DURING one of the frequent lulls in campaign '88, former House Speaker ``Tip'' O'Neill came to the aid of the Democratic Party by denying George Bush's charge that Michael Dukakis is a ``liberal.'' ``Absolutely not,'' O'Neill was quoted as sputtering. ``He's progressive.'' After this rather dubious defense by ``Tip,'' the following dialogue between generations took place:
``Grandfather, what's a liberal?''
``Hush, son! Don't let your mother hear you use that word. She'll wash out your mouth with soap.''
``I thought the dirty word was c-o-m-m-u-n-i-s-t, Grandfather. The only thing wrong with being a liberal is that you're soft on communism, right?''
``No, no, son. You're young, but you're behind the times. In the '70s President Nixon made it OK to be soft on Chinese communists. Now President Reagan's made it OK to be soft on Russian communists. The only people you're not allowed to be soft on are liberals. Even communists aren't soft on liberals - they don't want Dukakis to win, either.''
``Were liberals always out of fashion, Grandfather?''
``Let me tell you, son - being liberal used to be as American as, well, pledging allegiance. You hear all this talk about the mainstream? Liberal was the mainstream. Everybody was a liberal. Why, you even had liberal Republicans - Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Percy, George Bush.''
``George Bush? You've got to be kidding, Grandfather.''
``No, sir! You could look it up. Twenty-five years ago the only conservative Republican was Barry Goldwater - and people thought he was on the `lunatic fringe.' Those were the words.''
``Gosh, Grandfather, that's what people say about liberals nowadays. Are you sure you're remembering right? You know how mixed up you get when you try to name the Detroit Tigers' lineup in the 1934 World Series.''
``Hank Greenberg on first, Charlie Gehringer on second, Bill Rogell, shortstop, Mickey Cochrane behind the plate...''