The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

What is the Liberal Party?

There's some blogospherical controversy about who, exactly, is entitled to call himself a liberal.

As one challenged on the point, Jeff Jarvis over at Buzz Machine responds with a quote from John F Kennedy's speech to the Liberal Party in 1960.

From Mr Pay Any Price, it's the usual nauseating guff.

But it's the more nauseating when one understands exactly what the Liberal Party is.

The Cliff Notes version: way back in the mists of history, Franklin Roosevelt got elected President of the US, and found he liked it. He also realised that a lot of folks in the heavy-hitting (Electoral College voting-wise) Empire State loved him but hated Tammany. (He knew the feeling.)

So the American Labor Party was born in 1936.

Skipping on a few years, the ALP got tied up with a bunch of Communists, and FDR was afraid that the anti-Commie but also anti-Tammany folks would have nowhere to go. So, in 1944, they invented the Liberal Party.

It was, pretty much, a contrivance for the greater electoral glory of President-for-Life Roosevelt - and none the worse for that. Just like the machines of Hague and Pendergast, or the CIO, it delivered votes to FDR; but unlike those organisations, it served substantially no other purpose.

It continued as a Democratic Party contrivance, supporting Truman over Henry Wallace in 1948, for instance. As Tammany withered from way past its best to nothing, the Liberal Party's Tammany-free quality became moot.

(It hung around to help John Lindsay out of hole, it seems, when he lost the New York City Republican mayoral primary in 1969.)

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