It seems to me that this election cycle we are dealing with a rather widespread political spectrum. While the blogosphere and the press are tossing around the words conservative and liberal, I would suggest that we have many more opinions out there than are contained in those words. However, they do seem to be the umbrella words most people use as a convenient shorthand for Republicans (conservative) and Democrats (liberal).
I went on Dictionary.Com the other day and pulled down some definitions of the political spectrum. Here is what I found:
—centrist: one who takes a position in the political center; a moderate. Marked by or adhering to a moderate political view; supporting or pursuing a course of action that is neither liberal nor conservative, middle-of-the-road; a person who takes a position in the political center.
—conservative: favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change; of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism; favoring traditional views and values; a supporter of political conservatism.
—liberal: not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry; favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
—radical: departing markedly from the usual or customary; favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions.
—reactionary: characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative. An opponent of progress or liberalism. Being, causing, or favoring reaction; as, reactionary movements.
I would add one more to this that I see in this election’s spectrum:
radical reactionary: a reactionary who is not opposed to change if that change would create a world which it believes existed but never did.
So where would I place groups of thought on this scale? Going from right to left, I will start with the concept of radical reactionary. Within this group would be most of the religious right. They have constantly redefined the history of this country to make it seem as if the founders did not want to keep religion out of politics. Yet it is that reason that we have the religious clause in the Bill of Rights. The founders did not want religion to play a big role in the political life of the new country. This is a form of reaction that occurs as a form of radicalism. What they want is for the public life in this country to accept their beliefs of what is right. In the long run, they would want a theocracy and are just as dangerous to our way of life as is the fundamentalist Muslim.
Next are the plain reactionaries. They don’t any change. They nestle somewhere between the radical reactionaries and the traditional conservatives. In essence, they don’t want to rock the boat by accepting that stuff happens and has to be dealt with. They would rather ignore the stuff even if they stepped in it.
Then there are the real conservatives, those who favor responsible spending, lower taxes and smaller government. They are a tiny minority with a home in the Republican Party but squeezed between pseudo conservatives who favor spend but not tax and the radical reactionaries. They also tend to be social conservatives who do not favor various programs such as help for the poor, for the elderly, or for the sick. On help for big business they are uncertain, but tend to come down on the side of Charlie Wilson’s “if it’s good for General Motors, it’s good for the country.” Included in here are the Libertarians who seem to desire an impossible utopia in which every human is an island and we have no public education and no welfare programs because they are not needed since every one takes care of him or herself. In my view, George Bush is squeezed between the radical reactionaries and the pseudo-conservatives, advocating what the religious right desires, while piling up a major deficit and adding billions to the national debt.
As a subcategory of conservatives, or at least a group that styles itself as conservative are the hawks, also known in some areas as imperialists. They advocate the U.S. becoming the policeman of the world, defending “freedom” and its self interests wherever and whenever problems arise without regard to the costs. They advocate an American-made peace with preemptive strikes when necessary. They claim their program will make the U.S. citizen safer. They tend to be the people that advise the President on foreign issues.
The moderates don’t seem to have a real good position yet in this election. They (and those who are incapable of choosing until they’re actually in a polling booth staring at the ballot) are the current targets in the off-color states for the two major party candidates. Many of them do not have strong opinions on political matters and tend to sway in the winds because of that. They are more likely to say “what difference does it make” and may not vote. Or, they may be more likely than the others to take a good long look at the issues and how the candidates relate to them before casting their ballots.
Liberals, of which I are one according to most people, are more likely to accommodate or deal with change. They see that the world has changed in the last two centuries and that it is continuing to change. They realize that society has changed beyond recognition in the last 300 years and the world is a vastly different place than it was in 1800. The social fabric has been torn apart and needs rebuilding in a world so different that humans are finding it not a comfortable place to be. They reject the idea that something that has failed before is good enough to replace something that is a better effort to control the process of dealing with change in our lives. They see that charities and traditional ideas of saving and thrift failed during the Depression of the 1930s and something more sustainable was needed to replace them. I also would suggest that most liberals do not need a frontier to challenge them. They can adapt to the challenge in the world as it exists and as it is becoming. (By this definition, I’m not sure John Kerry would entirely qualify as a liberal.)
And finally there are the radicals. They come in different stripes. I would define today’s radicals as the left fringed. They are the Petas and the ALFs, the take-no-prisoners environmentalists, the Gaia and other New Age religionists, the homeopaths, and the others who may or may not vote, but if they do they will make a one-issue choice.
Of course, any effort to categorize anything runs into the fact that almost everything in politics is a spectrum and very seldom do two people agree on all issues. So this is a suggestion of a place to start to sort out the very angry issues that we are dealing with in this election.
And I’ll end it with one comment from a conversation I had from an avowed Libertarian this week: Those on the right in this election seem to be much more rigid than those on the left. The left seems to be much more flexible.