I tend to identify myself as a liberal rather than as a Democrat. This is in part because there seems to be a widespread feeling that having a party identification is wrong because it removes the need for thought. Certainly, I don't think it's right to blindly choose a party and then vote straight ticket, whether you can articulate any reasons for your choice or not.
However, I don't necessarily think having a party identification precludes a person from evaluating candidates individually. I tend to vote Democrat because Democrats tend to be the liberals. When I hear John McCain say that Barack Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate, I think that's a good thing. It's a selling point for me.
Here's the thing: the terms liberal and conservative lose their meaning when they become pejorative terms for use against the guy you don't like. But they are words that should have real meaning to us. Meanings we ought to understand, don't you think?
So today, I thought we'd have a little civics class. Humor me, won't you? I got to teach civics during the last presidential election year and I'm deprived any student outlet this time.
I thought I'd just share my own definitions of what I believe to be the core values of both liberals and conservative, apart from specific issues. I will make every effort to do this in as unbiased a fashion as I can manage. I'll even put them in alphabetical order.
The conservative ideology is built on an idea of individual rights and responsibilities. Government should be small and as little as possible involved with people's lives. Taxes and spending should thus be low. The people, unfettered by intrusive government, can succeed on their own merits and hard work, helping their neighbors without being compelled to do so by the government. People can manage their own money better than government can. Conservatives believe that power ought to be more concentrated in local and state government than federal.
The liberal ideology, on the other hand, is built on the idea that we have a responsibility to pool our resources via government to ensure that everybody has their basic needs met. Government should be bigger to enable it to provide more services, thus taxes and spending should be higher. Liberals believe that we don't start out with equality of opportunity, so there needs to be some leveling of the playing field done by government, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Liberals believe in power centralized more in federal government than states or localities.
I like to imagine that if we looked at each other more through this lense, we could have more respect for each other's differences. It comes down to a philosophy of how you think government ought to be run. Neither is inherently bad, but they are very different. No politician carries out a pure version of his or her ideology, but they do tend to align more with one or the other.
Sure, I think the liberal ideology is the better way to go about things. But because I understand the underlying ideas behind both, I can see that conservatives aren't evil. They like a different approach to government than I do. And when you put it that way, it can really diffuse a lot of the ugliness that exists before we even get into issues. I can't be nearly so dispassionate where certain issues are concerned, but if I start out with a basic understanding of where the other side is coming from, then I think we can have a much more productive conversation.
I fear I'm starting to repeat myself, so lecture over. Let's move on to the discussion portion of class. I promise there's no homework. Well, except to vote, which if you live in Texas, you can do starting today.