Labels forever plague and enchant the Kansas political scene. They are often laid on with righteous zeal, but over time the glue can weaken.
When he was Kansas Attorney General (2003-2007), Phil Kline was seen as a fierce anti-abortion zealot, an exercise that would cost him that job but land him another, teaching at Liberty University. This label smothered an earlier history, of his four terms (1993-2001) in the Kansas House of Representatives. In that time, I never heard him utter a word about abortion. Kline was immersed in budget studies and his later work as chairman of the Tax Committee. His label then was Republican guru on taxing and spending.
Kline’s senior at the time was House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, a Republican from Baxter Springs and labeled a strict conservative. This he was, but he used his powers sparingly and with a fairness that startled even Democrats. He held a passion for open government, exposing the private codes and connections among lawmakers and the lobbying industry. He favored a massive reform of ethics and campaign finance laws (House Bill 3000) that ultimately fizzled.
The nasty “liberal” label has been stuck on those who favor public schools, public highways and Social Security, and simpler programs of Medicare and Medicaid for the old and the poor. Some even want Medicare for all, or a version of it. Liberals also favor such socialistic programs as a tax-paid police force and an effective national army. In the long ago good old days of conservatism, we lacked all of the above.
At the same time, liberals are accused of being “conservative” because they favor economic development or free trade. That is, many believe in the righteous power of the marketplace so long as it is protected from false weights and measures ‒ such as high tariffs, quotas and other sanctions once designed to protect the American auto and electronics industries. (We know how that turned out.)
And what of sanctions, as in the case with Russia, Iran and others who provoke our ire? Kansas farmers should be well aware of the results of sanctions, embargoes and economic reprisals for political purposes. What happens to our wheat, corn and beef exports?
Not long ago we survived a puritan putsch to junk, or “de-fund,” the Affordable Care Act, a reform that brought some sanity to our system of health care. The recall campaign was laced with incantations against socialized medicine in America. This was wasted effort, for we already have socialized medicine. People who get sick and can’t afford insurance head for the emergency room at a hospital. There they are treated at no charge, the cost passed on to the rest of us ‒ socialized medicine in the raw.
We shout praises for free enterprise but rarely practice it. We teach courses in entrepreneurship and exercise it through lobbyists at the Statehouse and in Washington, all the while proclaiming our purity of spirit.
The best practical label for a puritan that we can evoke is for those who would remake the world in their own image according to their own values and rules, a form of humanism carried to an extreme.
By this definition, Marxists who would tailor the world to their dogma are puritans. Equally puritanical are those who find socialism the greatest menace. How’s that for Marxists and Capitalists sharing the same label?
Liberal or conservative, pro-choice or pro-life, Obamacare or NoMoreCare, we seem to be puritans all, ready to burn at the stake any who dare to disagree.