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Perversion Of The 'L' Word

Pope Benedict XVI kisses the head of a boy, as he arrives for a celebration of Catholic education at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, London Friday Sept. 17, 2010.
AP Photo/Steve Parsons, Pool
This column was written by Joel Engel.
In Edward Albee's play The American Dream, Mommy proudly delights in her new beige hat until the moment someone refers to it as wheat colored, at which point she hurries back to the store in a fit of pique. Albee, of course, was being ironical, ridiculing his character's weak-mindedness before an audience who would surely agree that roses smell good no matter what they're named, and that insisting the sky is green can't really change what the eye sees.

So what are we to make of the word "liberal," whose current meaning is likely beyond the ken of both Albee and Shakespeare? In the not-so-distant past, liberal FDR believed that the enemies of other democracies were, by extension, America's enemies -- and liberals eagerly joined him in taking on the America Firsters here before fighting fascism over there. In his footsteps followed liberal Harry Truman, whose doctrine reflected the view that Soviet expansionism was insidiously anti-democratic and therefore innately illiberal. Then came JFK, the presidential avatar of modern liberalism, which he defined on his first day in office when he announced that America would "pay any price, bear any burden . . . in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." His statement seemed interwoven into the fabric of the burgeoning civil rights movement that was to become liberalism's high-water mark at home -- the one issue that ipso facto determined whether you were indeed a liberal. And it was ennobling to be one, sharing Martin Luther King's dream that "all of God's children" would someday be free.

But alas, somewhere over the last two decades or so, liberalism lost its root as the word liberal was perverted to the point of Orwellian inversion -- and therefore rendered meaningless.

For example, rooting against the United States and for "insurgents" who delight in slaughtering innocents is many things (stupid, for one, also sad, evil, and short-sighted), but it is assuredly not liberal.

Decrying the American "religious right" for advocating a "culture of life" while simultaneously praising the neck-slicing Islamofascists is many things (start with pathetic), but it is not liberal.