What’s in a name?

Political tags-such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth-are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. – Lazarus Long

The events of 2008 caused me to rethink my association with the Democratic party and become a true independent. Being independent caused me to start seeing things differently. One thing I noticed is that “conservative” vs. “liberal” usually seems to mean “Republican” vs. “Democrat.” If “they” are for it, “we” are against it, and vice-versa.

Here is how Wikipedia defines Conservatism:

Conservatism (Latin: conservare, “to retain”) is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional institutions and supports, at most, minimal and gradual change in society. A person who follows the philosophies of conservatism is referred to as a traditionalist or conservative.

Well that doesn’t seem so bad. The practice of law tends to be conservative because it relies on precedent and encourages minimal change. But if you asked a person on the left to define conservatism they would give you a very different answer. They would tell you it is a philosophy of greed, racism and authoritarianism.

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a political ideology or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights and the free exercise of religion.

That sounds like a pretty nice ideology, but I’m pretty sure that conservatives are into liberty, equality and that other stuff. Is “liberal democracy” different from regular democracy? Is “liberalism” different from “progressivism?” (For the purposes of this post I am treating “liberal” and “progressive” as synonymous.)

Lately there have been many issues that don’t seem to fit their assigned labels. Should liberals be demanding justice for Trayvon Martin or supporting George Zimmerman’s civil rights? Which is “liberal” and which is “conservative,” anti-Mormon bigotry or nominating a Mormon?

Can you define your own ideology in a way that doesn’t include listing a bunch of policy positions? Is your ideology consistent with every policy you support or oppose? Do you care more about theory or results?

Bill Clinton is a case in point. His administration was a time of peace and prosperity, but according to liberal theory he did everything wrong. So he is vilified by many liberals who spend a lot of time explaining how the peace and prosperity were illusory.

To be fair, many conservatives keep insisting we can balance budgets by cutting taxes.

I tend to be pragmatic. If it works, keep doing it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it don’t work, try something else.

Right now the Democratic party doesn’t have a coherent ideology. They are a coalition of identity groups, and their “ideology” consists of a bunch of policy positions that cater to those groups.

I’m not saying these policies are bad, but they aren’t always consistent with each other and are sometimes mutually exclusive. The Democrats claim to support lower-class workers and unions, but they also support immigration. Immigrants compete for the jobs of lower class workers and union members. But most immigrants vote Democratic after they become citizens.

This begs the question. If Hispanics were voting 80% Republican would the Democrats still support immigration?

What about school vouchers? Teacher unions hate them. Not coincidentally, the Democratic party opposes them. But what should the liberal position be?

Affirmative Action is another one. In a truly colorblind society race would get no consideration in hiring, promotions and school admissions. The people that are negatively affected by AA policies are not the wealthy white elites who benefited from racism and segregation, they are the lower and lower-middle class whites.

Once you start differentiating between what is good for the country and what is good for the Democratic party, things get complicated.

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45 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Oswald says:

    If you can’t stand thinking for yourself you can always try Sky-Hating.

    • DandyTiger says:

      Apparently hate makes you lighter than air. Or is that being full of hot air. Either way, it’s a gas man.

    • elliesmom says:

      When I followed the link from here to there the other day, it was the first time I had ever visited. It’s interesting to see who from the original PUMA blogs ended up where. I changed my name and avatar when my beloved Samantha died because it hurt too much to type it every day – not because I wanted to be “incognito”. While I explained it at the time, it has given me a “rebirth” a couple of places. 😉

  2. 2008 sure made me step back and really really look at what I THOUGHT the D party stood for as opposed to what they DO. Actions speak louder than words and all that. Oops. “Words, just words…..”

  3. elliesmom says:

    I believe strongly in personal responsibility. And I think that personal responsibility extends to helping take care of your family. As I have mentioned, there were deaths on both sides of my family that left children orphaned. None of those children ever spent a day in foster care.They were absorbed into their extended family and grew up just one of the kids. At one time there were 4 different last names on my family’s mailbox. My family practiced what they preached.

    When people are unable to take care of themselves and their families lack the resources to help, then I think the village has an obligation to step in and help. But that help should be the kind of help we give special needs kids. What you need to succeed in the least restrictive environment for just enough time to get you back on track. I think many of our “do-gooder” policies have trapped people into downward spirals that many people never get out of, creating generations of people unable to take care of themselves and who have nothing to offer to support their families. We should be offering a ladder, not a shovel.

