outbreak of World War II and American entry into the war in 1941. Anticipating the post-war period, Roosevelt strongly supported proposals to create a United Nations organization as a means of encouraging mutual cooperation to solve problems on the international stage. His commitment to internationalist ideals was in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, architect of the failed League of Nations.

Embedded liberalism

The term embedded liberalism, credited to John Ruggie, refers not to a political philosophy but rather to the economic system which dominated worldwide from the end of World War II to the 1970s. This is the economic system liberals were responding to at the inception of modern liberalism.

Liberalism during the Cold War

U.S. liberalism of the Cold War era was the immediate heir to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and the slightly more distant heir to the Progressives of the early 20th century.

The essential tenets of Cold War liberalism can be found in Roosevelt's Four Freedoms (1941): of these, freedom of speech and of religion were classic liberal freedoms, as was "freedom from fear" (freedom from tyrannical government), but "freedom from want" was another matter. Roosevelt proposed a notion of freedom that went beyond government non-interference in private lives. "Freedom from want" could justify positive government action to meet economic needs, a concept more associated with the concepts of Lincoln's Republican party, Clay's Whig Party, and Hamilton's economic principles of government intervention and subsidy than the more radical socialism and social democracy of European thinkers or with prior versions of classical liberalism as represented by Jefferson's Democratic-Republican and Jackson's Democratic party.

Defining itself against both Communism and conservatism, Cold War liberalism resembled earlier "liberalisms" in its views on many social issues and personal liberty, but its economic views were not those of free-market Jeffersonian liberalism; instead, they constituted ideas of American progressive thought rooted in Clay, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt which resembled a mild form of European styled social democracy.

Most prominent and constant among the positions of Cold War liberalism were:
  • Support for a domestic economy built on a balance of power between labor (in the form of organized unions) and management (with a tendency to be more interested in large corporations than in small business).
  • A foreign policy focused on containing the Soviet Unionmarker and its allies.
  • The continuation and expansion of New Deal social welfare programs (in the broad sense of welfare, including programs such as Social Security).
  • An embrace of Keynesian economics. By way of compromise with political groupings to their right, this often became, in practice, military Keynesianism.

In some ways this resembled what in other countries was referred to as social democracy. However, unlike European social democrats, U.S. liberals never widely endorsed nationalization of industry but regulation for public benefit.

In the 1950s and 1960s, both major U.S. political parties included liberal and conservative factions. The Democratic Party had two wings: on the one hand, Northern and Western liberals, on the other generally conservative Southern whites. Difficult to classify were the northern urban Democratic "political machines". The urban machines had supported New Deal economic policies, but would slowly come apart over racial issues. Some historians have divided the Republican Party into liberal Wall Streetmarker and conservative Main Street factions; others have noted that the GOP's conservatives came from landlocked states (Robert Taft of Ohiomarker and Barry Goldwater of Arizonamarker) and the liberals tended to come from Californiamarker (Earl Warren and Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey), New Yorkmarker (see Nelson Rockefeller), and other coastal states.

In the late 1940s, liberals generally did not see Harry S. Truman as one of their own, viewing him as a Democratic Party hack. However, liberal politicians and liberal organizations such as the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) sided with Truman in opposing Communism both at home and abroad, sometimes at the expense of civil liberties. For example, ADA co-founder and archetypal Cold War liberal Hubert Humphrey unsuccessfully sponsored (in 1950) a Senate bill to establish detention centers where those declared subversive by the President could be held without trial.

Nonetheless, liberals opposed McCarthyism and were central to McCarthy's downfall.

The liberal consensus

By 1950, the liberal ideology was so intellectually dominant that the literary critic Lionel Trilling could write that "liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition... there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in circulation...." [Lapham 2004]

For almost two decades, Cold War liberalism remained the dominant paradigm in U.S. politics, peaking with the landslide victory of Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Lyndon Johnson had been a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s and by the 1950s had decided that the Democratic Party had to break from its segregationist past and endorse racial liberalism as well as economic liberalism. In the face of the disastrous defeat of Goldwater, the Republicans accepted more than a few of Johnson's ideas as their own, so to a very real extent, the policies of President Johnson became the policies of the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.

