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.