Sometimes, the term "liberal" has a positive connotation. To liberate is to set free. A liberal education gives one a broad cultural background. But in Republican primaries, using the L-word is tantamount to calling your opponent a disease-ridden, ferret-faced goon - only the latter is a much nicer way of saying it.
Presidential front-runners John McCain, the hawkish anti-abortion U.S. senator from Arizona, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney actively traded the term in Florida. Mr. Romney, incidentally, used to be in favor of abortion rights but changed his mind. He's no liberal; he's just a conservative convert.
In Maryland, the 1st District congressional race has featured little more than "liberal" charges and countercharges. Incumbent Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest pointed to his opponents E. J. Pipkin and Andy Harris as liberal state senators. Mr. Pipkin and Mr. Harris say Mr. Gilchrest is liberal because he has sided with the current president (as if this were the Hubert H. Humphrey administration).
Let's set the record straight. All the above guys (aside from Mr. Humphrey)? Not liberal. Just because Mr. Romney took some centrist actions as governor of Massachusetts doesn't make him MoveOn.org's White House pick. And Mr. McCain may be contrarian, but he's no more a radical than Barry Goldwater.
With all due respect to Rush Limbaugh, using "liberal" as the ultimate slur has just gotten boring - and misleading. After all, if these guys are liberal, it's hard to know what to call people who believe the Earth is round. When the distance between hard right and far right is judged so massive, there's no room left on the scale.