Michael Barone
Liberals just aren't very liberal these days. The word "liberal" comes from the Latin word meaning freedom, and in the 19th century, liberals in this country and abroad stood for free speech, free exercise of religion, free markets, free trade -- for minimal state interference in people's lives.

In the 20th-century, New Dealers revised this definition by arguing that people had a right not only to free speech and freedom of religion but also, as Franklin Roosevelt said in his 1941 Four Freedoms speech, freedom from fear and from want.

Freedom from want meant, for Roosevelt, government provision of jobs, housing, health care and food. And so government would have to be much larger, more expensive and more intrusive than ever before.

That's what liberalism has come to mean in America (in Europe it still has the old meaning), and much of the Obama Democrats' agenda are logical outgrowths -- Obamacare, the vast expansion of food stamps, attempted assistance to underwater homeowners.

But in some respects the Obama Democrats want to go further -- and are complaining that they're having a hard time getting there. Their form of liberalism is in danger of standing for something like the very opposite of freedom, for government coercion of those who refuse to behave the way they'd like.

Example one is the constitutional amendment, sponsored by 43 of the 55 Democratic U.S. senators, which would cut back on the First Amendment and authorize Congress and state legislatures to restrict political speech.

The amendment is poorly drafted and leaves many questions dangerously open (who qualifies for the media exception?), perhaps because its sponsors know it has no significant chance of passage.

It also seems animated by a delusionary paranoia: Democrats profess to be afraid they'll be swamped by a flood of rich people's money, even though their rich supporters have raised more than the other side in recent years.

Nonetheless the picture is striking. Many conservatives wanted to change the First Amendment in order to prosecute flag burning, not the Founding Fathers' central concern.

Today's liberals, in contrast, want to change the First Amendment to restrict political speech, which is the core value the Founders sought to protect.

Or consider liberals' recent attitude toward free exercise of religion, made plain in their reaction to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision declaring the Obamacare contraception mandate invalid as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM