Tribune News Service (TNS)
One of my history-minded friends has a long-range political view summed up
in three words: Liberals always win. Complex social struggles may take
centuries or decades, he says, but they eventually bring victory for human
rights, more democratic liberties and other progressive goals.
Look how long it took to end slavery. Generations of agitation and the
horrible Civil War finally brought triumph for liberal abolitionists and
defeat for conservative slavery supporters.
Look how long it took for women to gain the right to vote. In the end,
liberal suffragettes prevailed, conservative opponents lost.
Look at the long battle to give couples the right to practice birth control.
Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was jailed eight times for the
crime of mentioning sex - but she eventually transformed U.S. society. A
Supreme Court victory in 1965 struck down contraceptive bans for married
couples, and a follow-up victory in 1972 struck them down for unwed ones.
Liberals won, conservatives lost.
The same pattern applies to the struggle for Social Security pensions for
retirees - and unemployment compensation for the jobless - and equality for
blacks - and Medicare and Medicaid - and equality for women - and food
stamps for needy families - and expanded health insurance under the
Affordable Care Act - and equality for gays - etc. These stormy social
conflicts ended the same way: Liberals always win. Conservatives always
Of course, history doesn't move in a clear, predictable manner. Germany was
advanced and modern - yet it sank into the horrors of Nazism. Other setbacks
occur. But the overall tide of civilization flows in a progressive
In his landmark book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature," Harvard
psychologist Steven Pinker concludes that all sorts of human evils - war,
genocide, murder, rape, torture, dueling, wife-bashing, attacks on
minorities, etc. - have faded enormously from the Western world.
International warfare has virtually vanished. Pursuit of such humane goals
lies at the heart of the liberal agenda.
When I first became a news reporter in the 1950s, conservative Bible Belt
morality was enforced by laws. It was a crime for stores to open on the
Sabbath. It was a crime to look at the equivalent of a Playboy magazine, or
to read a sexy book. (Our mayor once sent cops to raid bookstores selling
Back then, it was a felony to be gay, and those who were caught were sent to
prison under old sodomy laws. Back then, it was a felony for a desperate
girl to end a pregnancy. It was illegal for an unmarried couple to share a
bedroom. Divorce or unwed pregnancy was an unmentionable disgrace. Jews
weren't allowed into Christian-only country clubs. Public schools had
mandatory teacher-led prayer. It was a crime to buy a cocktail or a lottery
That world disappeared, decade after decade. The culture slowly evolved.
Sunday "blue laws" were undone. Teacher-led prayers were banned.
became legal. Liquor clubs were approved. Abortion became legal. State
governments became lottery operators. Censorship ended. Other conservative
taboos gradually disappeared.
Within my lifetime, morality flip-flopped. Conservative thou-shalt-nots lost
their grip on society. Liberals won - yet it happened so gradually that
hardly anyone noticed.
For several decades, the strongest indicator of politics was church
membership. White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. People
who don't attend worship voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. The latter
became the largest group in the Democratic Party base.
Today, survey after survey finds American church membership fading, while
the young generation ignores religion. Sociologists think the secular trend
is unstoppable. People who say their faith is "none" already comprise
one-fourth of the adult population - 56 million Americans - and they seem
destined someday to be the largest segment. The social tide is flowing away
from conservative fundamentalism and its Puritanical agenda.
All these factors support my friend's maxim that liberals always win. The
progressive worldview is called humanism - trying to make life better for
all people - and it's a powerful current. In 1960, John F. Kennedy said in a
"If by a 'liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone
who welcomes new ideas without rigid reaction, someone who cares about the
welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their
jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties - .then I'm proud to say
that I'm a liberal."
Amid all the chaos and confusion of daily life, through a thousand
contradictory barrages, the struggle for a safer, fairer, more secure, more
humane world never ceases. Thank heaven for progressive victories that keep
ABOUT THE WRITER: James A. Haught is editor of West Virginia's largest
newspaper, The Charleston Gazette. Readers may reach him by email at
haughtwvgazette.com or phone at 304-348-5199.
This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. Tribune did not
subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer
and do not necessarily represent the views of Tribune or its editors.
C2015 James A. Haught
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency - Aug. 1, 2015
In addition to the info at the end of the piece, Haught is also a fellow
columnist for Free Inquiry. -- Edd)