Liberals and civil rights

Cold War liberalism emerged at a time when most African Americans, especially in the South, were politically and economically disenfranchised. Beginning with To Secure These Rights, an official report issued by the Truman White House in 1947, self-proclaimed liberals increasingly embraced the civil rights movement. In 1948, President Truman desegregated the armed forces and the Democrats inserted a strong civil rights "plank" (provision) in the Democratic party platform. Legislatively, the civil rights movement would culminate in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

During the 1960s, relations between white liberals and the civil rights movement became increasingly strained; civil rights leaders accused liberal politicians of temporizing and procrastinating. Although President Kennedy sent federal troops to compel the University of Mississippimarker to admit African American James Meredith in 1962, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. toned down the March on Washington (1963) at Kennedy's behest, the failure to seat the delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention indicated a growing rift. President Johnson could not understand why the rather impressive civil rights laws passed under his leadership had failed to immunize Northern and Western cities from rioting. At the same time, the civil rights movement itself was becoming fractured. By 1966, a Black Power movement had emerged; Black Power advocates accused white liberals of trying to control the civil rights agenda. Proponents of Black Power wanted African-Americans to follow an "ethnic model" for obtaining power , not unlike that of Democratic political machines in large cities. This put them on a collision course with urban machine politicians. And, on its most extreme edges, the Black Power movement contained racial separatists who wanted to give up on integration altogether — a program that could not be endorsed by American liberals of any race. The mere existence of such individuals (who always got more media attention than their actual numbers might have warranted) contributed to "white backlash" against liberals and civil rights activists.

Paleoliberalism and neoconservatives

According to Michael Lind, in the late 1960s and early 1970s many "anti-Sovietmarker liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry Jackson... preferred to call themselves 'paleoliberals'".

According to Lind, this group of people influenced or later became neoconservatives.

Liberals and Vietnam

While the civil rights movement isolated liberals from their erstwhile allies, the Vietnam War threw a wedge into the liberal ranks, dividing pro-war "hawks" such as Senator Henry M. Jackson from "doves" such as 1972 Presidential candidate Senator George McGovern. As the war became the leading political issue of the day, agreement on domestic matters was not enough to hold the liberal consensus together.

In the 1960 presidential campaign, the liberal Kennedy was more hawkish on Southeast Asia than the more conservative Nixon. Although it can be argued that the war expanded only under the less liberal Johnson, there was considerable continuity of their cabinets.

As opposition to the war grew, a large portion of that opposition came from within liberal ranks. In 1968, the Dump Johnson movement forced Democratic President Johnson out of the race for his own party's nomination for the presidency. Assassination removed Robert Kennedy from contention and Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention with the presidential nomination of a deeply divided party. The party's right wing had seceded to run Governor of Alabama George Wallace, and some on the left chose to sit out the election rather than vote for a man so closely associated with the Johnson administration (and with Chicagomarker mayor Richard J. Daley). The result was a narrow victory for Republican Richard Nixon, a man who, although a Californiamarker native, was largely regarded as from the old Northeast Republican Establishment, and quite liberal in many areas himself. Nixon enacted many liberal policies, including the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, establishing the Drug Enforcement Agency, normalizing relations with Communist Chinamarker, and starting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to reduce ballistic missile availability.

Nixon and the liberal consensus

While the differences between Nixon and the liberals are obvious – the liberal wing of his own party favored politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton, and Nixon overtly placed an emphasis on "law and order" over civil liberties, and Nixon's Enemies List was composed largely of liberals – in some ways the continuity of many of Nixon's policies with those of the Kennedy-Johnson years is more remarkable than the differences. Pointing at this continuity, Noam Chomsky has called Nixon, "in many respects the last liberal president."

