A blogger on the DNC website just wrote an article entitled “What do Conservative do?” to which I would like to respond with my own take on conservatism. Conservatism, Liberalism, Neo-conservatism, Libertarianism, et al., are all political philosophies that have some distinct characteristics. Interestingly enough, most of Americans are Moderates (somewhere in the middle). But when we speak of conservatives and liberals, we are speaking about a person’s political philosophy, not a political party. Although there was (I don’t think it is still active) a political party entitled the Conservative Party at one point in time (I think there is one in the UK).
First, there is a difference between Conservatism and Neo-conservatism. Being a conservative is not a bad thing, nor it is the equivalent of being a Republican. There are Conservative Democrats as well. Most people are usually a combination of conservative and liberal, especially in the Democratic Party. Clinton was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Likewise with Hillary. Likewise with me. There are a lot of us out there.
I call myself a progressive liberal, because in social policy terms I am. However, I believe in having a small, but efficient government and fiscal responsibility. These are traditional conservative values that Democrats also share. Small, but efficient government does not mean stripped down to the point of being unable to maintain competency and efficiency. Al Gore championed and led the cause during the Clinton administration to streamline government and get rid of some of the redundancy. This was one of his major achievements as VP.
So, the question is really, what is a Conservative?
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
4. (often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
5. (initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.
7. Mathematics. (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.–noun
8. a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc.
9. a supporter of conservative political policies.
10. (initial capital letter) a member of a conservative political party, esp. the Conservative party in Great Britain.
11. a preservative. (Dictionary.com)
Now, that is a very broad definition, but let’s examine that:
If I want to preserve core values does that make me a conservative?
My take is that core values are not specific to one philosophy or another, all philosophies and political parties have them. Political parties have platforms or planks. For Democrats, some core values we have traditionally (notice one of the kepwords for conservative is preserving tradition) espoused is belief in the common man and preserving the rights of the individual. According to the above definition, that is conservative.
So, what is Liberal?
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman. –noun
14. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion.
15. (often initial capital letter) a member of a liberal party in politics, esp. of the Liberal party in Great Britain. (Dictionary.com)
Notice the use of the term “progressive” and how many of us now use the label progressive because of the negative connotation that liberal has had due to the Republicans redefining what a “liberal” is. We need to redefine the term “Liberal” and take it back for ourselves and our party. I wrote a blog about this Entitled “Elephantizing” some time ago: http://www.democrats.org/page/community/post/lauraschneider/C5mb, not to confuse elephantizing with the Elephant mascot of the Republican Party — there is no connection directlym although Republicans have used this tactic on Democrats for some time..
I also wrote one (reposted recently for Friday Forum) about how we frame issues with terms and slogans: http://www.democrats.org/page/community/post/lauraschneider/CBVV, which was an attempt to open up the debate on how we use terms to describe ourselves and others relative to various issues.
What is a moderate?
mod·er·ate Audio Help /adj., n. Ëï¿½mÉ’dÉï¿½rÉªt, Ëï¿½mÉ’drÉªt; v. Ëï¿½mÉ’dÉï¿½Ëï¿½reÉªt/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[adj., n. mod-er-it, mod-rit; v. mod-uh-reyt] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation adjective, noun, verb, -at·ed, -at·ing.
1. kept or keeping within reasonable or proper limits; not extreme, excessive, or intense: a moderate price.
2. of medium quantity, extent, or amount: a moderate income.
3. mediocre or fair: moderate talent.
4. calm or mild, as of the weather.
5. of or pertaining to moderates, as in politics or religion.
6. a person who is moderate in opinion or opposed to extreme views and actions, esp. in politics or religion.
7. (usually initial capital letter) a member of a political party advocating moderate reform. –verb (used with object)
8. to reduce the excessiveness of; make less violent, severe, intense, or rigorous: to moderate the sharpness of one’s words.
9. to preside over or at (a public forum, meeting, discussion, etc.). –verb (used without object)
10. to become less violent, severe, intense, or rigorous.
11. to act as moderator; preside. (Dictionary.com)
If we use the term and the definition for it as “kept or keeping within reasonable or proper limits,” then we have a definition that describes a good portion of the American electorate. Most Americans are neither completely conservative or completely liberal. They are not extreme. They are in the middle. Liberal and Conservative are most often viewed as the extreme left and extreme right of political thought. Most Americans are somewhere in the center of all that.
All these philosophies have their distinct charactersitics, but most political parties, if you read their platforms over time, have elements of both extremes — conservatism and liberalism — in their platforms.
The problem we are dealing with now is that the extreme elements of both parties have taken control, and the resulting gridlock in Congress and in the country when we debate issues is causing a paralysis in our country and in our government. Why? Because there is a prevailing attitude that to compromise is to betray your core values. There is a definition of politics (and I will confess I forgot who said it) that politics is the art of compromise. In an article entitled “The Art of Compromise” (TIME, [No author listed], Monday, Mar. 29, 1976: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,918143,00.html), the following describes our current situation as well. It is sad that things haven’t changed much in the last 32 years:
“The art of compromise, which is essential to democracy, seems to have gone out of style in recent years of angry all-or-nothing politics. Especially when the Congress is Democratic and the President is Republican, the result is often no legislation, and many issues are left to fade or fester.”
How does the dictionary define politics?
–noun (used with a singular or plural verb)
1. the science or art of political government.
2. the practice or profession of conducting political affairs.
3. political affairs: The advocated reforms have become embroiled in politics.
4. political methods or maneuvers: We could not approve of his politics in winning passage of the bill.
5.political principles or opinions: We avoided discussion of religion and politics. His politics are his own affair.
6. use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.
7.(initial capital letter, italics) a treatise (4th century b.c.) by Aristotle, dealing with the structure, organization, and administration of the state, esp. the city-state as known in ancient Greece. —Idiom
8. play politics.
a. to engage in political intrigue, take advantage of a political situation or issue, resort to partisan politics, etc.; exploit a political system or political relationships.
b. to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for job advancement. (Dictionary.com)
Now, that is not a very flattering way of describing our political leaders and the avocation (for most of us) that we all engage in here on the blog, but let’s be kind and say that politics is the art of manipulating people to aachieve consensus and operate the government. I like Aristotle’s version, myself. It is much loftier.
What is the lesson to be taught here?
As Obama said, words matter. But there is a bigger issue here as well. Democrats are the party of the “Big Tent.” We embrace and are tolerant of all people who are interested in preserving our civil liberties, making our country and this world a better, safer place and bringing people together. Emphasis on the last oee, since that is one of Obama’s themes.
We cannot bring people together and be intolerant and rigid in our own definitions of who we are and the labels we used to describe ourselves and others. Certainly, our party, as does every party, has some core values that we cherish (cherish being a word a traditionalist, or conservative would like, BTW). But we also know we have to embrace diversity and be tolerant of other philosophies in order to create consensus and move this country forward.
No human being is all conservative or all liberal or all moderate. Most have what I call the “cafeteria” plan of political philosophy. There are some things we value that could be conservative, others liberal, and yet others still, moderate. This describes a vast majority of Americans.
If the Democratic Party is to be a party for the vast majority of Americans, we had better start acting like it.