    I believe that there are somethings that only the government can do, and we should have a government that concentrates on doing those things well and leave the rest of the things to others. Besides the many opportunities for graft and corruption that appear the further away from direct control by the people you get, we’ve become a nation of “one size fits all” in many of our government programs. It doesn’t work with panty hose, and it doesn’t work with things like education and health care.

    I think both political parties are more interested in keeping themselves powerful than in having a powerful electorate. In today’s political environment that means that Democrats want to have as many people dependent on policies that favor them voting for Democrats. It’s not hard to get people who pay no income taxes excited about raising the taxes of the people who do. Doesn’t always matter what you want to spend the money on. It’s also not hard for the Republicans to demonize the people who take money out of the federal coffers without putting any in. If you want to get a group of Republicans fired up, bring up the “Earned Income Tax Credit”.

    When it comes to social issues, I’m a live and let live kind of person. I can live quite comfortably in a world populated with people who do different things inside their homes than I do. I’m a “safe, legal, and rare” pro-choice kind of person. It bothers me that some women use abortion as their standard method of birth control, but I recognize that there are times when abortion is the best choice a woman can make. I think the sexual revolution hurt women as much as it helped us. I don’t believe in capital punishment. I think we should be looking carefully at our drug laws. While I think recreational use of drugs needs to be regulated, I don’t think putting people in prison is the way to regulate them.

    I don’t think there are any inconsistencies in all of that. I think that this makes me a conservative although I am not the least bit resistant to change. I do respect the Law of Unintended Consequences, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to always have a Plan B.

    • Oswald says:

      I think many of our “do-gooder” policies have trapped people into downward spirals that many people never get out of, creating generations of people unable to take care of themselves and who have nothing to offer to support their families. We should be offering a ladder, not a shovel.

      There has always been poverty. It was around long before welfare came along.

      But welfare didn’t make it go away either.

      • elliesmom says:

        Welfare didn’t make poverty go away and it didn’t create it, but I also think some of our welfare programs have made it less likely that people will struggle to get out of it. Being poor isn’t something to be ashamed of, but it used to be be that a lot more poor people believed that if they worked hard enough and got themselves a better education, they or at least their children would no longer be poor. My dad’s family went from poor to working class to solidly middle class in three generations by working hard and educating each new generation better than the one before it. Before I retired, I taught a lot of kids who lived in the projects and on welfare, and their goal was to get a better apartment in the projects.

        • myiq2xu says:

          Here’s a dirty little secret – if the government came up with a full employment program that offered a job to anyone who wanted one we would still have unemployment and poverty.

          If the government said that all you had to do was show up at a location and work for 8 hours and receive minimum wage, some people would not show up. They would make excuses.

          “I was sick, I didn’t have a ride, it was too hot, etc, etc, etc.”

          Remember those dire predictions of families starving in the streets due to welfare reform? Those 5 year limitations on benefits kicked in over ten years ago. Where are those people?

  4. Very relevant article, and spot-on. I’ve come to dislike and distrust many who identify themselves as Dem. as much as I do most of the conservatives. For me, the ONLY good thing that came from the 2008 UNdemocratic primary and the shit storm that engulfed it was the realization that the Dem Party did not represent the values of inclusiveness and equality that I had stupidly believed it did. I had been duped, and worse, in my refusal to look below the surface, I had participated my being duped – invited it, even. It was so much easier just to go with the labels – as your article noted – than to actually consider all the fine points.

    After I left the party, I felt really lost. I mean I knew in 2008, I would vote for McCain – as badly as I hated to, because I felt Obama would damage this country beyond repair and it was important to defeat him. Additionally, I had resolved to vote against every Dem for at least the next four years, as a way of protesting the sleazy doings by the Dems in 2008. It always amazed me when the Hillary supporters who reacted strongly against the theft of the nomination for Obama -in the beginning – , were so quick to demand that other Hillary supporters not vote Republican. WTF – did they actually think anything could be worse than Obama ?

    As difficult as it was, initially, to be a voter without a party, so to speak, It has since, become freeing and empowering. My vote may not count for much when I write someone in. It’s not strategic voting – calculating whether Repubs will hold a majority in the house or senate, and voting to prevent that from happening. But, what the hell. Best I can tell, nothing positive happened for the first two years of O’s admin, when he had a majority of Dems in congress.

