Everyone likes liberty and justice, right? We end the Pledge of Allegiance with “liberty and justice for all.” Everyone likes patriotism, too. What American doesn’t love America?
The fact that these concepts have such universal appeal has led many political organizations to employ them in their names. But the savvy political observer learns to read between the lines. Here’s a guide to how concepts as uncontroversial as ice cream have come to represent some very controversial ideas.
Liberty (Liberty University, Young Americans for Liberty, the defunct Liberty Lobby): Conservative code word. Liberty represents the freedom of small-business owners to pay their employees $2.17 an hour, and of oil companies to drill in Lake Michigan. It’s a shorter, less controversial way of saying “libertarian.”
Justice (National Center For Law And Economic Justice, Chicago Justice Project): Liberal code word. When state Sen. Barack Obama was trying to reform health care in Illinois, he changed the name of his Health Care Justice Task Force to the Adequate Health Care Task Force, because the word “justice” was a red flag -- as in, a Communist flag. Conservatives believe the marketplace provides all the justice this country needs, by rewarding the industrious and punishing the lazy. Liberals also don’t think the justice system can be counted on to provide justice.
Fair (National Fair Housing Advocate, Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance): Liberal code word. Liberals think the world is so unfair. That’s why they want to change it. Conservatives accept that the world is unfair, and concentrate on making it unfair in their favor. Related to “equal,” another word conservatives hate, because they strive to be more equal than everyone else.
Family (Focus on the Family, Family Forum, American Family Association): Conservative code word. Remember the 1992 Republican National Convention, when George Bush ran for re-election on a platform of “family values”? Promoting families is a worthy goal, but conservatives believe everyone should form a nuclear family, in accordance with the Biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply,” and “family” organizations often devote themselves to stigmatizing behavior that directs sexual energy away from that goal: homosexuality, heavy metal songs about one-night stands, and lecherous movies.
Progress (Center For American Progress, Progress Illinois): Liberal code word. Everyone likes progress, right? Well, not if progress means more progressive taxation. Conservatives don’t like that, because it punishes high earners for their success. In the 1990s, many liberals tried to hide behind the word “progressive” after Republicans turned the L-word into an epithet. As an alderman, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle helped form the City Council's Progressive Caucus.
Patriot (Patriot Act, Tea Party Patriots): Conservative code word. Conservatives believe that conflict and competition are the natural states of mankind, and want to ensure that their nation comes out on top. Thus, they equate love of their country with love of their country kicking other countries’ asses. The Chris Rock movie Head of State summed it up with a Republican presidential candidate whose motto was “God Bless America -- and no place else.”
Democracy (Students For A Democratic Society, Democracy Now): Liberal code word. In the liberal worldview, “democracy” means expanding society’s benefits -- voting rights, housing, health care -- to as many people as possible. However, this can also be a conservative code word, when used to justify invading an oil-rich country in the name of spreading democracy.
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