I hate to burst anyone’s bubble (well, that may not be necessarily true), but I’ve decided I can no longer keep my secret – a secret that may well cost me business, friends, associates, and any standing I have in this small hamlet in the midst of the large prairie. I am here to proclaim that I am, in fact, a liberal.
Before the tar is heated and the chickens plucked, I hasten to define what I mean by that egregious label. As the editor was generous in pointing out in his column, “liberal” comes from the same Latin base as “liberty.” I would however, go a step further and assert that the liberal represents liberty in terms of both individual and societal contexts. In fact according to Webster’s Dictionary, liberal means “broad minded, tolerant , not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy or traditional forms.”
Thus, while conservatives say the right to bear arms encourages us to arm ourselves with the most potent weapons possible in our effort to defend our individual safety and property, the liberal contends that individual freedom must be balanced with society’s freedom from gun wielding, emotionally disturbed individuals with easy access to semi-automatic weapons with large, easily changed clips.
Or in another example, the liberal may believe that the institution of marriage is actually strengthened by recognizing the loving union of people of the same gender and the stability that it brings to the most basic of societal constructs – the family. The conservative, on the other hand, believes that anything that is different from the “nuclear family” is a threat. Unfortunately, at least to the conservative, that family format has been the exception rather than the rule throughout human history, including Biblical times.
This may be a surprise to our conservative community, but there are actually people who live in Pierre who believe that Christianity may not hold all the answers. It may be a path the majority choose to nourish their relationship with a higher power, but there are a significant number of people, even in this community, who believe that other faith paths contain central truths as well. We try to enhance our spiritual journey with the mystery of Christ, the compassion of the Buddha, the hospitality of Islam, the intimacy of the Jewish history, and the insights of other Wisdom traditions. The freedom to choose, to question, to respect others in their quest for ultimate Truth is a hallmark of liberal thinking as it strengthens the liberty of both individuals and society.
There are many other examples that define the liberal and conservative label, such as the right to choose, eminent domain, environmental stewardship, prison reform, unemployment benefits, health care reform, racism and reconciliation – the list is endless. But perhaps the basic difference is the contrast of the conservative and liberal views towards government.
It is always surprising to me the number of people in central South Dakota that view their government as the enemy. We denounce federal spending, but scream when farm programs are cut. We rail against “those nameless, faceless bureaucrats “ even when we realize they are our friends and neighbors trying to do their best to provide public service. We whine about high taxes, but demand our roads be clean of snow and free of potholes. We deplore having to buy health insurance, but expect a high level of health care from our local institutions who can only provide it with reimbursement from our tax money or imposing higher costs on those who have good insurance.
But issues aside, perhaps the best description of a liberal, is how Sen. Edward Kennedy described his brother Robert in his 1968 eulogy, “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
That definition of liberal is what many people in Pierre represent. Liberals don’t just make stuff for us to use or all live in California. They live among us and continue to push for things that never were and believe our greatest days are in the future and not in vain attempt to return to an imaginary past.
So in spite of letters to the contrary, I encourage you to continue to publish your “liberal newspaper” by reflecting life in our community and the generosity of our people. Persist in calling us to a higher level of awareness of our fellow sojourners through editorials and pictures. Illustrate for us the hidden diversity among us. And when we fall short in the midst of tragedy and despair, remind us of our humanity-that we are all in this together and none of us, liberal or conservative, get out alive.
Gary Snow of Pierre operates Gary Snow & Associates Inc., a company that provides environmental consulting and contracting services throughout South Dakota. A former staffer of the late Sen. George McGovern, he continues to be involved in various statewide social and political issues.
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