McClellan: Old liberals vs. young progessives | Bill McClellan

I’m a liberal. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been one my whole life, but I know that’s not true. I was completely apolitical in my childhood. I remained in that mode as I floundered around in college. Idealistic kids only slightly older than me were going to Dixie to register black voters. Buddhist monks were burning themselves in the streets of South Vietnam. I was aware of these things in a vague sort of way, but I was more interested in getting a date for Saturday night. That hardly ever happened.

I remained apolitical when I was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I became a hippie when I came home, but there were no ideological undertones to my hipness. I might as well have been a beatnik.

My political awakening began when I got a job as a reporter in Phoenix. The newspaper was owned by Eugene Pulliam, a staunch conservative and the grandfather of Dan Quayle. Because we were a conservative paper, the editorial writers were conservatives. The younger ones used big words and dressed with a certain flair. They showed off their acerbic wits. In other words, they emulated William F. Buckley Jr.

The reporters, on the other hand, were shabbier. They drank a lot. Most of them leaned left. That was not surprising. They did not make much money and they figured the system was gamed for the rich.

I soon fell under their sway. I became a liberal.

What was not to like about it? Liberalism had a great past. We had favored civil rights and Social Security. History was on our side. Then Ronald Reagan came along, and soon liberal was a bad word. A pejorative, the editorial writers would say.

Many of my ideological comrades began to call themselves progressives. I was not comfortable with that. I continued to call myself a liberal.

For some years, we continued on parallel tracks — liberals and progressives. But…

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