by James A. Haught, editor emeritus, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. This essay is drawn from his latest book, Hurrah for Liberals.
In the chaotic presidential campaign, the remarkable popularity of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders spotlights a large, not-always-recognized vein of liberal political sympathy in America. Suddenly, the L-word is popular again ― not an embarrassment to be avoided. That’s great, I think, because progressives have been the driving force behind most social improvements in western civilization.
Look at the historical record: In the three centuries since the Enlightenment, democracy, human rights, personal liberties and family wellbeing have blossomed. Life gradually became more decent and humane. Virtually all the advances were won by reform-minded liberals who defeated conservatives defending former hierarchies, privileges and inequalities.
Conservatives tried to retain slavery, but they lost.
They tried to block voting by women, but lost.
They tried to prevent couples from using birth control, but lost.
They tried to obstruct Social Security pensions for oldsters and the disabled, but lost.
They tried to outlaw labor unions, but lost.
They supported government-led prayer in school, but lost.
They tried to continue throwing gays in prison, but lost.
They tried to defeat Medicare and Medicaid, but lost.
They fought against racial equality and tried to outlaw interracial marriage, but lost.
They tried to censor sexy magazines, books and movies, but lost.
They tried to halt same-sex marriage, but lost.