Conservatism and liberalism: no longer just big, scary words

Posted Thursday, September 25, 2003 - 12:00am

staff writers

There is a disturbing trend emerging on campus. We are concerned that too many students are apathetic towards important issues in the realm of politics. Many people do not even know how their views match up to mainstream political groups and parties.

We decided to address this issue because we were weary of being met with a blank stare when asking somebody if they were a conservative or liberal. This article is written without political bias for the sole purpose of enlightening our peers about the two major trends in political thought, conservatism and liberalism.

The answer to "What is the biggest difference between a liberal and a conservative?" is too difficult to answer with any one general statement. We will answer by giving examples of typical conservative and liberal responses to some of the big issues of our time.

•Taxes and Spending :

Conservatives tend to believe that people should be allowed to spend their money on themselves, and spend it as they please. They are in favor of lowering taxes, and letting people keep their hard earned money. They disfavor spending lots of money on government programs that they perceive as taking away from people their ability to fend for themselves.

The Liberals view the government as an organization that looks out for the welfare of the people it serves. The best way to make sure that the needs of the many are met is through large and widespread projects that make everybody support each other. Through taxes and employment in government administrations, everybody can pitch in and ensure the welfare of their fellow citizens. In other terms, conservatives favor a capitalistic "survival of the fittest" economic model, while liberals favor a "socialist" program where the needs of others are at least as high as an individual's own needs.

•Foreign Policy:

Who should bear the burden of organizing and administrating international affairs? If you ask a conservative, she may tell you that the United States stands most able to intervene in the affairs of other nations. After all, we have our own interests to look out for, and if we don't do it, nobody else will. A liberal may tell you that he believes that it is solely the responsibility of an international panel, such as NATO or the U.N. to make and enact such decisions.

It was the conservative Presidency and Senate that decided to go against the wishes of the U.N. and enter into war with Iraq. The liberals who opposed this policy weren't anti-patriotic; they simply did not wish to disregard the U.N. Their idea is that many nations working together will not only come to a consensus, but make it happen more quickly.

•Abortion, gay marriage, and other moral issues:

On moral issues, conservatives like to support what could be considered the "old fashioned" stance. Not wanting to rock the boat, or perhaps feeling that things were better "back in the day," they will not support initiatives that substantially change society's moral hierarchy.

Liberals are generally more progressive in their views on moral issues, and favor changes that challenge the status quo. Generally, the modern mainstream conservative party in America, the Democratic Party, will be the ones on the front lines lobbying for women's rights, legalization of same-sex marriages, and pro-choice legislation. However, it is interesting to note, that the Democratic Party has not always been the party fighting for civil rights. In fact, in the fight over slavery in the 19th century, the rich plantation owners of the South were Democrats, and obviously didn't do anything to abolish slavery..

•Gun control:

Liberals clearly favor strict firearms regulations. Looking back over President Clinton's presidential term, we find that many of the current laws and policies, i.e. waiting periods, background checks, and restrictions on assault weapons, were enacted during his term. Liberals feel that guns don't have much of a place in our modern world anymore. There are no marauding bands of savages to defend against and no mortal necessity to hunt animals for food. The value of shooting as a sport is far outweighed by the chance of allowing a dangerous person to own and use guns.

Conservatives cite undue interference from the government into the lives of law-abiding citizens as their reason to uphold the most literal interpretation of the second amendment. (Which is interesting considering who is pushing for stronger Homeland Security measures ... ) Also at stake is diminishing from a "well-regulated militia," although that phraseology is under intense debate.

The key to being active in politics is understanding that your political values don't need to be dictated by the party you choose to vote for. While there are usually only two sides to an issue, it is possible for you to agree with the liberal solution of one, and stand for a conservative opinion on another. For this reason it is important to be well informed so that you are not stuck with voting straight ticket for a party that doesn't closely match your own opinions.

To help you to discover where your political convictions lie, we have included following survey. Answer the questions honestly, and try to determine how far to the right or left you are.

Filed under: viewpoints