    • Oswald says:

      I think everyone wants prosperity, freedom, equality and security. They want rules that are fair to everyone.

      The real issue is how do we achieve those goals?

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      I also felt empowered after I accepted my loss in 2008. It allowed me to do what I really wanted to do, which was vote for women, regardless of party or (non-Fascist) ideology. I have yet to encounter a Fascism-oriented female in the voting booth.

      It also helped me consider other things, like the lack of economic diversity in the hallowed halls of power. I hate that OWS corrupted my very reasonable POV on that, but it is a problem. As long as we continue to vote for Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford grads, we’ll continue to get more and more authoritarian polices. I sometime make my decision to vote for someone based on the fact that they have a state school degree.

      What I’d like to see is the House set up as a lottery that all voters could be randomly picked for, with a limit of one term per voter. That would make it so people with just a high school degree, and working class and working poor people would have a shot at something that might elevate their standard of living, and empower their voices in the power structure. It would also impact lobbyist, who couldn’t develop cozy relationships with incumbents in at least one chamber. I call it Congress-by-jury-pool and I’ve long been meaning to write an article about it. I’ll see if I can manage over the weekend.

  5. cj says:

    Aside from the basics; defense, enforcing the laws, etc, I think government exists to keep the playing field level & to provide safety nets for anyone that, for whatever reason, can’t play the game at all.

    I also think that the situation is fluid. What worked once, what was keeping things fair at one point may not be working the same way now.

    I think that makes me a liberal, but obviously, not necessarily a Democrat. I believe in personal responsibility, but it hardly makes sense to insist that our daughters learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when the system is inherently gamed against them.

    • Oswald says:

      If the playing field is level it’s not gamed against anyone.

      • cj says:

        Agree. I said that a level playing field was the ideal, not that the government was successful at it. Or that it even tries to keep things fair in some circumstances.

    • elliesmom says:

      The alternative to not teaching our daughters to pull themselves up their bootstraps because the game is rigged against them is to create generations of dependent women pigeon-holed into roles that society decides are for women. Just because the game is rigged, it doesn’t mean you can’t still succeed. I was one of the first women to attend an all-male engineering college. It wasn’t easy at all. Most of the professors and at least half the student population didn’t want us there. We were greeted with, “Good morning, gentlemen” at the start of every lecture class and had to step over dead rats left at our doors by “the student welcoming committee”. We all could have packed our bags and gone home, but then there wouldn’t be hundreds of women on that campus, fully integrated into the academic and social life, today. And working in a field that pays $$$$.

      • cj says:

        No, I agree with that. It was a terribly written post, sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t teach our daughters to be self-sufficient, or not to even try to succeed. I meant it more that society shouldn’t be hypocritical about it, that it should recognize that the glass ceiling exists & work to change it.

  6. DeniseVB says:

    Ann Althouse had a good post about Facebook not allowing cutesy Political Views titles on your profile anymore. Like “recovering liberal” or “former bleeding heart” for example. FB replaced those with “Other”. I guess I’m an Other now 😀

  7. yttik says:

    “To be fair, many conservatives keep insisting we can balance budgets by cutting taxes.”

    LOL, well actually we can. Bill Clinton did it. In spite of the hype, Clinton really did lower taxes on small businesses and he expanded the earned income credit. He made it worth while for lower income people to work.

    We keep debating over penalties versus taxes, but there really is no difference. A tax is a penalty. People do what they can to avoid taxes. Taxes are not a reward. Nobody sets a goal of being able to pay a lot of taxes. So taxes, and attempting to avoid them, governs behavior. For the last four years we’ve been banging the drum about everyone paying their fair share, about raising taxes to balance the budget. All you have to do is look at the economy to figure out that that idea doesn’t work. People are not motivated to invest, hire, achieve, with the promise of higher taxes.

    • elliesmom says:

      Ronald Reagan said, “Republicans believe every day is the 4th of July, and Democrats believe every day is April 15th”. One of the motivations for my early retirement was that the first dollar of my paycheck is taxed as high as the last dollar of my husband’s. When I was being paid as an engineer, there was enough left over to make it worthwhile, but a teacher’s salary – not so much. I also left public school teaching for private school before I would be vested in the retirement program because collecting my state teacher’s pension made me ineligible for social security, a fund I had paid into for a lot more years. By leaving before vesting kicked in, I got to take my money out and roll it over into a private investment fund. Anybody who doesn’t think people make decisions based on what their tax bill will be has never paid much in taxes.

