The Liberal Party has been a non-ballot party since the 2002 campaign for Governor.
Many of the leadership believe that unless we can ‘come back’ in the 2010 elections, we will cease to exist as a political organization….slipping away into the annals of history.
The meaning of being a liberal – of liberalism itself -in 2008 has remained the same for almost 100 years. People tend to define it a little differently, but for many the humanist principles of freedom, justice, equality and a level playing field of opportunity, work to explain what liberalism is all about.
The look of the “little guy” liberals want to help may have changed in the last 40 years, but the needs of the ‘little guy’ are still the same: the chance to live in decent, fair-cost housing, to earn a decent living at a job that provides some form of advancement and resources for growth; schools that really teach his children to learn to be ready for work and for citizenship; freedom to live, work and pray as he chooses within society’s norms.
All of this is about liberalism and all of it helped make America a great nation – and can again if there is a will to make the effort to halt and redirect the erosion of America’s status in the world.
In the weeks ahead this website will offer a stream of ideas and possibilities for the future, often calling upon its readers to make suggestions and recommendations, to volunteer and participate and to be supportive.
If you are first learning to recognize your liberal impulses, relax because they are the ones which established the greatness of this country. Or, if you’ve been a lifelong Liberal waiting for us to get going again, and planning to help us, great.
We welcome your comments and suggestions and very much need your involvement.
Web Site Editor
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
History records that no matter the length of the rule, each of the World’s Great Powers eventually lost its reign as Most Powerful Nation (MPN) and did so for very similar reasons in much the same way – following the same path, step by step into second class status as a competing nation surpassed it.
Has America passed its zenith? Is it trapped in this historical imperative, riding on a down escalator, knowing that history teaches us that no Most Powerful Nation ever regained that status once it was lost?
Did liberalism, with its principled foundation of freedom, opportunity and justice, drive America to become the most powerful nation ever known or did America’s existing wealth and power permit it to gain its strength and greatness from those liberal principles?
Answering these questions might help us decide whether there is a future greatness left in America and a relevance left in liberalism. Because an America already trapped in the historical imperative, already on a decline it is unable (and certainly unwilling) to recognize, needs to be capable of embracing a liberal credo which might free it from that trap. In which case, there must be a liberal credo available to help it reverse its present course.
Measuring the Imperative
The Climb to the Top
The historical imperative works this way:
During its climb and at its zenith, the nation regarded as the Most Powerful in its era, always had the world’s best educated populace. That overwhelming educational superiority made it possible for the MPN to secure and maintain its growth and its safety; helped it employ its population in productive work to insure continued growth and wealth; helped it establish an economy and financial stability that was unmatched by any other nation-state; helped it maintain an economic superiority so powerful that it could control its own destiny and influence and manage the world’s economies as well.
Each MPN had such control over its economy and military power that it could foster its ‘manifest destiny’ aggressively and competitively – sometimes on one nation, sometimes against multiple competitors.
In the 20th Century, America, already the world’s industrial leader in the early years of the century, secured and advanced that position during and after the Second World War. Heightened by the national mobilization of the war effort, America became an industrial machine, a productive powerhouse. When it established the GI Bill to educate its returning war veterans (perhaps the single most important governmental act in its history – then and now), America guaranteed its educational superiority and its industrial power in the world as it solidified its position as the Most Powerful Nation the world had ever known.
[An example of its educational superiority is found in this statistic from “The Race Between Education and Technology” by Goldin and Katz: ” In 1950, no European country enrolled 30% of its older teens in secondary school. In the U.S. 70% of older teens were in school.”]
Our market-driven economy and the enormous industrial productivity which fed it, made America the world’s marketplace influencing both a global market of producers and consumers. Our ability to lend foreign nations the money they needed to help us produce and then buy our goods, insured our continued growth and prosperity as it made us extraordinarily influential within these markets. As our high educational levels produced an increasing number of successful middle and high-end management people, our liberal immigration policies opened the doors to those willing and anxious to fill the low-end positions in the labor chain and to become part of the American dream.
