Steamboat Springs As Shakespeare put it, "fair is foul and foul is fair." It is about time we came to understand the shifting connotations of various political terms and what philosophy of government each represents.
Our constitutional democracy is based on the liberal philosophy attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Among the tenets of this philosophy are individual freedom, the rule of law, a market economy and a limited central government in which the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of everyone are protected. Classical liberalism abhors big government. Among modern adherents have been economist Milton Friedman, political philosopher Friedrich Hayek and Ronald Reagan. Yes, Ronald Reagan can be labeled a liberal.
During the past century neoliberals (or progressives) have argued for an increased influence of government because of the increased complexity of society. According to them, such benevolent power is necessary to protect individual rights, provide education, promote access to health care and, in general, "promote the public welfare." Government intervention is necessary, especially in cases where the private sector has failed in their view of promoting the public interest. Progressives take the position that only through an enlightened government can society achieve its highest level of living. Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., economists John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith have been among the chief proponents of this philosophy.
There are two distinct branches of conservatives, paleo and neo. Paleoconservatives such as Pat Buchanan are anti-immigration, anti-authoritarian, and anti-war. Neoconservatives such as William Kristol (publisher of The Weekly Standard), Douglas Fife and Paul Wolfowitz former deputies to Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, and Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's right hand man, have extended the concept of anti-communism to anything anti-American. They promote both a well-funded and internationally active military and a social policy that encourages participation of non governmental entities such as church groups, a minimalist interpretation of First Amendment rights, an end to racial preference and choice for pregnant women, speedy executions, reduced regulation of business, a limit on employee rights, and expansion of power in a strong president.
With these multifaceted differences it is no wonder that use of terms liberal and conservative are confusing: liberals hate big government, but push for more; conservatives are for and against war, for and against immigration. How do we distinguish? Ignore the epithets. Look specifically at what a representative offers and what his opposition offers. Choose the one that most nearly represents your view, and then make sure they do what they say they are going to do. Hold them accountable.