American Conservatism/Liberalism

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by Analog Kid, Jul 6, 2008.

  1. Analog Kid macrumors 68040

    Analog Kid

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    #1
    Created a new thread in this forum to avoid mixing politics into a news item...

    Conservatism in the US has more than one axis. It can most simply be separated into social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. This is clearly an imperfect division as well as each of those divisions contains a vast array of issues one might hold different views on, but such is the nature of branding in American politics-- you tend to get forced into taking the package deal.

    Social conservatives, by contemporary rhetoric, tend to want to retain a social structure in the country similar to what we had in the 50's. They tend to hold stronger religious values, oppose gay rights, oppose affirmative action (which is special consideration given to one's race in an attempt to decouple race from class, and typically takes the form of racial quotas in admission/hiring practices), oppose legalized abortion, oppose pornography and indecent behavior (for any given definition of indecent), and support relaxation or repeal of gun control laws, support capital punishment, and tend to focus more strongly on harsh punishment for crimes in general.

    It's harder to define what social liberals support or oppose, but they tend to place a stronger emphasis on proactive civil rights (meaning conservatives don't necessarily oppose civil rights per se, just don't think the government should be going out of its way to support individuals or specific demographics) particularly for minorities, women and gays, prefer treatment to punishment for crime (particularly drug related crimes), tend to be less nationalistic in their views of foreign affairs, tend to be more environmentally concerned (or paranoid, depending on your alignment), support unions and labor rights, and tend to support women's rights to choose when it comes to reproductive rights.

    The 60's, and how one behaved in 60's tends to be used to define a politicians alignment in contemporary politics. This is one of the reasons traditional conservative/liberal divisions are falling apart-- we're running out of politicians who were of age in the 60's.

    The environment, though typically viewed as a liberal cause, actually doesn't fall too neatly into either category. McCain, for example, who I view as a throw back to true conservatism (contrasted with the neo-cons, which is a whole other topic of conversation) tends to lean towards stronger environmental protections. Regardless, there is a difference in approach for the two sides because it is coming to be seen largely as an economic issue which leads me to:

    Fiscal conservatives tend to believe in low taxes, small government, unregulated markets, "supply side" economics (encouraging investment by making more money available for the wealthy), supporting large multinational businesses, and free trade across borders. Tax policy is seen as a way of "starving the beast"-- cut taxes so there is less money to spend which forces a reduction in the size of government.

    Fiscal liberals tend to believe in government spending, wealth redistribution through a progressive tax structure (higher tax rates, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy), the institution of government programs to address social needs rather than relying solely on the private sector, and tying trade and economic power to environmental and labor reforms with trading partners.

    Many of the distinctions can be tied to the different philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton-- Hamilton wanted a national bank, the ability of the government to take on debt, and a strong national government. Jefferson wanted a weak national government with more power given to the States and localities, and a small, balanced, national budget. Starting a pattern that is repeated throughout American history, it was Jefferson himself who managed to achieve many of Hamilton's goals when he plunged the country into heavy debt in making the Louisiana purchase from France because the territory was too good to pass up.

    Tying this to political parties is tricky business, because the parties have flopped back and forth across the conservative/liberal divide. There's also a Libertarian party which sees itself as the true conservatives, in the sense that they adhere to the text of the constitution while the Democrats and Republicans both tend to try to interpret the meaning and intent of that document (which leads to debates not unlike the debates about the Bible).

    Another way to divide them up is that conservatives tend to believe in the power of the private sector, and liberals tend to believe in the importance of government. This line was drawn most clearly by Reagan through his assertion that "Government isn't the solution, it's the problem".

    Liberals and conservatives both are rife with the kinds of internal contradictions you might expect when you try to take the whole breadth of human opinion and divide into two camps: Liberals view themselves as more tolerant, but tend to be less tolerant of strong religious views and those of the conservative Christians in particular. Conservatives view themselves as supporters of small government and keeping the government out of the lives of individuals, but tend to support legislation to enforce their moral code and sexual morality in particular.

    Limbaugh isn't a conservative, he's a demagogue.
     
  2. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

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    #2
    A pretty good summary, but what does using Macs have to do with anyone being liberal or conservative?

     
  3. Analog Kid thread starter macrumors 68040

    Analog Kid

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    #3
    Sorry, should have also linked back to the thread I split this from:
    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=511322

    The question came up because of surprise over a "conservative" scientific publisher moving to Mac. What I didn't address in my post above is that "conservative" applied to a scientific publisher, I think, is a completely different use of the word. Conservative in that context means "doesn't take risks".
     
  4. SMM macrumors 65816

    SMM

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    #4
    What the author fails to talk about is the impact of right-wing, or conservative authoritarianism. While this is less of an issue amongst Goldwater conservatives, social and political, it is of major importance when talking about modern day conservatives. However, I suspect the author was mainly trying to create a 'primer', rather than an in-depth description of the application of liberalism and conservatism, as is practiced in today's political world (US).
     
  5. Analog Kid thread starter macrumors 68040

    Analog Kid

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    #5
    Someone was asking what the word "conservative" means in American politics, so I tried to give as unbiased an overview as I could. I put it in this thread so others could add their own commentary (hopefully also pursuing the goal of minimal bias)-- so feel free to fill in with broader interpretations.

