“We hear about the left and the right, conservatives and liberals. How many people know the difference?”
The question was posed in an email received recently from a reader. It’s a great question, one that gets lost in today’s shrill expressions of ideology. The part about conservatives was answered last month when the Nebraska legislature not only voted to repeal the death penalty but also mustered enough votes to override the GOP governor’s veto.
Members of the Nebraska legislature are officially non-partisan but the vast majority are conservative Republicans. The legislator who sponsored the repeal said it was a victory of the pragmatic over the dogmatic. Nebraskan conservatives questioned whether capital punishment conflicts with conservative principles due to its fiscal inefficiency and proven inequity. Some said the death penalty was the ultimate exercise of big government power.
It was fascinating to watch these lawmakers examine an issue under a different microscope. This time the starting line was not stereotypical dogma but rather political ideology. They applied conservative principles to the issue and reached a far different conclusion than is reached by a dogmatic analysis.
Dr. Hans Morgenthau was a prominent 20th century expert on international affairs. During the Cold War debates of the 60s on Vietnam, Cuba, and Berlin, Dr. Morgenthau wrote to Dean Acheson, Truman’s one-time Secretary of State. Morgenthau lamented, “What I find so disturbing in the Washington scene today is the dearth of men who are capable of thinking in political terms.” He found it a problem that politicians couldn’t “bring political categories” to debates on issues. “It is as though people were asked to judge paintings, not in terms of their intrinsic aesthetic value, but in terms of say, the cost of their production, the chemical composition of the paint, or their physical relationship to each other.”
The problem has worsened with today’s extreme-media-driven politics. We find ourselves in an environment where if a member of one party offers a proposal, members of the other find fault without employing a politically-principled analysis.
What are the principles dividing conservatives from liberals? It’s difficult to state them without becoming ideological. For example, one website explained the difference this way. Conservatives, it asserted, believe “Western cultures are superior to others without rights, freedom, and respect for life.” Liberals, by contrast, believe, “All cultures are equal. Can’t pass judgment on any even if they don’t value freedom, rights, and life.” Nonsense like that that prevents honest political assessment of issues.
I’ll try to offer a “fair and balanced” (really) assessment of differences, trusting readers will correct me where they think I need correcting.
Conservatives believe in unfettered, free markets where laws of supply and demand determine wages and the behaviors of business. Liberals believe that without government regulation, the market invariably exploit workers, consumers, and the environment. Conservatives accept a level of discrimination in order to secure free, unfettered markets while liberals feel the government must act to make certain the playing field is level.
Conservatives believe business owners create jobs while liberals believe working people and consumers create jobs when they earn enough to enable them to purchase the good and services businesses offer.
Conservatives expect judicial restraint, with courts strictly interpreting the Constitution to uphold its original intent. Liberals support achieving social policy changes via court rulings, believing the Constitution is a living document intended to reflect societal changes.
Conservatives advocate less government, reduced spending, and lower taxes. Liberals believe in progressive taxation to support a level of government spending that will meet the needs of our citizens.
Conservatives believe the federal government is a threat to personal liberty. Liberals believe state governments are demonstrably unable to protect either those freedoms or the natural environment.
Conservatives believe citizens should fear government. Liberals believe citizens’ lives have been improved by federal government initiatives from social security to Medicare and Medicaid, to minimum wages, clean water and air, and more.
Liberal or conservative, we’d be better served by more victories of the pragmatic over the dogmatic.