Are you a conservative or liberal? Can you even define the terms?
Modern politics and media seem to require that we all be labeled left
or right. The middle, where moderates used to reside, continues to
shrink, a tiny sliver of common sense between warring extremes.
Dictionaries define conservatives as those who favor the status quo
and liberals as those who favor change. Things were so much simpler
when those definitions actually meant something.
Political labels are now weapons with adjectives attached.
Conservatives are almost always described as radical right-wing nut
jobs. Liberals are described as ultra liberal radical left-wing
In current parlance, conservatives generally describe themselves as
favoring smaller government and lower taxes. They support a strong
military, oppose gay rights, are pro-life. They seem to believe this
should be a Christian nation, think they know what the Founders
intended when they wrote the U.S. Constitution and love the Second
Amendment above all others in the Bill of Rights. They seem to demand
absolute adherence to every detail of their self-defined conservatism
any variance or independent thought results in the dreaded RINO
(Republican in Name Only) label.
(This requirement of absolute fidelity to ideology has become
downright bizarre. Republicans in Arizona tried to remove the late
Barry Goldwaters name from their state headquarters building because
he had become too liberal in retirement. That would be the same
Barry Goldwater who bravely wore the mantel of conservatism long
before it was fashionable, penned The Conscience of a Conservative,
and stayed true to his personal beliefs until his dying breath. He
ran afoul of modern conservatives when his libertarian streak and
beliefs in personal freedom became too darned independent.)
Of course, there are no modern liberals since the label long ago made
its wearer a political pariah. There are now moderates and
They are a little bit more difficult to pigeon-hole since they do not
function as a monolithic bloc. In fact, they arent especially even
well organized. They believe the government should be a tool for
social justice, dont shy away from the notion of redistributing
wealth through taxation, support the military because they have to for
their own political survival and are generally more supportive of
individual freedoms. Theyre pro-choice, more supportive of gay
rights, believe the Constitution is open to interpretation and growth
and love the Bill of Rights except for that pesky Second Amendment.
Moderates are a bit more flexible since their positions frequently
change, a necessity if they want to maintain their voting coalition.
By and large, this labeling is all bullshit, including that which Ive
just done. Very few of us toe the philosophical line of either
conservatism or liberalism. We are typically shoved into one camp or
the other, oftentimes against our will, by politicians who find those
labels convenient when trying to push our buttons, and by a media too
dense or lazy to dig deeper than what they see on the surface.
The result is a political estrangement that makes it virtually
impossible to even seriously debate, much less solve, any of the
serious issues we now face. Low turnout primary elections have become
safe havens for the most extreme of each party. So we end up electing
folks who are determined to solidify their own political base by
yammering incessantly about the 20% of the issues on which we dont
agree while ignoring the 80% that represent common ground.
Even the most liberal politician surely must see that trillion dollar
annual deficits (for those of you who enjoy actual numbers, that would
be $1,000,000,000,000) are unsustainable and will ultimately lead to
the ruination of our country. And even the most conservative
politician surely must see that ignoring those among us who, through
no fault of their own, are destitute and hungry, is equally
reprehensible and diminishes us as a country and as a people.
We are struggling with monumental budget issues, the potential
collapse of both Medicare and Social Security, a flawed energy policy,
a very real global terrorism threat, spending priorities wildly out of
whack, a crumbling national infrastructure, children going to bed
hungry every night, a national public education system that seems to
fall further behind our international competitors every year and a
group of politicians, on both sides, who seem completely oblivious to
reality while squabbling about minutiae in an effort to garner another
handful of votes.
Even worse, we allow them to get away with it. Weve apparently
decided its easier to bark at those with whom we dont agree, and
to call them names, than it is to demand our elected officials work
together to find actual solutions.
Its comforting to slap a derogatory label on a political opponent.
It absolves us of the responsibility of actually paying attention or
even considering any position other than whatever whim drifts into our
heads. The more we do it the less we accomplish. We would be much
better served if the next time our knee jerked reflexively we spent
some time in front of a mirror. The real problems we now confront,
and the solutions we need, are in that angry face staring back at us.
Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant who formerly wrote for the