There is little about the current state of our federal government that should surprise anyone who studies history. The two sides in this debate, are not terribly unlike those of earlier debates at the federal level.
John Adams. Remember him? He was so freaked out at the prospect of being a 1-term president (gawd, I can just hear Michele Bachmann chanting that) that he put into place the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts, much like the gerrymandering that went on in Wisconsin this past year, were designed to keep the people in power, in power. It made it impossible for people who had just arrived in the United States to vote (can we see your birth certificate, señor?) and it made it illegal to criticize the president. While we have not made it illegal to criticize the president, we have made it very uncomfortable to criticize “the system.” If you criticize “the system” by say, participating in the Occupy Movement, you might find yourself pepper sprayed, beaten, and your activities monitored.
In the years to follow, the conservatives of their times found themselves supporting slavery, states rights and nullification. They felt that Native Americans needed to get out of the way of progress, and that women were better off not being involved in politics (or any other activity that made being barefoot and pregnant more difficult). In the early 1900’s they hated the trust busting and the conservation movement. They loved the freewheeling, unregulated stock trading of the 1920’s, and they called FDR a “socialist” (where have we heard THAT recently?). Conservatives of the 1950’s looked for communists in Congress, not unlike the kind of wild speculation offered recently by Michele Bachmann. They supported the Vietnam War, no matter how discredited it had become. They called the protestors against this war “traitors” and UnAmerican,” in much the same way we heard those same criticisms ironically directed at our own president. They were OK with Watergate and what Nixon hoped to achieve through it. The redneck band Lynard Skynard sang “Watergate doesn’t bother me, does your conscience bother you?”
Liberals, on the other hand, lined up on the opposite side of these issues. They voted for Thomas Jefferson and against John Adams. They worked for the abolition of slavery and for woman suffrage. They exposed the atrocities perpetrated against Native Americans. They supported the breaking up of large monopolies and the conservation of our natural resources. After the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover triumvirate crashed our economy, they elected FDR to bail us out. They stood up for those who were persecuted during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950’s, and took to the streets to protest the unjust war in Vietnam. They exposed Nixon and the undermining of the Constitution he and like-minded individuals tried to do.
Today we see those same tensions at play. The conservatives work tirelessly to protect the privileges of the privileged. They denounce the middle class as leeches who want entitlements. They used code words for women and African-Americans. They cheat at elections by gerrymandering, by making it more difficult for the underclass to vote (think Alien and Sedition Acts), and by running fake Democrats in primaries. They want to outlaw abortions in all cases, and to make birth control more difficult to obtain. Some have defended the reproductive rights of rapists. They oppose gay marriage, vociferously. They support people to own assault rifles, and bristle at any attempts to control them. They keep pointing backward to “the good old days.”
Liberals and progressives work tirelessly for worker rights, higher pay, and for a democratic workplace. They embrace diversity, as evidenced by the rainbow of faces that could be seen in the audience of the Democratic Convention. They work to expand voting rights, and to make it easier to vote, not harder. They stand by a woman’s right to choose, and work to make birth control easily available to all who want it so that abortions are not needed. They embrace their slogan “forward.”
Liberalism has always been the way of the future, and we liberals and progressives have always had to drag the conservatives kicking and screaming, into the future. So it was yesteryear, and so it is today.