With the military power of the U.S.S.R. forcing us to keep well ahead scientifically and technologically, we became the world’s policeman against the threat of “Communist” competition. Our military might was buttressed by a draft-fed Army insuring the involvement of the American community in military activities that might threaten the lives of their kids in uniform.
The Liberal Party prospers
Begun in 1943 and established in 1944 with the help and involvement of then President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, the Liberal Party was led by educators, humanists, unionists, clergy, intellectuals and reform politicians concerned about the big-business dominance of the Republican Party, the openly corrupt Tammany Hall-dominated Democrats in NY State and the war-time growth of the Communist Party which become influential enough to run the American Labor Party.
A brief review of the history of the Liberal Party of NY State helps us to understand how a political organization with absolutely no presence outside of NY, could influence the national policies and programs of American progressives and liberals in the generation that followed its establishment as a regional political organization.
We can trace that influence with any copy of the 75 legal-size page annual policy message sent by the Liberal Party to NY State Senators and Assemblymen as they arrived for the Fall opening of each Legislative session in Albany.
Here is an example of those policies not from the 1940’s but from 1972 to indicate how basic, far-reaching, vigorous and pervasive these program ideas were thirty years after the Liberal Party began doing business. In them, one can see how much still had to be done after 30 years of the Liberal Party’s existence…and how much remains to be done now, more than 35years later.
These annual policy recommendations can be seen in retrospect as the very meaning of “liberal” at that time and by understanding and accepting the humanist qualities of these programs, what America had become in that period of the American Century.
The year was almost in mid-arc of America’s historical imperative: what America rose to accomplish and what the shadow of its decline is today.
The document concentrated on making suggestions about core Liberal Party concerns: housing, unemployment, the need for health care for the aging and universal health care for all Americans, the philosophy behind the need to improve welfare laws, how to improve schools, the need for laws to assist the State (and country) in arriving at racial equality; the need for laws to establish and maintain civil liberties.
Here are some of the details:
- the need for legislative action to raise teacher salaries especially on the elementary school level; and the demand that the State adopt a free system of public education from nursery school through college.
Times have changed; the value of money has changed, but many of these policy areas have never been resolved. Listen carefully to the current Presidential candidates. When they stop the usual political campaigning and concentrate on real issues – THE ISSUES ARE STILL THE SAME! And the needs still exist!!
America in Decline
The elements of supreme power: A great education system. Continuously sustainable growth and productivity well beyond every other nation. A sound economy on a foundation of financial stability to become the marketplace of the world.
These are the markers of recognition for the world’s most powerful nation. They help us trace America’s decline from supreme superpower to debtor nation status.
Our schools, our economic status, our society are no longer what they were. Our ultimate strength and stability no longer exists
Teacher-parents-students: The School System’s ‘Tripod’ has broken
By any of a series of measurements, including the comparison of academic achievements in European and Asian countries to our own – America’s public school system is broken. It can no longer educate our young to anything like mastery in subject matter or in learning how to apply thinking in the working world. Our students cannot read, cannot comprehend, cannot do rudimentary arithmetic without a calculator. Our school system can no longer graduate half of our students from high school. It cannot keep 60% of all the students in a two-year community college from dropping out after one year. It cannot retain the services of three of every five elementary school teachers within a three year period of time.
As schools have failed to maintain the progress shown between 1930 and 1950 despite an endless series of “program improvements”, nations all over the world have surged past us proving the superiority of their schooling over ours in test score after test score. These test comparisons reflect one thing above all – a growing skills gap at a time when work is about technological skills and how to use them productively. There is already an indication that American college graduates are looking at China and India as sources for long-term employment opportunities as major American industries outsource work not only because it is presently cheaper for them to do so but because a trained workforce ready to work, exists elsewhere.
