© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: When liberals go bad

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2012 - Allow me to begin by extending a heartfelt “Hell, yes!” to my old friend Bill McClellan. Bill, St. Louis’ signature columnist, used his Feb. 24 column to lambast Richard Stack — a man desperately in need of a lambasting.

Stack had authored a commentary article in the Post in which he argued that convicted — and confessed — murderer-rapist Reginald Clemons was, in fact, innocent. As a former city homicide cop who worked the case, Stack’s essay left me both furious and disgusted. His outrageous distortions of fact fueled the fury while his pretensions of moral superiority inspired a deep, visceral disgust.

Because I am under subpoena to testify in yet another appeal of Clemons’ death sentence, I will not comment on the specifics of the matter. Let it suffice to observe that as of next month, Clemons will have been custody for 21 years — longer than either of the Kerry sisters had been alive before Reggie and his cohorts decided to rape and murder the young women.

Stack is a death penalty opponent who has apparently made it his life’s work to find an innocent person who has been executed in the United States. If the Clemons article is any indication, the truth will not dissuade him from his mission.

I can understand and even respect a principled opposition to capital punishment. It is admittedly a grisly business. Then again, so is surgery but that doesn’t mean it’s never necessary.

What I cannot tolerate is the tendentious attempt to stage a perverse morality play in which killers are transformed into victims, cops and prosecutors are made into killers and the slaughtered innocents are dismissed as inconvenient obstacles to the revelation of a higher truth. McClellan suggested that Stack is the kind of liberal professor who makes people dislike liberals and professors. I tend to agree.

By cruel irony, shortly after reading Stack’s nauseating sophistry, I was accused of being a liberal, myself. The shocking accusation came from a friend’s wife. She didn’t level the charge maliciously, but rather with the condescending pity one usually reserves for the congenitally demented.

We were discussing the contretemps over the federal requirement that employer-provided health insurance cover contraception, which some religions consider to be immoral. I opined that Obamacare had not gone too far, but not far enough.

What, I asked, would keep a cost-conscious employer from developing a moral objection to, say, organ transplant? Eliminating those incredibly expensive procedures would surely lower the company’s annual premiums. But what happens when one of the firm’s employees needs one? Do we condemn the hapless sucker to death from a treatable condition because he/she took the wrong job?

That grim alternative recently drew enthusiastic applause at a Republican presidential primary debate, which explains why I’ve never been able to drink the Kool-Aid and become a full-fledged conservative. My buddy’s wife, however, dismissed the substance of my concerns by remarking, “Oh, I forgot — you’re a liberal.”

Believe it or not, there once was a time when the term “liberal” had generally positive connotations. It was associated with open-mindedness and a willingness to engage in objective inquiry freed from the strictures of dogmatic bias. In his day, Galileo was a liberal. Liberal habits of thought were considered to be a characteristic of the superior intellect, a triumph of cognition over orthodoxy.

Students at universities could even major in the Liberal Arts. Though that somewhat vague academic discipline required no particular political affiliation, such a degree was considered to be a fitting conclusion to a gentleman’s education or a desirable attribute on the resume of a young lady who planned to marry well.

People like Professor Stack have done incalculable damage to the brand by morphing it into a bias of its own. Today, it seems that all liberals agree with each other about everything, which is not the result you’d expect from open debate.

If a white cop arrests a black citizen, it’s instantly apparent that the cop is a racist and the suspect is either factually innocent or at least badly misunderstood. It is also commonly accepted that the exhaust fumes from my leaf blower are killing polar bears and that we’re wasting money operating prisons while the real solution to crime is building more schools.

The late Lars Erik-Nelson famously remarked, “The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is bullshit.” By that measure, Professor Stack may be Public Enemy #1.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.