Don Stosberg

Don Stosberg

The term “liberal” has become a dirty word. How did that come to be?

The word has been misappropriated as a marketing ploy for politicians seeking power. The root of the word in old French means “befitting free people; noble, generous; willing, zealous." From Latin it means “noble, gracious, munificent, generous” and literally “of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free person.”

“Gracious” and “free” are generally respected traits. How did conservative politicians, who vow their allegiance to freedom, manage to contort “liberal” into a despicable trait?

As he chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, drops the word “liberal” with disdain regularly. Yet, the senator uses the word conservative with reverence as if being conservative is a measure of a person’s holiness.

The media have swallowed this marketing campaign hook, line and sinker. The media regularly label a Republican as “conservative” and no one thinks twice about it. However, they rarely use the word "liberal" to describe a Democratic politician except when it is used as a slander by Republicans.

Other examples of such word abuse to play on people’s fears is twisting the meaning of socialism to imply that the government is going to take over everything you cherish dearly.

"Liberal" literally means open to change and new ideas. It means a willingness to consider new policies or programs that meet the needs of the people. It does not mean adopting every fad.

For example, the slogan “Defund the Police" is an utter failure of labeling. Most everyone, even policemen, would tell you that police management could be improved. But “defund police” is not a sensible choice and has little chance of passing in most communities.

The policy idea is more about more effective targeting of funds to solve community problems — not reduced funding. So a person with liberal views is open to new ideas — not every harebrained proposal that comes down the rabbit path. But the solutions often get stymied in the slogans that get slung around.

Another distortion is used when applied to law-and-order issues. Direct mailings in this election play on people’s fears by implying that ”liberals” favor looting and burning. 

The term “conservative” implies preserving what you have (think saving money, soil and natural resources, conservation, etc.). Many ideas, policies and traditions are working well. Good leaders of all stripes want to preserve what is functioning well.

It is not always a clear-cut decision to decide when to try something new and when to retain the old way. The political process is the forum to sort out issues — often where there is no clear consensus. It is grossly deceptive to imply that every liberal is for every controversial proposal.

Some seeking power prey on fear by cavalierly equating liberalism with socialism. To have liberal views has no connection to socialism. This labeling to achieve triumph over one’s political enemies has been working for certain leaders, but we must stop this by defeating people who engage in misappropriation of words for personal gain. Speak up against this travesty of voter manipulation.

We could find many horrible things that conservative politicians espouse, such as the taking of immigrant children from their parents, but we don’t think all “conservatives” endorse such inhumane practices. Using manipulative tactics has led us to a dysfunctional government that is laughed at by perceptive leaders around the world.

Next time you hear a candidate being rejected because they are too liberal, ask yourself if the label truly fits. Don’t become a victim of word abuse.

Wise leaders research a variety of options, listen to citizens and then take prudent measures to implement solutions. Good leaders do pilot tests of new ideas. They seek input from a variety of perspectives and don’t rush through a proposal because they have the votes to do it.

As citizens, we don't want liberal leaders. We don’t want conservative leaders. We want wise leaders who choose their words and policy proposals carefully.

Don Stosberg, of Frankfort, is a retired budget analyst for the Legislative Research Commission. He can be reached at

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