Liberal and Conservative:
What Do They Mean and What Do They Stand For?
by John Eberhard
Unless you have been carefully following the political scene for the last 20-30 years, you might not exactly know what the terms "Liberal" and "Conservative" mean, which would make much of the political discussion today confusing to you.
To address this, I have written this article which outlines exactly where each group stands on a variety of the major issues.
I would say that we have never been at a point in our history where the two parties have been more distinctly different than they are today. And we have without a doubt never been at a point where it was more important for all citizens to clearly understand the differences and their implications
First of all, the terms "liberal," "Democrat," and "left" can be considered virtually synonymous for our purposes. Some people consider the word "left" to stand for a more extreme liberal or Democrat. In addition, much of the liberal agenda today is based on principles that came from socialist doctrine (i.e. from Marx), for example, the Marxist doctrine of "to each according to his need, and from each according to his ability to pay," which is the philosophical basis of progressive taxation (where citizens with higher incomes payer higher percentages of taxes), and for welfare and other "social" programs. In fact, the "social" in social programs comes from the word socialism.
Secondly, the terms "conservative," "Republican," and "right" can be considered synonymous for our purposes as well. Republicans have largely been against welfare and other social programs since they were first introduced in the U.S. in the 1930s.
Welfare: Under this topic we will include such programs as aid to families with dependent children, and aid programs for illegal immigrants. Liberals have supported all these programs historically, and it has been Democratic Presidents such as FDR and LBJ who have introduced the most sweeping programs, and liberals are the strongest proponents of varied welfare type programs today.
Conservatives have historically been against welfare programs and are against them today. The Republican dominated Congress passed major welfare reform legislation late in President Clinton's second term, that, for instance, placed limits on how long someone could remain on welfare. Prior to that, some people had been on welfare for their entire lives.
Affirmative Action: This is defined as any program designed to give some type of special treatment, preferred treatment, or special welfare type aid to people who are from specified minority groups.
This issue was in the news recently with the University of Michigan and its programs to give greater consideration in their points system used for admissions, to black and Hispanic students. In separate decisions the Supreme Court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan's undergraduate programs but approved a separate policy used by the University of Michigan law school that considers race in the admissions decision-making process.
Liberals typically support affirmative action programs, whereas Conservatives are against them.
Government Funded Health Care: Liberals have typically been for such programs. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton proposed sweeping legislation to create national governmentally funded health care in 1993, though it was soundly defeated. Liberal state politicians in California recently passed legislation requiring businesses with over 20 employees to provide health care to all employees, and creating a government board to administer coverage.
Conservatives have been very against such measures, citing failing systems in Canada, the UK and throughout the rest of Europe.
Federal Immigration Laws: Liberals are against Federal immigration laws, as evidenced by actions taken to give increasing aid to illegal immigrants, attempts in numerous states to give them drivers' licenses (include passage of such a law in California in recent weeks), and attempts to stop law enforcement at various levels of government from enforcing immigration laws.
Conservatives are supportive of Federal immigration laws and against the unregulated flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country. Conservatives, for example, were behind Proposition 187 several years ago in California, which was designed to eliminate $3 billion per year in welfare type aid to illegal immigrants in the state (which is now at $4 billion per year), which was passed by a large margin by the public, but blocked by liberal Judges.
Taxes: Liberals are more willing and Conservatives are less willing to raise taxes, although both parties have tended towards deficit spending.
The Presidents who have implemented major tax cuts in the last 45 years have included Kennedy (Democrat), Reagan (Republican) and George W. Bush (Republican). Note that Democrats were uniformly and vehemently against tax cuts implemented by both Reagan and G.W. Bush.
Also note that California Governor Gray Davis, after running up a record $38 billion dollar deficit in California, proposed massive tax increases to pay for the deficits, with virtually no spending cuts. Only after the requisite number of signatures were gotten, bringing about the Governor's recall vote, did the heavily Democratic controlled state legislature pass a budget devoid of any tax increases. Gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante favors $7 billion in tax increases to handle the deficit. Republican candidates McClintock and Schwarzenegger favor spending cuts to balance the budget.
Liberals are in favor of what is called progressive taxation, where taxpayers with higher incomes pay at a higher percentage.
Conservatives are for the most part against progressive taxation. Consider that President Ronald Reagan changed the maximum tax bracket, which had reached 72% prior to his term, to only 35%. This meant that Americans with the highest incomes were paying a dizzying 72% of their incomes in taxes prior to Reagan, and only 35% after Reagan.
Religion: Liberal politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and media, have attacked "organized religion" in general and Christianity in particular in recent years (see the books The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce and Slander by Ann Coulter).
It is liberal politicians who have been behind efforts to remove any mention of God or religion from any of our public buildings, despite the fact that a recent Gallup poll showed that Americans overwhelmingly approve of public displays of religious symbols:
90% approve of the phrase "In God We Trust" on coins
78% approve of non-denomenational prayer at public school ceremonies
70% approve of a Ten Commandments monument in a public school or government building
Conservatives have generally been against efforts to attack Christianity or remove public references to God or religion from any area of government, which has earned some the title "The Religious Right."
Gun Ownership: Liberals have avidly campaigned against gun ownership in recent years (Michael Moore's political ad disguised as a movie, Bowling for Columbine, is a recent example), while conservatives maintain that the Second Amendment guarantees and should continue to guarantee the rights to gun ownership.
Gay Rights: Nearly all gay rights activities in the U.S. are initiated within the Democratic Party. Conservatives are typically against the more extreme forms of gay rights such as same sex marriages, educating grade school children in being gay, and so on.
Environment: Liberals are squarely behind all environmentalist activities, particularly left-leaning Hollywood celebrities. Conservatives tend to be against environmentalism, particularly environmental extremism. Note that much of the well-hyped "facts" used to alarm the public in these various causes have been invalidated later as "junk science" or as just simply false.
Abortion: Liberals consider abortion to be one of their most important core issues. They support abortion in all forms. In fact, in Al Gore's speech accepting the Presidential nomination for the Democrat Party in 2000, he got the biggest applause for his comments on how he vowed to protect abortion rights.
Conservatives have been consistently against abortion, and in fact, currently the Republican controlled Congress is about to pass legislation banning a particular practice called partial birth abortions, which was vetoed several times by President Clinton. George W. Bush is expected to sign it.
Percentages: A very interesting Gallup poll which just came out this week, on the subject of whether the media is too liberal (45% say it is too liberal, vs. 14% that say it is too conservative), also gives the statistic that 40% of Americans surveyed identified themselves as conservative, 40% identified themselves as moderates, and 20% identified themselves as liberals. I urge you to visit the Gallup site, which gives lots of interesting information on the pulse of what Americans think.