DEFINING “LIBERAL” AND “CONSERVATIVE” FOR 21ST CENTURY AMERICA

The use of properly chosen words based upon clear and correct definitions is important for every intelligent discussion of political and economic issues. Even when opposing groups criticize each other, they should be careful of how they define the other side, less the discussion degenerates into a meaningless school-yard brawl.

Liberals and Conservatives, as well as Democrats and Republicans should make a concerted effort to concisely define and summarize their political and economic philosophies. If they provide definitions that are too constrictive or insufficiently flexible, they risk being unable to assemble enough support from a working majority of citizens to get elected and to govern successfully.

When John F. Kennedy accepted the New York Liberal Party’s endorsement of his Presidential Candidacy on September 20, 1960, he said the following:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

Any extensive Internet search for an equally succinct yet expansive and flexible definition of a “conservative” will strongly suggest that there is none. Instead one can find a wide variety of rambling and conflicting definitions. A cross-section of prominent members of the Republican Party should agree upon an equally succinct, clear and inclusive definition of a conservative. It should not be solely anti-liberal, but something thoughtful and useful for defining its principles and policy goals for the 21st Century.

Many Democrats have clung to the word “Progressive” because during the past 30 years, Republicans and Conservatives successfully mislabeled the word “Liberal” to scare many lazy and uneducated people into believing that it meant a variety of anti-social, immoral and vile beliefs. Democrats allowed the word “liberal” to be so perverted by Republicans that they had to use “Progressive” to distance themselves from that disgraced word.

With the Election of President Obama and both Houses of Congresses solidly in Democratic hands, the word “liberal” has been slowly coming out of the closet – just in time for some right-wing nuts to try again to associate it with gay marriage, abortion rights, big government spending deficits (as apposed to the huge tax-cut deficits under Republican administrations) and government intervention in various private industries (which many began in the Bush Administration). Confusing it with completely unrelated words such as “socialism,” “fascism,” and other incendiary words, merely exhibits sloppy and lazy thinking, and an utter ignorance of political and economic history around the world and in this country.

American society has shifted significantly, both demographically and philosophically, over the past 30 years. Many Americans who have been born during the past 3 decades do not consider many old wedge issues as being pertinent today. Furthermore, recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans – particularly the younger voters just coming into the electorate – find many “liberal” programs more attuned to their political and economic philosophies. Certainly, many of the former Republican ideologies have been seriously damaged by the concrete facts of the past 2 years that culminated in the current deep recession.

Many Democrats can probably read the 1960 Quote by President Kennedy and find much to admire in 2009. Because of its expansiveness and clearness, it is remains inclusive of many people, policies and points of view within the Democratic tradition. Others may find it so vague as to be meaningless. However, it does delineate some of the major concerns of liberals in American society, not just in 1960 but also in 2009.

Now conservatives need to find a clear self-definition of themselves for the 21st Century. Their overarching philosophy should not be delineated by cable television and talk radio entertainers, unless Republicans want a definition so narrow and exclusionary that it cannot be embraced by the majority of the electorate or even within their own Party. Without such rigorous analysis and creative thought process over the next 2 to 4 years, Republicans could possibly join Whigs and Federalists as just another defunct national party.

Marc Pascal in Phoenix, AZ

         

Author: MARC PASCAL

Marc Pascal is an private enterprise counselor and independent arbitrator and mediator in Phoenix, AZ.

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10 Comments

  1. I'll have to disagree with you here.

    The term conservative can be meant in a number of ways, and we shouldn't try to pigeonhole the label into meaning one thing too much. If people want to be more specific in what they mean, they can add descriptors like economic conservative, social conservative, civil libertarian, etc.

    Same with liberal… I mean, how many breeds of liberal are there? Environmental liberals, socialist liberals, labor/blue collar liberals, blue dogs, etc etc etc. How fair would it be to pigeonhole the word into meaning one particular breed of liberal?

    There has to be some kind of general term that is wide enough to fit all kinds of people into categories like that.

