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Wednesday — February 4, 2004

Opinion Columns

Liberal and conservative without definition

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

In American society, to define oneself as "liberal" at the beginning of the 21 century is to claim identification with the politics, philosophies and persons of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and others less eminent. It is to claim the higher, more compassionate moral ground in relationship to the weaknesses of humanity and the unending strengths of its sufferings.

The American liberal’s classless society credo is that the strong shall protect the weak. In this same society, to define one’s self as "conservative" is to identify with the economic, social and governmental ideas of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, the Bush clan and others less celebrated. The conservative takes the practical high ground, aligned with pragmatic economics, self-sufficiency through honest, hard work and opportunism in the market place, and a social agreement not to interfere excessively with the Darwinian hierarchical edict that the strong will flourish and the weak shall serve the strong. These men—Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, the Bush boys—embody distinct strengths and weaknesses as individuals, as leaders of a powerful nation, as icons of their particular worldview. Each has had an enormous impact on mankind.

What a person thinks of each of these men and of their ideas, politics, characters, actions and lives is, of course, determined by more factors than the simplistic ones usually publicly discussed, or, more often, debated, or, more often still, argued; but most people view themselves as more or less "liberal" or "conservative."

Democrats, traditionally, are termed "liberal," and the Republicans "conservative." I would argue that these labels, like so many others, are incomplete, misused and, therefore, misleading. Moreover, such misuse of language is a major contributing factor to the apathy of the average American voter to the political process. It is not cynicism, but, rather, objective observation that causes half of Americans to not bother to vote. They have observed and come to expect that the leaders of both political parties consistently do not say what they mean, and do not mean what they say. This includes the use of the adjectives liberal and conservative.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines conservative: adjective, averse to change or innovation and holding to traditional attitudes and values, typically in relation to politics or religion.

That same dictionary defines liberal: adjective, willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.

Each describes admirable qualities in humanity, and a healthy, well-rounded person contains elements of each, as, one would hope, does a healthy society. Despite my own bias toward the defined liberal point of view, I do not recognize either the Republican or Democrat Party of today in either of these definitions of liberal and conservative.

George W. Bush, who was born with a silver spoon in his ear, along with Dick Cheney, who has a well-publicized malfunctioning heart and appears to be the more powerful of the two, are the leaders of the Republican Party, and they claim the mantle of being conservatives. The two of them (perhaps guided more than the public knows by Karl Rove) have changed the face of America and the world (as well as the face of America in the world) in profound and long-lasting ways. In the process they have overthrown such traditional attitudes and values of American politics and religion as separation of church and state, no pre-emptive war, habeas corpus, accountability, open government, a free and non-monopolized media, a fair and balanced social agenda, democratic elections and, of course, candor. The current " conservative" administrative is not at all averse to change, and it has not held to the traditional values of the majority of Americans; but neither were they elected by a majority, a point worth remembering.

The Democratic Party doesn’t appear to have any leaders, a circumstance exacerbated if not prompted by its drift of the past couple of decades away from its liberal roots. The Democrats forgot that those roots made it the party of the working people, and they allowed the Republicans to make the term " liberal" distasteful in the public mind. Instead of standing up for the strengths and values of the liberal, Democrats have been falling all over themselves to appear as conservative, patriotic and religious as it takes to win the next election. You have to respect and accept your own behavior and opinions before you can do the same for someone else, and if the Democrats aren’t liberal, what are they? This question begs an answer.

There are real conservatives and real liberals in America, but they are not leading the Republican or Democratic parties. If they were, perhaps the tens of millions of American citizens who do not bother to vote would become interested in the values and goals of the conservative and the liberal, as they are not in the Republican and Democratic machinations of power and money.




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