Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody based on current events, and often mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

Occasionally we should renew our acquaintance with the dictionary definition of “liberal” – a term much maligned due to its usurpation by the left.

This lexical diversion will remind us that classically the word has been associated, as my dictionary has it, “with the ideal of individual, especially economic, freedom, greater individual participation in government and constitutional, political and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives.”

It’s an ideal worthy of pursuit, and as a linguistic conservative, I’m mildly irritated when “liberal” is ascribed – by the left or the right – to politicians who favor measures that limit freedom. The problem stems from the impulse to label people, and from the lazy inclination to accept self-labeling.

Thus “liberalism” has come to be associated with “paternalism,” rather than “belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual, and … protection of political and civil liberties.”

“Liberal” has become so disreputable, main-stream politicians are fleeing to “progressive,” a term formerly abused only by avowed socialists. “Progressive” isn’t shopworn like “liberal,” because socialist word usage doesn’t get much serious attention these days.

Self-appointed progressives employ an implied syllogism: “I’m progressive. You oppose my programs. Therefore, you are not progressive.” Many in the mass media buy into this nonsense, and another fine word is heading for the ash heap. But I digress.

Despite the debasement of their self-applied label, occasionally “liberals” do something that is classically liberal, as in the case of a California Democrat legislator, state Sen. Jackie Speier, who annually pushes for limits on the sale of customers’ private information by banks, insurance companies and the like.

You know the drill: Companies require all kinds of private data – like what time you normally eat dinner – before they will do business with you. You give them the information, free, as though it were of no value. Then the companies turn around and sell it to telemarketers, and the telemarketers call you just as you are digging in to your meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

Each year, the banking and insurance lobbies have beaten back Speier’s effort to free us from intrusions on our privacy. They did so again this year, bleating that they couldn’t possibly be profitable without the ability to sell the data. Some cynics have suggested that the apparent ease with which they kill the legislation may be due to contributions to political parties and campaigns.

One might become discouraged, but the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights gives us reason to hope this liberal measure eventually will prevail. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the organization shelled out a paltry $26 to buy the Social Security numbers of the legislators who helped kill the bill, and then posted partial numbers on its website.

Imagine the outrage. The Chronicle quoted Democrat Assemblyman Ed Chavez: “We should be free to vote our conscience and not be threatened or harassed if we choose to vote contrary to people who are lobbying for special legislation.” Another Assembly Democrat, Patricia Wiggins, wrote that the action “borders on extortion.”

Extortion: That’s the flip side of bribery, isn’t it? Of course, it would be unseemly to say that bank and insurance company officials who make political contributions were engaging in bribery. No doubt their contributions should be looked at simply as a measure of their feelings about a cause or candidate. And it would be unseemly to say that legislators who receive such contributions look upon them as some kind of quid pro quo, voting their consciences as they do.

But it is likewise unseemly for Mr. Chavez and Ms. Wiggins to suggest an organization like the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is engaging in extortion. FTCR is merely helping elected officials understand the plight of regular folks.

Let us hope that next FTRC will publish the legislators’ home telephone numbers. Then we all can dial them up and tell them how we feel about Speier’s truly liberal bill. I’d say 6:45 p.m. would be a good time to call.

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