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It's become a dirty word, to be spat instead of spoken, rolled from the tongue like a toxic lozenge - llllliberal.

Conservatives reduce it to a bit of the alphabet - the "L" word, a cute euphemism that taints it by association with the likes of the "N" word.When did liberal become obscene?

Presidential candidate Bob Dole spits the invective at Bill Clinton, trying to mark his rival as unpatriotic and lacking in virtue.

But American history is full of "L" people, patriots who tugged the country toward progress. The American Revolution was a liberal cause. The Founding Fathers were liberals.

Would Bob Dole call Jefferson or Madison unpatriotic, rail against their liberal agenda, blast the "liberal loopholes" in the Constitution as he has Clinton's welfare plan?

Civil libertarians like to refer to conservatives as people who worship dead radicals. Two hundred years ago, Dole would not have supported the radical stance of American independence. Bostonians dumping tea in the harbor would have been as offensive to conservatives as gays pushing for same-sex marriages.