  2. The overall philosophy of liberals and progressives is that individuals are not responsible for themselves and that every problem has to be dealt with by creating or expanding a government program. When you look at things like crime, education, transportation, unemployment, the liberal response is that individuals are not responsbile for their own life choices and the government must get bigger to deal with the problem.

    The most conservative party of the Democratic Party are what I call big government libertarians. They support the government passing out money and creating public sector jobs but do not want the government to make too many demand directly on them. At the far left of the Democratic Party are the socialist supporter who want the government to control virtually everything and usually believe that they will be the ones in charge.

  3. A great article, jwest, which I find more compelling than Marc's claim. It's the Left, not the Right, that has painted today's so-called liberals into a corner. Leftists have induced “liberals” to swallow some profoundly illiberal (and incorrect) ideas about the value of freedom.

    George Will gave a good definition (on the Colbert Report, of all places) of liberals vs conservatives. Liberals value equality of outcome and are willing to sacrifice freedom to get it. Conservatives value freedom and equality of opportunity, and are willing to accept some inequality of outcome to get them.

  4. Thanks for that quote, Dr J, …..succinct and understandable.

    However, it is needlessly apologetic for the conservatives. There ought to be a period after “opportunity”.

    The Universe owes no one a living…or outcome.

  5. So I see conservatives define themselves only in terms of the straw man liberal definition they themselves create. No wonder you have become the party of No, you can't even define yourselves on your own terms.

    I just to cut off the snarky responses, I define myself as an Independent. Conservatives and Liberals both are “clubs” where one must think like everyone else in the club to fit in. I grew out of that when I left the cub scouts.

    Defining yourself as “not like the other club” is downright pathetic.

  6. I agree on both the point that there are many different interpretations of these terms, but I am more concerned about the concentration on Conservative. As a Republican who is fiscally conservative and favors smaller government and the fierce protection of individual personal decisions, I would call myself Conservative. However, because I am a moderate Republican on social issues, most people would not call me a Conservative, as Conservative is now reserved for Rush Limbaugh and the like- which I'm not sure is the best way for that title to be distributed. The stigma attached to the word Conservative here in the United States has, in turn, become incredibly negative, as pointed out above. And I think that Marc makes an excellent point about how we need to work to make this word have less negative connotations- and also describe more moderate Republicans who I believe, as a member of the Real Republican Majority, makes up the base of the Party and truly adheres to those core values that our Party was built on. The entire GOP, and not just the word conservative, has been hijacked by people who are using the Republican name and moniker to advance an extremist social agenda that ignores the founding ideals of fiscal conservatism and limited government, and its costing us not just in elections across the nation- but it's costing us the GOP as a whole.

  7. Bigtentrepublican,

    The problem with the so-called moderate republicans is that they have a lousy track record of pushing for small government or fiscal conservatism. As the compasisonate conservatives have shown, moderate Republicans are really big government, big spending, nanny staters who support a government solution for every problem. It is hard to believe who are moderate on social issues when you keep promoting government solutions for the problems caused by drugs, out of wedlock births, etc?

  8. Damn all conservatives to hell. Frank Lutz and his gang of think-tank fascists actually publish a handbook of phraseology that the mean-spirited, money-grubbing scum that hijacked the Republican party and, indeed, the nation post Watergate use as a resource to demean anybody that even remotely cares for the individual.
    Exteremely Liberal. Strongly Conservative. Just an example of the insidious way that the language has been poisoned by the bastard sons of Lee Attwater and the porcine, mewling playmates of Rove and Limbaugh.
    After 8 years of 'convenient' terror, pointless (unless you have shares in Big Oil) war and 2 – count them – 2 stolen elections, we have elected a decent and honourable man to the White House.
    So, shut the f*ck up you whining bitches and get used to at least 8 years of BIG GUBMINT!

  9. Frant Lutz! – what WAS I thinking – Luntz.

    Luntz, Luntz;

    all his disciples are . . . insert appropriate rhyme here

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