Tax and Spend Liberal. That beauty has been a Republican label for Democrats for the entirety of my adult life. Left-winger, leftist, conservative, neocon, and the list goes on. What do they mean and why are they used, and why on earth do regular people who do not work in the political arena use them as well?
Back in the day, when the Soviet Union was still around, “conservative” was actually a useful definition because it was well defined. Anti-Communist, opposed to government regulation of the economy, and opposed to government involvement in social programs.
Liberals were also pretty well defined. They believed the government could improve the lives of our citizens, that civil rights and women’s rights were important, and we should seek compromise with the Soviets rather than try to nuke them.
So in those days, neither term was seen as a bad thing, they were just different. But when someone was trying to attack their political opponent, they started to juice those terms up a bit, adding things like “bleeding heart” to liberal, and Neanderthal to conservative.
But today, those terms have lost all meaning because nothing is clear cut. There are Democrats who oppose welfare and believe in free trade, like President Clinton. There are Republicans who believe in common sense regulation and reasonable foreign policy, like Secretary of State Colin Powell, or Senator Chuck Hagel. But create a close election, and those old labels are tossed around like grenades. They are easy to use, they get people fired up and they work.
So why are the American people so clueless to this kind of schoolyard name calling? Is it because we’re stupid? Well, our educational system is not what it once was. China and India now produce more engineers than we do, and more physicists come out of Europe now than the US. It’s really more because we’re ignorant. We choose not to educate ourselves or pay close enough attention to what our lawmakers are actually doing to know these labels are what they are; bullshit.
As Senator George Mitchell once said, “If you call something ‘socialized medicine’ enough, it won’t make it true but it might make people believe it’s true.” Add in some talk radio like Rush Limbaugh, who can say things like “flaming liberal” about any Democrat he’s attacking, and people eat it up. The media uses them too, since they’re so convenient.
So what about moderates? You know, people who look at issues and take an informed position which represents the majority of the populace. They get things done in Congress by compromising and making common sense arguments. They leave the name calling to the fringes. There’s the Bomb Iran crowd on one side of the room, and the Save the Gay Baby Whales on the other. See, I used some of my own labels.
Do you know that the political terms “left” and “right” started in France? The leftists sat on the left, and they were called liberals because they wanted to make major reforms in policy. The right wing, seated on the right, were aristocrats, who wanted to retain the status quo.
Here’s the real problem with using these labels. If someone writes a column in a paper or magazine, or on-line and calls it “From the Right” then only people who believe themselves to be on the right will read it. If someone writes a column calling it “The Progressive point of View” only progressives will read it. Someone calls an economist a Fascist; well the Fascists will read his positions. Do you follow my reasoning here? We get nowhere.
Let’s start removing these labels and start discussing issues and how we solve them. Does it matter if the solution involves little government action or major reform of government policy? Not if it solves the problem and improves the lives of our citizens. Ideology is really only a theory, and is often proven wrong by the facts. We can never forget we’re all human beings and as such, deeply flawed. We don’t have all the answers and never will. So does it make any sense to create an ideology and stick to it no matter what, even if the results of following this ideology don’t turn out like they should?