In my very first column in the Bonanza just over three years ago, I quoted JFK's definition of liberalism: "…someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad" I said then that I defined my political stance by that statement and I still do. In today's political climate I would probably place the emphasis on the "welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions" part because now, more than any time in my memory since the 1950's, that is what differentiates mainstream liberal thought from mainstream conservative views, which I hesitate to label as "thinking."
Some examples: The President vetoes the CHIP (Child Health Insurance Plan) bill that had bipartisan support in both houses. Asked why he vetoed it he says "I want to be sure I'm relevant." Not one conservative politician or pundit has, to my knowledge, questioned what this inscrutable statement means.
Rush Limbaugh calls members of the Armed Forces who have been in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan and who question the war effort "phony soldiers;" when he is called on this bombast in a demand from Harry Reid and 40 other Democratic Senators to Clear Channel Communications that he retract the statement, Limbaugh calls the letter ignorant and a smear and auctions it off on eBay with the proceeds going to organizations that, presumably, he thinks will rankle the Left.
MoveOn.org runs a sophomoric advertisement punning on General Petraeus' name and asserting he betrayed the American people. The Right goes bonkers, John McCain says that MoveOn should be deported. No one sees Limbaugh's reaction as ironic in light of this, no one seems bothered by the personal and destructive attacks by the right on people like Max Cleland in the last election campaign, attacks that were at least as questionable as "General Betray-us," far more personal, and against a man who gave his legs for his country, and finally, in light of Retired Gen. Rick Sanchez recent statements that totally contradicted everything he said when he was on active duty about the war in Iraq, no one suggests that maybe, just maybe, Gen. Petraeus is not being 100% forthright in his views.
So the primary tactic of the Right as we approach an election in which they don't have a viable candidate and in which the incumbent's approval rating hovers around 30%, can be summed up as "don't bother me with the facts, I know what's true." This is the "rigid reaction" that Kennedy had in mind, I think. Liberalism, as a philosophy (and I know, it's not true of every liberal all the time, just as there are Conservatives who think – I'm talking principles of political philosophy here, not about individuals) looks at the facts and is open to new ideas. Conservatives call this soft on policy, flip-flopping, and muddle-headed and the likes of Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and others call it much worse things.
I suggest that the time for doctrinal rigidity, personal smears, lies, and stonewalling is past. That is what got us into this mess in Iraq, it is what took us from a record budget surplus to being trillions in debt, and it is what would have us elect another dangerous ideologue to the Presidency rather than someone who thinks and listens. In business, the model of the command and control, "I can do no wrong" doctrinaire leader has long been abandoned; it's time that politics caught up to what business has known for the last couple of decades – leadership is most powerfully based in listening, learning, and a profound regard for the facts, uncolored by ideology, ego, or what the leader wants to believe, and that no company or country can afford to ignore its impact on the rest of the world.