24 September 2011
Deciding who is liberal and who is conservative depends on how big of a historical view we take. A politician we call a liberal in today’s climate may have been placed in a whole different category two generations ago. That is because the perception of where political center lies changes over time. One must consider not only the policies of the political figure being judged, but also the time in which he lives.
Think of a politician and his times using an instrument gauge, not too different from the fuel gauge on every overalls-wearer’s pickup. The politics gauge has a needle that swings left if a politician is liberal, and right if a politician is conservative. There is an L on the left for “liberal”, an M in the middle for “moderate” and a C on the right for conservative. The gauge has one additional feature not found in our pickups that gives the historical perspective. The whole metered range where the letters L, M and C are printed rotates to the left or to the right depending on whether the politician is operating in liberal or conservative times.
Equipped with our fancy dual-meter gauge we can take the historical rather than the contemporary view in judging a politician’s real position in the liberal/conservative continuum. Who was really the most liberal president of the post WWII era? It is not Barak Obama, Bill Clinton nor Jimmy Carter. The surprising answer is… wait for it… wait for it …. Richard M. Nixon. Nine people out of ten will say that Nixon was conservative, and they will be correct in the contemporary perspective of Nixon’s era. However, in the larger historical perspective Nixon was a liberal. In the contemporary perspective of our times, Nixon was an extreme liberal.
Nixon was a self-proclaimed Keynesian. Keynesian economics is a liberal theory that sees one person’s spending as another person’s income. When the other person spends his income, it becomes yet another person’s income. It is a circle that keeps going on and on in a healthy economy. When something like a recession or a depression breaks the spending/income circle, the government should “prime the pump” to get it all circulating again. Since poorer people spend more of their money than richer people, the priming should favor the poorer people to have the greatest effect on the overall economy. Conservatives today renounce Keynesian theory as a radical redistribution of wealth. Nixon put his Keynesian views into practise with his Full Employment budget, which was designed to reduce the jobless rate through deficit spending. To curb inflation, his New Economic Policy of 1971 used the government’s power to freeze prices in a move that would strike many today as command economics straight out of Karl Marx.
Nixon had the distinctly liberal quality that he was an environmentalist. He created the EPA which to this day regulates the levels at which American industries can pollute the environment. He passed the nation’s first motor vehicle emissions laws in the Clean Air Act of 1970. And if you want to talk about social engineering, Nixon invented affirmative action with the 1969 Philadelphia Plan that required government contractors to desegregate their workplaces according to government goals and timetables. Working with Senator Kennedy, Nixon tried to put into place a health care law that included a public option that would have provided free health insurance to low-income families.
And they call Barak Obama a liberal. Nixon dreamed bigger liberal dreams and accomplished bigger liberal goals, all the while the spirit of his times labeling him a staunch conservative. Using the historical perspective, we see Obama as a moderate centrist, not the socialist liberal that he is called in the rhetoric of a Tea Party that would drag this nation so far to the right it would break our fancy new meter.