    • WMCB says:

      The federal govt’s real revenue has always run at about 18 to 20% of GDP. That’s what it’s able to collect. Regardless of what the marginal tax rates are. Doesn’t matter if they are 20% or 70%. There seems to be a ceiling of around 20% of GDP. There are many factors playing into why that is. People find ways around the higher rates. Or businesses get discouraged, stay small and deliberately keep their income below where the higher rate would kick in. If I make $100,000 and my rate is 20%, I net $80,000. If working twice as hard gets me 200,000, but the rate on that is 50%, I only net 100,000. Am I going to work TWICE as many long hard hours to go from 80,000 to 100,000? Nope. The extra 20,000 isn’t worth twice the effort. I’ll sit pat at 80,000. Productive people stop striving to be even more productive, and instead concentrate on shielding income from the IRS, and the economy slows. Money that might otherwise go to new ventures gets shoveled into tax shelters, not productive investments. GDP falls.

      Taxes SHOULD have one function: revenue for the govt.
      They are not a morality or leveling tool. If revenue is the goal, then the govt’s approach to taxes ought to be “most bang for the buck”. Not “fairness”, not righting wrongs, but a sweet spot where you are getting the most revenue without quashing GDP. Period. Once you start making taxes a tool for anything other than raising revenue, you start shooting yourself in the foot.

      Also, that roughly 20% revenue ceiling exists. We CANNOT sustain a govt that spends 25% of GDP. It can’t be done. No matter how much we raise tax rates. Our govt is going to have to learn to provide the services we need on 20% or less of GDP. Period. And I believe it CAN be done. Our country functioned for decades and decades on spending far below 20% of GDP. And we weren’t Somalia, and citizens weren’t starving in the streets. But they are going to have to be dragged back there kicking and screaming – loudly proclaiming DOOM and penury for all if we try to take their ever-expanding bureaucratic budgets down to sanity again. You know what? They lie.

      • votermom says:

      • WMCB says:

        Oh, and this gets back to the whole labels thing as well. I guess you can say that I am a conservative in my approach to taxes. I think that a low tax rate and a BOOMING private sector with few hindrances is the best way to generate revenue.

        But I am liberal in that I don’t buy that all that economic boom will necessarily always “trickle down” to the least. Oh, sure, it will give job opportunities galore to the motivated and able. And that’s a good thing. Hurrah! A lot fewer people will need help. But there are always those who get left out for whatever reason. This is where the govt steps in, and helps out. But govt are only able to DO that if they have the revenue with which to do it! And what I outlined above is the best way to get the revenue.

        So the argument of an “unfair” laissez faire economy that doesn’t trickle down vs. a massive heavy taxing State that kills economic growth seems so asinine to me. It’s NOT either/or! Why do these fuckers keep having this fake either/or argument??? Have your free market boom that takes care of a chunk of the people via expansion. THEN take the increased tax revenue from the booming economy and help those who will (inevitably) fall through the cracks.

        • WMCB says:

          This very dynamic is what made the Clinton years so good. R’s want to claim it was all the R congress, and D’s want to claim it was all Bill. In reality, it was both. R’s took an axe to spending, and freed up a lot of hindrances to business. Bill cooperated with that. Bill tried to make sure those who really needed help got a piece of those rising revenues. Newt and company compromised and cooperated with him on that.

          They hashed it out, each side fighting for half of the equation. You had a slashing of govt paired with a focus on making sure the really needy had a safety net. And it fucking WORKED.

        • myiq2xu says:

          If I make $100,000 and my rate is 20%, I net $80,000. If working twice as hard gets me 200,000, but the rate on that is 50%, I only net 100,000.

          Actually you would net $130,000

          The rate on the first $100,000 doesn’t change.

        • WMCB says:

          Yeah, I know. I was just simplifying for arguments sake. The jumps in income are not often twice the amount either. But people and their accountants get very good at determining where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and either not making or more likely shielding that extra income.

        • yttik says:

          Clinton got a lot of flack for his welfare reform that he put together with his Republican congress, but as hard as that was for some people in the beginning, it reduced poverty, stimulated the economy, and helped balance the budget. Of course he did a few other things, like child support enforcement, daycare grants, and the earned income rebate, making it possible and worth while for people to work.