There is much talk in our serious media outlets of the need to boost educational attainment as if one can employ some form of mechanized booster to make that attainment happen. That “talk” vies with all those politicians who become “the education Mayor” or “the education Governor” or of course, the “education President”. And then one program effort after another, heavily funded, with great expectations, goes up and then quickly sinks like a balloon with a tiny hole in it.
Two main reasons exist for our failed system. Not enough is said about them. The system is almost 100 years old and still operating in the same way.
Teachers are still being trained as if the system was the same – even though the changes in the structure and among the players in that structure have clearly changed. That system, starting with the one room school house, recognized that there were three elements involved in the public school process: the teacher, who presented the work, and was able to know who needed help and how each child could be helped; the parent, using their children’s homework to actually teach them the material and the student who understood that much was expected because both teacher and parent had the expectations.
That system is gone because several of the three elements have changed. Parental involvement is no longer part of the triangle. But teachers are still being trained as if a Mom was going to be home helping children learn through their homework. Without that “leg” of the tripod, teachers can’t teach our kids and they know it – but don’t know what to do about it.
Once, women had a three-choice career ladder: be a secretary, be a nurse, be a teacher. Today, the best women can be anything they want to be and those who once might have selected teaching now are attorneys, physicians, dentists, business-owner, CEO’s, etc.
Unless teacher-training changes to better prepare today’s teachers to teach their students without the home component to count on, schools will continue to fail; the system will remain broken no matter how much the societal need or the loss of global power and influence.
In this post-industrial era where America produces very little, we have become a debtor nation. During our rise to supremacy, the social contract called for a strong measure of cooperation between government, employers and the working-class. In a society which no longer produces anything, that social contract has no value.
Once, capitalism’s endless stream of cycles produced ups and downs that we could almost predict. But as the marketplace came to overshadow every value, these phases grew more intense. In the 1980’s the Reagan Administration’s tax policies chose to starve the great prevailing liberal programs begun in the Roosevelt era. Those programs had gotten old, needed help, needed change…that could have made all the difference in the way that worked 60 years after they were introduced. Instead, tax changes tried to bankrupt them. All that succeeded in doing was to increase the national debt beyond anything in our history and further weaken the aging programs.
Bill Clinton triangulated the Democratic Party out of its liberal biases as even the term “liberal” became a bad word which all politicians tried to avoid at all costs. They still do. But Clinton policies at least altered the sadly bizarre welfare program, got rid of the Reagan national debt and gave us a surplus to work with.
Bush Two went beyond the Reagan attempt to bankrupt liberal programs but instead put the whole nation into bankruptcy through his tax policies. China bankrolls America’s attempts at growth. Today as a debtor nation, Americans are losing jobs, losing equity in their houses and even the houses themselves, losing retirement funds in an endless series of events that make people feel out of control of their own lives. We produce nothing but Wall Street transactions with all the manipulations of that world clearly in force (even when they are fraudulent), and borrow money from China to buy their goods. We export nothing but our culture!
The social contract that promised success if you worked hard and played by existing rules, seems no longer to work for the greater middle class. No one believes that today. The marketplace is all and if one must cheat and steal to “make it” one does! Our national industries, when they exist at all, are globalized. Unions exist to help their membership lose benefits gradually and to save as many jobs as they can. Their membership and influence shrinks day by day.
Government can no longer be trusted to act for all the people – just those who have influence. Maybe t’ was always thus, but today that seems more obvious than ever.
Leadership-Common Sense – Will
Although our loss of ultimate power is obvious to anyone interested enough in our country to follow the changes, what will this loss mean to our society now and in the years ahead. China which simply has more than one billion more people than we do, has already declared it ascension to Most Powerful Nation, not with words, but by its actions.
Providing enormous sums of construction money, they now have a clear “sphere of influence” (remember that phrase from our middle school history classes? We don’t teach that anymore.) in 49 of 53 countries in Africa. They are not only developing that continent as a future market (once America is no longer big or rich enough to be China’s chief customer as it is now) but also in their super-capitalist-driven economy as a source of cheaper production than they have in their own nation.
