Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conservative or Liberal?

There are many issues that face voters and politicians. If we consider the whole gamut deeply enough, relatively few issues are 100% black and white. For example, even something seemingly as simple as abortion can have degrees. You’re either pro-life or you’re pro-choice. Or maybe you’re pro-life, except in certain cases. Then the issue branches out in other directions- maybe healthcare plans should pay for abortions. Then again, maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s okay sometimes.

There are different degrees of attitudes towards many things, in spite of the fact that people like to attach labels to things to portray them as good or evil. But two terms I hear thrown around the most are conservative and liberal. Which one are you? Maybe there are varying degrees of conservative and liberal, but basically you fall into one of two camps, right? The good guys, and the bad. Us, and Them.

I have a confession: I have little more than a vague notion of what either of these words really mean. They seem to mean different things to different people. When words begin to lack their descriptive power, is it really wise to use them? The thing that bothers me is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what people consider conservative or liberal. To me, "conservative" is a synonym for Republican, and liberal is a synonym for Democrat. That’s the meaning I generally come away with.

According to the dictionary, neither word adequately describes any political philosophy that I’ve ever heard of. It sounds more to me that someone’s personal opinions were just collected and simply branded "conservative," with the implication that its opposite would be "liberal." Silly as they might be, they’re catchy. Just another tool designed to divide people politically and distract them from what really matters- people thinking for themselves.

Another funny thing is that people who identify with one camp usually claim I’m from the other. I hate war and I’m very socially tolerant, so I must be a pinheaded liberal. Then again, I don’t believe in the state redistributing wealth, and I’m in favor of the people arming themselves for self-defense, so I must get all my news from Fox. Right? Well, which is it?

I’ll tell you which it is. It’s neither. When I look at an issue, I’m not thinking, "What would a conservative think about this?" I’m not asking myself where a conservative would stand on issue X, or what a liberal would probably think about issue Y. I don’t file my perspectives under conservative and liberal, but rather government involvement or not. To me, that is a much better metric to use to decide where to stand on something. Moreover, it’s actually descriptive. Is this a job for the government, or not? Is this something best left in the hands of politicians, or not? Do you want government, or do you want freedom?

That is the real issue, but no political party will cop to that. Either someone thinks it proper to use government in a certain situation, or he does not. That’s the litmus test. In a political context, the words conservative and liberal have turned into catchy titles used to deceive people into identifying with a political party’s platform. Unless so many people just so happen to have all the exact same viewpoints in common with no coaching.

I mean no disrespect to the millions who label themselves as conservatives or liberals. Everyone’s entitled to her opinion. But if I have to be labeled as anything, I prefer not to be branded as conservative or liberal, but pro-freedom.

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