          Some people really do need help, but there are a whole lot of others who simply give up because they can’t make it, because the system is too punitive. We’re seeing this again with the ObamaTax. If your income stays low, you can be dependent on government medicaid and have healthcare. If you earn just a little more, you have to fork out money you don’t have on insurance or pay a fine. What’s the point of earning 50 grand a year if you are mandated to spend 25,000 on insurance? A whole lot of people are going to deliberately remain in poverty, because it’s financially foolish to work your behind off and have less to show for it then if you had just stayed poor.

        • myiq2xu says:

          I was shocked to discover just recently that the so-called “Laffer curve” basically makes the same point as WMCB – after a certain point increased taxation rates resulted in less revenue because of non-compliance or non-participation.

          Laffer argued that government revenue falls on a standard Bell curve where there is a maximum tax rate/participation point.

          He did NOT say “reducing tax rates increases revenue.”

        • votermom says:

          You also have to consider the overhead of the IRS. Higher tax rates and more kinds of taxes generally correlates to more complex tax laws and therefore more bureaucracy. So there is the difference in how much the govt nets per dollar of tax collected.

        • yttik says:

          He did NOT say “reducing tax rates increases revenue.”

          Well, the argument is oversimplified. It depends on how and where you reduce taxes and how it’s going to impact the economy.

          What we’re doing at the moment is blowing hot air about making the wealthy pay “their fair share.” The thing is, taxes are really only paid on earned income. If you’re well off enough to not need to work, the tax rate on your income bracket could be 50%, but it still won’t touch you because you aren’t earning any money. No earned income, no taxes. The moment you do put your money to work, that 50% will kick in.

          We work in construction for several well off people who are usually hiring us for various projects this time of year. Not one of them is spending a dime at the moment because of the uncertainty over taxes. It makes more financial sense for them to sit on their money. That means they don’t pay taxes, and since we aren’t working, that means we don’t either. The Gov has raised taxes and actually managed to reduce revenue.

  8. HELENK says:


    does this mean that I will no longer have to obey any law?? I can do 90 mph in a 65 mph zone and they can not give me a ticket or because I am an American citizen I have to obey the laws????

  9. DeniseVB says:

    Hmmmm, addiction? Otherwise JJ,Jr’s condition is worse than they thought, still in hosp. since June 10? Won’t say what…….


  10. yttik says:

    “Affirmative Action is another one.”

    AA is perceived as being a liberal/Dem, ideology, but really it was first implemented by President Nixon. Also, it’s interesting that two very liberal states, Washington and California, have enacted laws against what they call, “preferential treatment.”

    So is AA a liberal or a conservative idea? I don’t know. The narrative is that Dems want all people to own ponies that poop skittles while all Republicans of course, are racists.

    • myiq2xu says:

      Skrentny begins his discussion of labor unions by way of explaining the oft-noted irony of Richard Nixon doing more than perhaps anyone else to promote racial hiring quotas. The explanation Skrentny makes is that Nixon was using race to belabor the AFL-CIO, to drive a wedge between the civil rights and organized labor constituencies in the Democratic party.

      IIRC it was HH Humphrey who believed that AA was a political mistake for the Democratic party.


      • myiq2xu says:

        Rick Perlstein:

        At a time when other liberals were besotted with affirmative action as a strategy to undo the cruel injustices of American history, Humphrey pointed out that race-based remedies could only prove divisive when good jobs were disappearing for everyone. Liberal policy, he said, must stress “common denominators — mutual needs, mutual wants, common hopes, the same fears.”

  11. Oswald says:


    That was supposed to be 18 minutes of fireworks.

    • HELENK says:

      that is how California manages it;s debt. a lot of flash, sound and fury but nothing that lasts

    • yttik says:

      What’s that saying? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Especially in politics, because it really sucks when the other guy starts using your own words in ads against you.

  12. Karma says:

    A fellow traveler in the reality based community gets a few Obots upset by calling out Obama and suggesting a modest investment strategy in the face of Obamacare. He is an investment blogger/author so that part is to be expected but the Obots just don’t get it on the Obamacare/Obama/’DC sucks, save yourself’ critiques.


  13. cameoanne says:

    Great post myiq2xu – thanks!

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