Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Words Conservative and Liberal aren't Helping

In the last post, I pointed to an article that pointed out the fact that the overwhelming majority of psychologists are liberal. This revelation probably provoked a cry of "No duh!" to everyone but the psychologists, but there you have it nevertheless.

But when you think about it, what does it even mean to be a "liberal"? What does it mean to be a conservative? I suppose that most people think conservative means that you are for conserving traditional values. A liberal might say that a conservative is someone who is more comfortable with the devil that you know than you are with the devil that you don't. That may be fair, actually. Or, it could be that a conservative is someone who is simply frightened of change.

So what, then, is a liberal? According to wikipedia a liberalism "is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free trade, and the freedom of religion." Is that really what it means to be liberal? Because if it is, then I am confused. I am for, to a degree, every one of the ideals that liberals love.

I write all of this to say that I hear these words thrown out by either "side" like they are slang words for "boogeyman." When Rush Limbaugh, who I do not listen to, says that President Obama is a liberal, what does he mean by that? Does he mean that President Obama loves fair and equal elections? That he loves freedom of religion? Why would anyone get mad about that? And why, while I am asking, is it easier for me to listen to "Fresh Air" than it is for me to listen to Limbaugh? I'm beginning to think that if I am a conservative, then I must be the lousiest one around.

Honestly, I do not think of myself as a conservative or a liberal, and I do not think much of any commentary that banties those words around to score political points. I am a Christian, and as such, I am called to be discerning. I care for people's liberty. In fact, the letters I write to my representatives are almost exlusively about "liberal" issues. I write to them about people who are imprisoned because of their religious beliefs, and I write to them in order to speak for the unborn. I do not like bad stewardship, but it has not yet provoked me to write letters.

I hope that someday, Americans will realize that we can do better than listen to people who lob around words like musket balls. That is, they fire them off all over the place even though they might be wildly inaccurate. Seriously, do you want to know what a candidate thinks? Write him or her a letter. Tell them your concerns. Every time I have written a representative, I have received a cordial response.

Here's the bottom line on all this. When you throw out the word "liberal" with disdain, you haven't accomplished a thing. Whoever self-identifies as a liberal is not insulted, and people who agree with you already do not need to have their mind changed. So drop the label, and focus on the issues that matter to you. Write the person a letter. Attempt a dialogue. If we did this, I can guarantee you that there would still be strong disagreement, but it would change the political climate for the better.

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