Saturday, August 16, 2008

On the labeling of ideas (or, how to identify a liberal or conservative)

I have been entertained by someone who has been trying to use the word "Liberal" as an epitath. Like in the way 3rd grade boys shout insults to each other, and not nearly as sophisticated as the trash talk that can be found on any inner city basketball court. But words should have meaning, and to use it as a meaningless insult is, well, meaningless. And why would I not want to be considered a liberal? The classical meaning is a doctrine stressing individual freedom, limited government, stressing the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, protection of civil liberties, constitutional limitations of government, free markets and individual freedom from restraints (taken from Wikipedia). Its foundation is on the writings of Adam Smith, David Hume, and Thomas Paine.

But there persists those who would rather turn a distinguished idea such as this as an insult, and seek to make words mean whatever they want it to at the time, instead of using words for what they really mean. And sometimes the purpose is the creation of hate and dissention, which is not useful, especially to those who believe that the United States experiment in a democratic republic is a useful one.

So, how to identify a "liberal" or a "conservative" (or a "progressive" or an "idealist", "realist", you get the idea)? The principal tthat is useful is to look to those who actually claim the label as their own, and see who they agree with. So ask liberals who are the liberals, conservatives to find out who are the conservatives, etc.

The current U.S. presidential campaign is remarkable in that both the liberals and the conservatives appear to have lost their respective nomination campaign, which is causing much wringing of hand and gnashing of teeth. The Democratic Party is furiously trying to keep the liberals in the fold, trying to appease the Clinton supporters and the disappointes supporters of universal health care, and hoping the demonstrations of the progressives do not get out of hand. The Republicans, well, have the spector of John McCain, who conservatives used to ask "Is McCain a Republican?"

Why It's Important to Note that Obama is NOT Liberal or Progressive at Open Left

Taylor Marsh at The Huffington Post, Barack Obama's Progressive Cannibalism

Oscar Howard at The Conservative Voice, John McCain is Not a Conservative

Babbin at Human Events.com, John McCain: The Anti-Conservative

What to make of it? Numerous newspaper columnists have had a chance to amuse themselves at liberals who have realized that Obama is not one of them by in effect observing some progressives seem to be intent on fooling themselves that he is only seeming centrist but a hidden progressive "In effect, they convinced themselves that he was a transformational figure behind a centrist facade. They may have had it backward." (Paul Krugman, New York Times, The Obama Agenda) Or, it could be that maybe that there are other labels besides 'liberal' or 'conservative' that properly identify the candidates positions (which is the Obama position on this labeling). There are plenty to choose from ('idealist/realist', 'progressive/reactionary'). Or maybe it would pay to pay attention to what the candidates actually say.
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