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On-line semantics
Published on December 6, 2006 By Draginol In Republican

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article about the Politics of Labels.

I argued that American politics is really broken down more accurately into 6 categories.  But in most discussions, we end up funneling everything into left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative.  The more simplified you make these labels, the less accurate they are. Yet, it turns out that most people are able to identify themselves into one or the other.

No one is purely a conservative and no one is purely a liberal.  I personally prefer to call myself a Secular Conservative.  But let's face it, once we get into public forums of debate, it doesn't matter what you want to call yourself, you have to deal with the accepted general definitions that are out there lest you get into a pointless semantics debate.

In Europe, liberal and conservative have very different meanings.

So here's my own personal view of what the difference between AMERICAN liberals and AMERICAN conservatives are:

Liberals:

  • Believe in social justice.
  • Believe in the power of government to produce positive social change.
  • Believe that criminals/enemies should be looked at individually but victims should be grouped.
  • Believe in a relatively low threshold in which minority rights trump the will of the majority
  • Believe in rights being very broad but responsibility being relatively narrow

Conservatives:

  • Believe in personal responsibility
  • Believe in the power of individuals to produce positive social change
  • Believe that victims should be looked at individually but criminals/enemies can be grouped/generalized
  • Believe that the will of the majority in almost all cases.
  • Believe that the number of absolute rights is relatively small and that each of those rights carries equally important responsibilities.

So there you have it. My own 2 cents on the subject.


Comments
on Dec 06, 2006

Here is where you can take a test to see where you fit in on the charts:

http://devel.okcupid.com/politics

on Dec 08, 2006
Before answering I thought that I'd better take the test (even though it turned out to be designed for Americans only). The result:

Your true political self: You are a Social Liberal (75% permissive) and an Economic Moderate (55% permissive). You are best described as a: Democrat [In American terms, this is about right]

You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.

So, surprisingly accurate for a bit of fun with some a little too obviously leading questions.

Who Liberals and Conservatives are is a difficult question to answer, particularly as Draginol makes clear that Europeans use the words in very different ways to Americans, so I'll content myself with a couple of observations.

1. Most people are aware that Americans use the word 'Liberal' to describe everyone on the left, no matter how far left, rather than the moderate centrists who we usually call liberal in Europe. Fewer people notice that 'Conservative' is equally used in America in an idiosyncratic way. I would say that many self-labelled conservatives in the US are nothing of the kind: they are actually right-wing radicals. Of all regular JUsers, Bakerstreet probably comes across as closest to what Europeans think of as a conservative. Many of the other 'righties' here are much closer in European terms to radical rightist organisations.

2. The most obvious side effect of this peculiar American use of vocabulary is to squeeze out the middle. This is the best explanation I can find as a foreigner for the bitter, partisan and polarised nature of US politics.
on Dec 09, 2006
I took the OKCupid test earlier this year and posted the results on my blog. Link I fell in the "Centrist" region. If you draw a line from the origin through my position it comes out almost exactly on the line between "libertarian" and "democrat."

on Dec 09, 2006
You are a

Social Moderate
(50% permissive)


and an...

Economic Liberal
(33% permissive)


You are best described as a:


Centrist


Hmm...how...interesting. I've always been a middle-of-the-road kind of guy...but I think I'm just a fraction more liberal...

~Zoo
on Dec 09, 2006
Your true political self:
You are a

Social Moderate
(50% permissive)


Economic Conservative
(80% permissive)


You are best described as a:Capitalist


You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.
on Dec 09, 2006
You are a

Social Moderate
(55% permissive)


and an...

Economic Liberal
(23% permissive)


You are best described as a:


Democrat


You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness. loc: (18

Well, there you go.
on Dec 09, 2006
2. The most obvious side effect of this peculiar American use of vocabulary is to squeeze out the middle. This is the best explanation I can find as a foreigner for the bitter, partisan and polarised nature of US politics.


Yet the middle rules, as was just demonstrated. The middle is the silent part. The vocal left and right here are the ones that make news, yet the middle really controls the electorate. Indeed, it has been said that Bush did not win in 04, but that Kerry Lost. Given the choices, the middle decided that a right winger (false in that sense since he is only about 50% there) was better than a rabid left winger.

That being said, the winner in 08 will be the one that can appeal to the rabid part of the left or right, and yet still come off as not being a part of them to the middle.

Indeed, while the perception may be to squeeze out the middle (thanks to incompetance in the press), the actual fact is they will always rule America. At least for the forseeable future.
on Dec 10, 2006
Yet the middle rules, as was just demonstrated.

I'm assuming by 'just demonstrated' you mean that an uncharacteristically harsh turn to the hard right under George W. Bush, has now been 'auto-corrected' towards a more moderate stance? (i.e. Americans have voted in the Democrats, to correct a political 'imbalance' without necessarily agreeing with their entire 'liberal' agenda). If so, I would tend to agree with your assessment.

That being said, the winner in 08 will be the one that can appeal to the rabid part of the left or right, and yet still come off as not being a part of them to the middle.

This may be true. However, what interests me are those unusual situations of political stress that do end up giving the hard right and the hard left their little moment in the sun. In the UK the shambles of the Winter of Discontent and other economic problems allowed Margaret Thatcher to sail to electoral victory with an intriguing mix of traditional conservatism and something much more harshly radical. In the case of the US, 9/11 has clearly played a similar role, although it must be noted that George W. Bush was elected before this event.

Another interesting observation about our Anglo-saxon democracies is that these unusual or 'emergency' situations rarely seem to work to the advantage of the left. When times are tough, we turn to people like Bush and Thatcher; elsewhere they turn to people like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.

Anyway, once again my usual toast to Militant Moderation.   
on Dec 10, 2006
"...although it must be noted that George W. Bush was elected before this event."


Then maybe it might be advisable to look at what would HAVE caused him to be elected. A lot of people laud Clinton and claim his administration was a new 'Camelot' for America. Do you think that is accurate considering the lurching swerve to the right that came after it?

I think it is important, because it is about to happen again. The 08 election will probably go to someone like Clinton. Someone with as generic a publicly announced ideology as possible, and with oodles of charisma. Whether it lasts 4 or 8 or 12 (as Clinton's would have if Gore had been half the politician as Clinton) years thereafter, expect another hard correction when people can finally stomach someone who promises more than "Camelot".
on Dec 10, 2006

Your true political self:
You are a

Social Moderate
(56% permissive)


and an...

Economic Liberal
(16% permissive)


You are best described as a:


Socialist


You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness. loc: (24, -125)
modscore: (10, 34)
raw: (1332)    
  
 

on Dec 10, 2006
Whether it lasts 4 or 8 or 12 (as Clinton's would have if Gore had been half the politician as Clinton) years thereafter, expect another hard correction when people can finally stomach someone who promises more than "Camelot".

Probably so, but my point is that the 'to and fro' of tweedledum and tweedledee in 2 party systems like the US (and '2 and a half party' systems like the UK) normally seems, at least in the post-war years, to have proceded by a process of soft corrections: a moderately left-wing government being replaced by a moderately right-wing one, and vice versa. The Thatcher years seem to represent a break in the pattern corresponding, as I said before, to an unusual or 'emergency' political situation, where people believed a particular kind of 'logjam' needed to be broken. Presumably the election of GWB represents a similar kind of logjam in American politics, but I don't know enough about US politics and culture to say just what it was that
caused him to be elected.


BTW, has anyone else noticed that everyone who takes this online test seems to get the explanatory rubric "You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness" regardless of their political views?
on Dec 11, 2006
I'm a capitalist btw on that test.
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