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