Although liberals turned increasingly against the Vietnam War, to the point of running the very dovish George McGovern for President in 1972, the war had, as noted above, been of largely liberal origin. Similarly, while many liberals condemned actions such as the Nixon administrations support for the 1973 Chilean coup, it was not entirely dissimilar to the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 or the marine landing in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The political dominance of the liberal consensus even into the Nixon years can best be seen in policies such as the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency or his (failed) proposal to replace the welfare system with a guaranteed annual income by way of a negative income tax. Affirmative action in its most quota-oriented form was a Nixon administration policy. Even the Nixon "War on Drugs" allocated two-thirds of its funds for treatment, a far higher ratio than was to be the case under any subsequent President, Republican or Democrat. Additionally, Nixon's normalization of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of Chinamarker and his policy of détente with the Soviet Union were probably more popular with liberals than with his conservative base.

An opposing view, offered by Cass R. Sunstein, in The Second Bill of Rights (Basic Books, 2004, ISBN 0-465-08332-3) argues that Nixon, through his Supreme Courtmarker appointments, effectively ended a decades-long expansion under U.S. law of economic rights along the lines of those put forward in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.

End of the liberal consensus

During the Nixon years (and through the 1970s), the liberal consensus began to come apart with the election of Ronald Reagan marking the election of the first non-Keynsian administration and the first application of supply-side economics. The alliance with white Southern Democrats had been lost in the Civil Rights era. While the steady enfranchisement of African Americans expanded the electorate to include many new voters sympathetic to liberal views, it was not quite enough to make up for the loss of some Southern Democrats. A tide of conservatism rose in response to perceived failures of liberal policies. Organized labor, long a bulwark of the liberal consensus, was past the peak of its power in the U.S. and many unions had remained in favor of the Vietnam War even as liberal politicians increasingly turned against it.

Possibility of a new consensus

Political scientists, pundits and journalists point to the increasing number of people who identify as liberal, the progressive tendencies of the young and the rapid increase in non-white demographics as signs that the possibility for a new liberal consensus exists. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that liberals are now the largest and fastest growing ideological group, while recent polls have found that young Americans are considerably more liberal than the general population.

statement % agree among young Americans % agree among all Americans
Same sex marriage should be legal. 56% 37%
Environmental protection is as important as job creation. 68% 49%
Immigrants strengthen the country with their hard work and talents. 52% 38%
America needs tax financed, government-administrated universal health care. 62% 47%
The people's will should have more influence on U.S. laws than the Bible. 74% 58%
Moreover, Democrats have regained political supremacy by becoming the majority in both houses of Congress and a majority of state legislatures and governorships in 2006, and electing Barack Obama as president in 2008. Recent poll results show the population favoring Democrats over Republicans by the largest margin since the late 1960s.

Philosophy of modern liberalism

American liberals describe themselves as open to change and receptive to new ideas. For example, liberals often accept scientific ideas that some conservatives reject, such as evolution and global warming.

In general liberalism is anti-socialist, when socialism means state ownership of the basic means of production and distribution, because American liberals doubt that bases for political opposition and freedom can survive when all power is vested in the state. In line with the general pragmatic, empirical basis of liberalism, American liberal philosophy embraces the idea that if substantial abundance and equality of opportunity can be achieved through a system of mixed enterprise, then there is no need for a rigid and oppressive bureaucracy. Some liberal public intellectuals have, since the 1950s, moved further toward the general position that markets, when appropriately regulated, can provide better solutions than top-down planning and central control. Paul Krugman argued that, in hitherto-state-dominated functions such as nation-scale energy distribution and telecommunications, marketizations can improve efficiency dramatically.. He also defended a monetary policy -- inflation targeting -- as a solution to Japan's economic slump by saying that it "most nearly approaches the usual goal of modern stabilization policy, which is to provide adequate demand in a clean, unobtrusive way that does not distort the allocation of resources." (These distortions are of a kind that war-time and post-war Keynesian economists had accepted as an inevitable byproduct of fiscal policies that selectively reduced certain consumer taxes and directed nt spending toward government-managed stimulus projects—even where these economists theorized at a contentious distance from some of Keynes's own, more hands-off, positions, which tended to emphasize stimulating of business investment.) Thomas Friedman is a liberal journalist who, like Paul Krugman, generally defends free trade as more likely to improve the lot of both rich and poor countries.