The growing prosperity of the Chinese people, leaving farms in droves to work in cities and towns (they have 18 cities larger than NYC) means that they must now produce food – crops and livestock – to meet a growing demand for food other than the traditional self-grown vegetables and rice. Two years ago they bought no produce from overseas. Last year they purchased 34 million tons of soybeans from Brazil (making it the world’s leading food exporter) – just to feed the animals and chickens that are now in demand as food for its people.
Advancing to Southeast Asia, the Chinese language is now being taught to all school children in Cambodia.
What we are seeing in a country producing 30,000 new cars everyday for the millions of highway miles being built and the completed construction of one skyscraper every day – is a nation in complete control of its power – even as it pollutes its cities and countryside, tightens government controls in a classic totalitarian manner and grows faster than any other superpower in the history of the world. We see a nation completely copying the success of American methods but at a rate of speed unknown in the world’s history.
Where will America find the leadership to counter this astounding growth and international power?
Where will America find the will to lead a counter-effort so that it might regain its lost status..if such a thing is historically possible?
While history says that it is not possible, America’s cultural influences, its essentially free society (after some changes in Bush policies are introduced) and its own self-image, might be combined to mount a comeback especially if China’s tight, autocratic government rule in a massive nation where weaknesses already exist, combine with its loss of control over its own growth so that ecological disasters are possible on a wide-scale to produce a suddenly weakened leader.
Whether America has the leadership or the national will to redefine itself or whether 24 years of conservative ideologies (surrounding eight years of no ideology) have destroyed any chance at that redefinition are questions that need to be answered.
So does the question about whether liberalism can prosper again in a redefined America.
The Liberal Party: Can it come back?
The loss of ballot status several years ago put the Liberal Party in a position that it has never known. Existing as a potential political force even as it fights to regain the ballot status available to any NY State political party which can get 50,000 votes on its line in a gubernatorial election, the Liberal Party is caught between its own ideological past and its “third-party” penchant for finding a candidate willing to accept the LP endorsement, run on its line and capture those 50,000 votes even if he/she is not a liberal leader.
The last time the Liberal Party chose that route successfully was with Betsy McCaughey Ross, the former Republican Lt. Governor, who turned her back on George Pataki, became a Democrat and sought the nomination of that party to run for Governor against her old boss. When she failed to get that nomination, she accepted the nomination of the Liberal Party, conducted a limited but very spirited campaign and received almost 80,000 votes on the Liberal Party line.
When the party tried to make such an arrangement again in 2002, it made a vital mistake in selecting Andrew Cuomo as its nominee even though Mr. Cuomo was still trying to secure the Democratic nomination against Carl McCall. When Mr. Cuomo gave up that race in mid-campaign, he stepped away from the Liberal Party as well…leaving it with his name on the ballot after everyone knew he was no longer in the race for Governor. While he secured the good will of the Democratic Party leadership for his actions, he received only 17,000 votes on the Liberal Party line during the election and the Liberal Party lost its ballot status; one it has not regained.
Without now analyzing what has happened to the Liberal Party in the last 30 years, it is possible to say that its leadership changed, its ideology changed and its influence got lost. While it had a history of successfully supporting liberal Republicans like Jack Javits and John Lindsay, its choice of a conservative Republican with several liberal societal impulses, John Anderson for President- and then, Rudy Guiliani for Mayor – angered the Democratic Party and many New York City Liberal Party enrollees.
While the purely political motives for these detentes made a great deal of sense to those in politics, there were no ideological principles or program recommendations that accompanied these involvements, and that fact bothered liberal voters of all persuasions – even as the Party elected and help reelect Mr. Guiliani.
Today the party is a shadow of its old self…a shadow without the money necessary to mount a well-organized rebuilding campaign. Do liberals exist in New York State? Without question! Would they support a renewed Liberal Party – one with a clearly defined ideology and program base? Without question! Can such a rebuilding effort be mounted?
That question will be answered next.