Can’t We All Just Get Along? Liberal vs. Conservative Growing up in a home that could be characterized as a political battlefield was traumatic. I spent the first decade of my life living peacefully with two left- winged hippie parents. My mother had hair like Rapunzel and my dad worked as a jazz musician. Life was simple- then in came the 80’s. Making a living as a musician in the Catskill Mountains wasn’t quite panning out well for our family. Luckily my parents were both educated and my father went on to teach music rather than play it. Along with a new structured life came a new rigid set of ideologies (for my dad).
My father became a gun-toting conservative who would refer to my mother as a “bleeding heart liberal” any chance he could. All of the problems in the world were now due to my mother’s liberal thinking. My father thought, if people could be more like him, we would all be better off. The people with whom he enjoyed playing music became the people who were now taking his hard earned money. All this political banter left me disinterested in politics. Thankfully I was away at college during the 1993 presidential election when Clinton won, with the help of my mother.
This political divide left me with no feelings for politics at all. I can compare my political thinking with the wind-one minute it’s blowing to the right then it swings to the left. In retrospect, I can thank my parents, for they gave me the skills necessary to be a good political scientist. I can read information and learn about issues void of emotion. This is the first political science class I have ever taken and I must admit I have enjoyed all the readings thus far. If someone would have told me years ago I would be writing a paper about liberals and conservatives I would never have believed them.
What is a liberal? How do you define a conservative? Is having a label of a liberal or conservative constructive in the policy process? These are all questions that I hope to answer in this paper. Liberals and Conservatives are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Liberals want liberation, conservatives want to dominate. Their views on social problems, economic markets as well as the responsibility of the government differ greatly. Liberals believe that social problems are due to lack of opportunities and barriers to resources.
Therefore the expectation is for the government to step in and implement policies to assist those who are less fortunate. Reallocation of resources would even out the playing field thus bringing social justice and equality to those with fewer opportunities. Conversely, conservatives believe that social problems are not due to fundamental socioeconomic circumstances but rather reflect poor choices made on behalf of individuals. These poor choices lead to the “culture of poverty” which conservatives view as character flaws rather than circumstantial.
Conservative ideologies believe personal failures are due to lack of motivation and inferior skills. If you work hard, you can achieve personal and economic success. Conservatives want the government to be decentralized and small. The role of the government shouldn’t be to regulate what one owns or posses but to foster tradition. Conservative ideologies are rigid and resist change. Liberals on the other hand want to be “liberated” from judgment while simultaneously taken care of by the government. Liberals want the government to serve the people and the community it governs.
Conservatives believe that supplemental support on behalf of the government enables individuals to become complacent and inert. Years ago classic liberals wanted less government and were content with contractual agreements; however over time a new wave of modern liberals realized the importance of government intervention. Unions and wage regulations provided much needed security for laborers who were being exploited by large companies. Liberals are in favor of regulated markets. Conservatives are proponents of laisseze faire societies.
Individual should be able to make choices in the private market. Conservatives view free markets the same way liberals view social justice. Liberal ideology believes that private markets seek to exploit people whereas government regulated markets do not. Individuals that have less, according to conservatives, should seek alternative means of support. Local churches or volunteer organizations are equipped to assist those in need. Indentifying as a liberal or conservative can become confusing. Americans view themselves more as conservatives than liberals, but to what extent?
Labeling people can be problematic due to the fact that people waiver on various issues. A common political joke that a man who is in his 20’s that identifies as a conservative has no heart but the man who is in his 40’s that identifies as a liberal has no brain, clearly reflects changes in ideologies that people go through during their lifetime. People are human and are motivated by personal interest, so say conservatives. Situations arise in life that can be pivotal in changing a person’s ideologies. Stereotyping groups and organizations can be dicey.
Take an organization such as Mental Health Association (MHA). MHA is the symbol of liberalism. A staunch conservative in need of services probably would not seek services at MHA due to what some may see as “loose” morals on behalf of the agency. On the other hand, individuals who identify as gay or as minorities tend to feel at ease due to the open cultural environment of the agency. People like to be associated with like minded-individuals. Political think tanks are no different than sororities or gangs. Problems arise when false assumptions about individuals are propagated.
When analyzing policies, ideas that originated from the “left” or from the “right” may be automatically dismissed due to false preconceived notions. Once the label of democrat or republican has been assigned, resistance is prevalent and can hinder positive transformation. On the other hand, policies can move forward with ease if the politicians making decisions have similar ideologies. Birkland (2005) examines how public policies are categorized and implemented. There are many different typologies in which policies are designed.
I personally favor Theodore Lowi’s Distributive Policy process. Although a segment of the population is benefiting while others are not, the negative effects are minimal. Politicians favor distributive policy due to the benefits of logrolling or I help you, you help me. Decisions within this typology are often kept off the public radar which in turn causes less political strife. Conversely, redistributive policy is riddled with conflict. Taking from one group and giving to another is liberalism at its finest, however causes resistance and friction within the public and political sector.
America is a democracy because it allows for freedom of speech and freedom of ideas. Whether you are a classic liberal, modern liberal, temperamental conservative, situational conservative, progressive or a libertarian in the end it doesn’t really matter. All interest groups are either fighting for more resources or fighting to hold onto the resources they have. Who is to say one is more deserving over the other? Liberals want equality, however if the government takes from the more fortunate and gives to the less fortunate how is that equality?
Americans like to label themselves and other people; it takes the responsibility off of the individual and places it on someone else. Life isn’t fair, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Time spent perseverating over what could have been or what could be is futile. Accepting ones lot in life isn’t easy. If you are dissatisfied with the way your life has turned out you can do one of two things. The first is to make a positive change. When that fails, blame your parents.