The other day, I opened up a mini-controversy by using the word "illiberal" in this blog to describe the obdurate, hidebound actions of a local school board. As a lifelong liberal, I would not agree with the choice anyone would take to be illiberal, which means being opposed to liberalism, just like illegal is the opposite of legal.
I'm glad we got all that straightened out, but I can tell you exactly where I first heard the word. I love words very much. Just like some people will have amazing sense memories of the first time they whiffed a certain cologne or tasted ginger brandy or saw the beautiful green fields of a baseball park or heard Bing Crosby sing or touched the warm back of a kitten, I remember the first time I hear memorable words. "Illiberal" came to my hearing on the G. Gordon Liddy Show, a talk radio broadcast that used to be on between the Greaseman and the Don And Mike shows.
Mr Liddy, as he liked to be called, is still with us, although he gave up the radio show 5 years ago after a twenty-year run. He is a man who was a former FBI agent who became head of President Richard Nixon's special intelligence operation in the 1972 election campaign. Nixon saw that there were leaks of potentially damaging information, and had Liddy form a "plumbers unit" to plug those leaks.
And of course, Liddy led the gang of five Nixon operatives who broke into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, only to be found by an alert security guard. Their arrests were reported in the Washington Post as a minor burglary, and when Post reporters followed the trail of their crimes all the way back to the oval office, Nixon left in disgrace two years later.
Convicted of conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping, Liddy went to prison for twenty years and fined $40,000. He served four years before receiving a commutation of sentence from President Jimmy Carter.
Liddy has an amazing, huge vocabulary, and I enjoyed listening to him for that reason. He also possessed knowledge in many areas, and it was wasn't surprising to hear successive callers on his show ask for self-defense advice (answer: "Kick the attacker as hard as you can on the outside of his knee") and his opinion on the election of Sonny Bono to Congress ("If I can go from burglar for the government to talk show host, you can go from entertainer to congressman").
I hardly agreed with either Liddy or William F. Buckley on matters of society and politics, but both of those conservatives used words far beyond the lexicon of another politician whose utterances ("Owning a great golf course gives you great power") seem yuuuuuuge but are not big league.