Monday, August 01, 2005

What "Liberal" and "Conservative" Means

At Right Wing News, conservative bloggers put out their least favorite conservatives. Pat Buchanan took the prize overwhelmingly. When one examines the list, it's almost comical how many crazy commentators, such as Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter made the list next to legitimate politicians, such as Arlen Specter and John McCain.

People often refer to others as liberals or conservatives. But what do they mean?

Traditionally, in a political context, a liberal is somebody who supports change and a conservative is more satisfied with the status quo. Now, although words evolve over time and we can't expect the words liberal and conservative to mean what they did during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries sat on the left and royalists sat on the right (hence the association of liberals with the left and conservatives with the right), the terms have become far too broad, and often encompass conflicting opinions and philosophy.

For instance, many refer to Republicans who do not support ammending the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage as "liberal on the gay issue". However, when John McCain (R-AZ) voted with senate Democrats to prevent a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, he did not do so out of a rare streak of liberalism, but instead, out of disgust with the efforts to amend the nation's most sacred document with what he probably considered political demogoguery. Similarly, Barry Goldwater, possibly the most conservative presidential candidate in modern history supported gay marriage because he believed that the 14th Amendment gave the same protection that marriage laws grant heterosexuals to homosexuals.

Are the above men true conservatives or are they simply "mavericks", who have no distinct political philosophy?


At 8:14 PM, Blogger ljmcinnis said...

Interesting post Jack.
I believe the political parties have actually reversed themselves in the last 40 years. Dems used to represent "working" people but now appeal to special interests. They used to stand up and protect free speech and religious freedom and now I see them as condemning religious expression and enforcing "political correct" speech. I was raised to believe they were "forward" thinkers interested in change and progress, yet they don't want to try any change ie. education, taxation, social security...
In my eyes the Democrats have become the big money, special interest, intolerant, McCarthyists, I was raised to abhor.
There was some discussion after the last election that the Dems needed to "redefine" themselves. I think partly, because the words conservative and liberal no longer represent the parties they are associated with, but mostly the Dems have failed to live up to the principles and values they proclaim to protect.
So who is working on this within the Democratic party?

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Enlighten said...

Jack you said: "For instance, many refer to Republicans who do not support ammending the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage as "liberal on the gay issue".

Specifically who are the many that call Republicans liberal if they do not support an amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman? Do you have a link to your source for that bit of information? BTW, what Congressman do you work for?

At 2:50 PM, Blogger wfoley said...

In response to ljmcinnis, I agree that Democrats have become conservative in many ways. But I don't think they condemn religious expression. What they condemn are the attempts to establish national religious norms. I see far more McCarthyism on the right, where Americans' patriotism and commitment to opposing terrorism is routinely questioned. I also find that the word "freedom," in this climate, has been transformed into a partisan political slogan. Utterly abstract.


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