By J. Michael Willard
I am tempted to say I am liberal because I like old dogs and children, but there is evidence, though scant, that my conservative friends have an affection for aging canines and underfoot rug rats.
So, a blanket condemnation, as if one size of their Salvatore Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo shoes fits all, is undoubtedly unfair and suggest a class prejudice beyond the pale and commonsense.
Truth is, I am a liberal because of the words of the conservative icon, Sen. Barry Goldwater, who I was privileged to meet in his old age when he still served as an Arizona US Senator.
(“The Conservative approach is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today.” Barry Goldwater, “Conscience of a Conservative”.)
It was the late 1970s. He was rather feeble at that time, walking with a cane, but I felt a sense of history traveling with this one-time presidential candidate on the tram from the Russell Senate Office Building to the US Capitol.
Let’s dust off that quote a little later — the one that grabbed hold of me as if a bolt from the heavens during a come-to-Jesus revival meeting held in a tent with a sawdust floor.
Such was the impact.
Fact is, most of my right of center friends — and, by the way, I do have them — work not to keep up with the Rockefellers but merely to maintain astride. It’s a challenging world for most of us.
That’s true whether the stock market is churning like a bullet train or poking along like an old gray mare. It seems most of us would fit nicely in a social realism painting of struggling Everyman.
I am comfortable, if not satisfied, with this status.
That’s my take at 73, drawing Social Security, but still pumping those work-a-day legs like a banshee to help fund college bound teenagers, and splurge for an occasional bottle of mildly expensive hooch.
Life is choices. I’ve wallowed happily in mine, though some detours were painful. “Regrets are nothing more than memories left behind. Some of them were worth it, some of them unkind,” I wrote in song.
We’re told by the media that 26 blue-bloods own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people on earth. It’s doubtful any of those well-heeled live on my mostly immigrant block in Orlando.
No, they are from a totally different solar system.
I didn’t start out with a liberal persuasion. In high school, I argued passionately in debates for states’ rights.
As I grew older, I became more Hamiltonian, a committed Federalist, than Jeffersonian. The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and President Johnson’s Great Society had a lot to do with it.
My father once became upset that an album cover featuring the black entertainer Ray Charles was in our house, and it wasn’t because I played the record to his distraction as a teen.
I believe that was a aberration. My father never displayed in my presence an overt racist sentiment, though he was a Mississippi-born product of the old South, of the generation that escaped a farm life for a military one.
As the newspaper editor at a private junior college in the mid 60s, the school president — and the board of trustees before whom I was summoned twice — strongly urged me to leave.
I had written articles suggesting the institution should open its doors to blacks. My father, stationed at the time in England, wrote a cautioning, though not admonishing letter of advice. He said trust your conscience. I did, refusing to leave.
The school backed off because a story appeared stating my case in what is now a long-defunct publication, “The Corner Cupboard”, and the fact the Orlando Sentinel was prepared to write an article.
But, how and why did I become a liberal?
It was simply because of the words of the conservative I admired, Sen. Goldwater. I attempt to apply “wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today.”
If we had done so as a nation, over the last decades would we have entered into the longest war in our history in Afghanistan, given the lessons of Vietnam?
If we had done so as a nation, knowing the ravages and the scientific, over-whelming evidence of climate change, would we have yawned when an illiterate President pulled out of the global treaty.
Having a mountain of statistics that show a wall on our southern border would do about as much good as China’s 7th Century BC Great Wall against the mongols, would we even be discussing it?
Regardless of one’s religion — or atheism — should we not apply the principles of kindness and compassion of the holy figures from Jesus to Mohammed in addressing the ills of society today?
I am a liberal because I believe in learning from historic truths, or as philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The question should not be why I’m a liberal. But why aren’t you?