Many of these ideas were initially promulgated by liberal thinkers John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr, and John Maynard Keynes and form the basis for the American liberal philosophy. The political godfather of American liberalism, Franklin Delano Roosevelt never publicly embraced Keynes's theories but there were many similarities between the works of the two men. The ideas of American liberal philosophers and American liberal politicians, such as Roosevelt, laid the foundation for American liberalism that remains a viable political philosophy embraced by a significant percentage of Americans.

According to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, liberal philosophy is based on five basic categories of morality. The first, the promotion of fairness, is generally described as an emphasis on empathy as a desirable trait. With this social contract based on the Golden Rule comes the rationale for many liberal positions. The second category is assistance to those who cannot assist themselves. A nurturing spirit is one that is considered good in liberal philosophy. This leads to the third category, the desire to protect those who cannot defend themselves. The fourth category is the importance of fulfilling one's life; allowing a person to experience all that they can. The fifth and final category is the importance of caring for oneself, since only thus can one act to help others.

Some positions associated with modern liberalism

The following are some ideas that many contemporary American liberals and progressives support:

The following are some ideas that have some support among liberals, but on which there is no clear liberal consensus.

On globalization, American liberals stand largely divided. Liberal members of the intelligentsia and the professional class tend to favor globalization. Members of organized labor, on the other hand, tend to be opposed to increased globalization:

Negative use of the term "liberal"

The negative connotation of the term "liberal" in American politics dates at least from the time of self-proclaimed American liberal President John F. Kennedy. In his speech accepting the Presidential nomination by the New York Liberal Party on September 14, 1960, Kennedy contested the claims of his "opponents" that "liberal" meant "someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar."

John Lukacs, in his 2004 essay "The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism," observed a change in the political usage of the term "liberal" from the 1950s onward. Noting that in 1951, Senator Joseph McCarthy used "liberal" positively when condemning "a conspiracy of infamy so bleak that, when it is finally exposed, its principles shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all liberal men," and that conservative leader Senator Robert A. Taft stated he was not a conservative but "an old-fashioned liberal." Lukacs also asserted that the word "liberal" "has become a Bad Word for millions of Americans."

The use of pejorative terms such as "bleeding-heart liberal", "knee-jerk liberal", "tax-and-spend liberal", "cut-and-run liberal", "Massachusetts liberal", "limousine liberal", and "liberal elite", is a common political tactic in modern American politics. As an example, Republican political consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein was known to repeat the word "liberal" in negative television commercials as frequently as possible, e.g.: "That's liberal. That's Jack Reed. That's wrong. Call liberal Jack Reed and tell him his record on welfare is just too liberal for you." Many liberal contemporary politicians have tended to shy away from the "liberal" label, preferring terms such as "progressive" or "moderate."

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter made the case for using "liberal" as a slur in her book How to Talk to a Liberal in which she likened liberalism to treason. The Conservative Book Service sells a talking doll of Ann Coulter that says, among other things, "Liberals hate America". Conservative talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity often use anti-liberal slogans; the latter titled a book Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. The full title of linguist Geoffrey Nunberg's 2006 book on the use of slogans by conservatives to reshape the image of liberalism, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show is an extended list of liberal slurs. The conservative talk show host Michael Savage authored a book called The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture.

Conservatives frequently make accusations of liberal elitism, implying that affluent, educated liberals are not in a position to decide what is best for Middle America. For example, during the 1988 presidential election, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush accused Democrat Michael Dukakis of being a "Harvardmarker boutique liberal"; during the 2004 presidential election, a television advertisement accused Democratic nominee John Kerry of being "another rich liberal elitist from Massachusetts who claims he's a man of the people."

"Liberal" is also used as a slur by anarchists, Marxists, and other leftists who disdain liberals as hypocritical apologists for capitalism, racism, sexism, and imperialism. Folk singer Phil Ochs used the term in this manner in his song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal:"

Modern liberal thinkers and leaders in the United States



Intellectuals & Economists

Popular writers, activists and commentators


Magazines & Publications

See also

Works cited


  • Willard, Charles Arthur. Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy, University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Hart, Gary. Restoration of the Republic: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st century America (2002)
  • Lewis H. Lapham, "Tentacles of Rage" in Harper's, September 2004, p. 31-41.
  • Kramnick, Isaac and Theodore Lowi. American Political Thought (2006)

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