    I think what you're referring to is what's referred to as the "neo-cons"-- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and their ilk. I specifically left that out of my response because I don't really classify that group as "conservative" despite their pretensions...

    I did say that was a whole separate conversation, and this thread is bare, so I see no reason not to start it here.

    Now looking back at the original question, I see that the questioner shows their location as Wyoming, so what I wrote must come across as pedantic indeed... I meant it for a non-US audience.
     
  6. SMM macrumors 65816

    SMM

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    #6
    Kid, please do not think I was being critical, especially in learning your goal was to provide a general description of the fundamental differences between liberal and conservative, and not a white paper on the subject. This is what I suspected. The reason I brought up the authoritarian point is because the classic differences between the two groups is really no longer as valid, as in the past.

    Your mentioned " ... "neo-cons"-- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and their ilk. I specifically left that out of my response because I don't really classify that group as "conservative" despite their pretensions...". While it is true, they are authoritarians, they make up a small percent of who the conservative authoritarians actually are.

    There are two very distinct groups, within the general classification of authoritarians; authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders. The names mentioned, are primarily associated with the latter group. The followers are by far the largest group. I could be writing until the sun comes up, discussing this in-depth. I will spare you and the others of that. The quick and dirty description is, individuals who need to answer to authority (usually leaders). You see them all the time. They are the ones who refuse to open their minds to new ideas. They do little more than parrot the talking points of the leaders. They are not concerned with right/wrong, immoral/moral. They are the main reason we have become so polarized in this Country. This group has been the subject of much social-political psychological study, ever since WWII.

    Interestingly, much less study has been done for authoritarian leaders. This is the group, who are the scariest and least understood. The followers are attracted to them, like moths around a light. They are grand masters at manipulation, and predate followers.

    The gap between liberal and conservative has become a chasm. It is virtually impossible to see any meaning dialog take place between Democrats and Republicans nowadays. It was not always that way. In the days of Goldwater, the two parties often mingled together. In fact, while Barry greatly disliked, and had little respect for Nixon, he was friends with, and respected John Kennedy. Congress could find compromise, and move legislation through. Those days seem like an ancient memory.
     
  7. yojitani macrumors 68000

    yojitani

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    #7
    Thanks for taking the time to outline the differences, though what you call 'fiscal conservatives' is really not conservative, it is basically economic liberalism.

    Neoconservatism, as I understand it, has more to do with foreign policy and is, more or less, a more polite term for imperialism. The Wikipedia entry, in fact, is a pretty good source.

    There is plenty of literature about various forms of authoritarianism, SMM. Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism comes immediately to mind.
     
  8. maestro55 macrumors 68030

    maestro55

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    #8
    An Excellent thread, American politics are so diverse they can be rather confusing for most people (even me). I mean first off people commonly confuse Republican and Democrat with Conservative and Liberal. It is fair to say the majority of Conservatives vote Republican and the Majority of Liberals vote Democrat but then there are those who are Liberal and support third parties like the Green Party and even a lot of Liberals who support the Libertarian party (same with many conservatives supporting the Libertarian party). Even the Libertarian party is an interesting mix. I mean Mike Gravel is very very liberal and he was running (and lost) for the Libertarian nomination while Bob Barr (very conservative) won the parties nomination.

    I mean I myself consider myself to be a liberal and yet I have hybrid views on such thing as Guns and Taxes. Though your general overview is very true and I like the fact that you did choose to leave the Neo-Cons out of it as that is indeed an entirely different thing.
     
  9. Analog Kid thread starter macrumors 68040

    Analog Kid

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    #9
    Didn't take it as criticism at all-- just a little self conscious about pontificating on something that a lot of people have strong opinions on.

    My hope is that the neocon anomaly will be a blip in history. Maybe that's too optimistic, but there have been times in the past when this country has faced with crises that threatened our core beliefs and somehow, in the end, we came to our senses and improved ourselves. There are already signs that the authoritarian approach is being discredited by both parties-- the Republicans are going to be slow to admit it, but the fact that McCain and Huckabee outlasted Giuliani and Romney indicates that the voters understand it.

    My gut tells me that there is about to be a major restructuring in politics. "Conservative" and "Liberal" aren't going away because those core beliefs are pretty elemental, but I see a major upheaval in one or both of the parties. I think we can expect the losing party in '08 to fall first, and the winning party to barely survive their President's term. They'll either blow apart, or completely remake themselves.
     
  10. SMM macrumors 65816

    SMM

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    #10
    Yes sir, there are. I am very familiar with many of them, either through reading them, or reading excerpts through other's footnotes. I became familiar with this intriguing field of study, by reading John Dean's trilogy. You can hardly get through "Conservatives Without Conscience", without reading Robert Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians". It has become the de facto bible on the subject. I refer back to it often. It contains a vast amount of his research work and statistical modeling, from which he draws his conclusions, and are the basis for his professional papers on the subject. (I must admit, I had to elicit my wife's help in understanding his statistical models. She has an MS degree in Statistics and is very helpful, when I can understand her) :)
     

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