Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political Labels According to LBJ

In yesterday's Britannica Blog, Robert McHenry discusses a quote from then Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson that appeared in the 1958 Winter Issue of the Texas Quarterly. As we are nearing the end of what has been a historic Presidential campaign and yet at the same time in many ways a campaign that has failed to rise to what many hoped would be a new level of issue-oriented political contest, I think LBJ's words are still relevant.

I am a free man, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat, in that order.

I am also a liberal, a conservative, a Texan, a taxpayer, a rancher, a businessman, a consumer, a parent, a voter, and not as young as I used to be nor as old as I expect to be – and I am all these things in no fixed order.

I am unaware of any descriptive word in the second paragraph which qualifies, modifies, amends, or is related by hyphenation to the terms listed in the first paragraph. In consequence, I am not able – nor even the least interested in trying – to define my political philosophy by the choice of a one-word or two-word label. This may be against the tide, but, if so, the choice is deliberate.

At the heart of my own beliefs is a rebellion against this very process of classifying, labeling, and filing Americans under headings: regional, economic, occupational, religious, racial, or otherwise. I bridle at the very casualness with which we have come to ask each other, “What is your political philosophy?”…

It is a part of my own philosophy to regard individuality of political philosophy as a cornerstone of American freedom and, more specifically, as a right expressly implied in our nation’s basic law and indispensable to the proper functioning of our system.

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