Liberals & conservatives: What DO they believe?

A viewer asked this question on 7/18/2000:


My husband and I having been debating over what is a Republican and what is a Democrat, for weeks now. please email me back with the answers in plain English please so that my husband does not interpret this is any other way.

thank you

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/18/2000:

Hmm... the most "plain English" way to say it is that a Republican is someone who votes for Bush and a Democrat is someone who votes for Gore.

In theory, a Republican is conservative, and a Democrat is liberal; but in practice, Bush & Gore cross over the lines a lot and their views on the issues end up pretty close to each other, as Buchanan & Nader (their respective rivals) regularly point out.

A conservative (and hence a Republican) is supposed to mean that you believe in an unregulated economy but some regulation on morality is ok.

A liberal (and hence a Democrat) is supposed to mean that you believe in regulating the economy but that personal rights shouldn't be infringed. But Gore supports the Drug War (regulating personal rights), supports free trade (unregulated economy), and hence is not very liberal.

So, I'm afraid your husband will ALWAYS get to interpret -- that's what politics is all about. But it's fair to say, regardless of interpretation, that if you prefer Bush over Gore, you can call yourself a Republican, and if you prefer Gore over Bush, you can call yourself a Democrat.

Anonymous asked this question on 5/31/2000:

What is the difference between the terms
liberal and conservative? What would be some of their economic strategies on the topic of standardizes testing of the young people? how about their economic strategies on the topic of testing on animals?

madpol gave this response on 6/1/2000:

I tried for a couple of days to come up with an answer on this for you. It just isn't possible anymore.

Politics has become so individualized and parties so fragmented that the old terms "Liberal" and "Conservative" have become pretty much meaningless.

The fact is that the major parties have been supplanted by interest groups as the centers of political power. And we are seeing coalitions forming around single issues that would have been impossible 25 years ago.

Thus we are seeing "Liberal" Hispanics joining Right-wingers to pass California's Anti-gay Proposition 14. We are seeing "Conservative" Pat Buchanan leading a coalition of mostly Left-wing groups against the World Trade Organization. We are seeing groups from all over the Political spectrum joining hands to censor the internet with no consideration other than that the stuff they don't want people to see gets banned along with the rest.

It is a time of change. And it is a time in which economics has become a secondary issue. The primary issues have become Race, Religion, Gender, and Sexual Preference. Civil Rights are increasingly viewed as privileges to which only one's own particular group is entitled.

It is the most dangerous time that America has ever faced. Democracy is coming under attack from every political viewpoint.

But I'm ranting. Here are my views on the issues you raised.

Standardized testing is a useful tool in connection with such factors as attendance, motivation, interests, communications skills and aptitudes. By itself, it only tells you how good a student is at taking standardized tests. Studies have shown that the tests taken by themselves predict college performance about as well as 6 sided dice.

Animal testing is a useful tool, but overused. This is primarily an ideological dispute. The economic benefits and costs of animal testing are trivial. For my money, we need to test drugs on animals until we can design better computer modeling. But many studies are poorly designed, and others are meaningless. We could eliminate such studies and actually come out ahead financially, while reducing cruelty to animals.

But those are just my opinions. I fancy myself a Centrist, but most people disagree with me on that. They also disagree with each other on what I really am.

You can get a wider variety of opinions, and even the occasional fact, from the posters at my website.

Anonymous asked this question on 5/5/2000:

Do you know the differences b/w left and right wing political parties?
And do you know any general web sites about each sides general ideas and concepts?
And where did the saying :"left wing, right wing" come from?

madpol gave this response on 5/5/2000:

The terms "Right Wing" and "Left Wing" come from the British House of Commons, where the Liberal parties have always at to the left of the speaker's chair and the Conservative parties have sat to the Right.

The URL below will let you access websites for most of the political parties and movements in the US. us53391/r?l&&hl=2&ss=1&key=Political+Parties

I recommend that you cut and paste it in rather than trying to type it.

Shameless plug time. My own website, "The Mad Political Scientist's Homepage."
Features 4 forums where people from all over the political spectrum debate every issue imaginable.
As moderator, I remain the "Voice of the Rabid Center Since Y2K."

km_7316 asked this question on 8/24/2000:

What is the meaning of "Right" and "Left" in politics?

npscott gave this response on 8/24/2000:

Dear km 7316,

You'd have an easier time nailing warm Jell-O to the wall, than coming up with a precise definition of the popular use of 'left' and 'right' in American politics.

Broadly speaking, left means left of center (and right means right of center) of the popular views on issues held by most citizens.

A person considered right is perceived to hold very conservative positions on issues: generally favoring a minimum of federal government activity in the average person's life, favoring balanced budgets, opposed to most social programs (such as welfare, aid to dependent children, etc.), favoring big business, and so forth.

A person considered lift is perceived to hold radically progressive positions on issues: generally favoring a strong and active federal govt. activity in the life of the average person, favoring massive federal spending with little regard to balanced budgets, favoring social programs (welfare, aid to dependent children, etc.), favoring the working man, and so forth.

A person thought by the voters as too far 'left' or 'right' will be rejected at the polls, generally. This is why politicians spend so much time attempting to paint their opponents are 'out of the mainstream' of American political opinion.

In reality, most voters are in agreement on basic issues: most voters tend to be economically conservative, in favor of spending within government budgets; to favor a strong military; to favor government programs that keep both labor and big business from getting 'out of hand', to favor social programs for those perceived as truly needy, and so forth.

A person who thinks the federal government is 'big brother' attempting to invade his personal liberties, who believes in national and international communism conspiracies to control the 'little man', who opposes most contacts with foreign nations, who feels American exists primarily for his race, is a right-winger.

A person who thinks the federal government is 'big brother' attempting to invade his personal liberties, who believes in big business national and international conspiracies, who opposes contacts with 'fascist' nations, and who feels America exists only for the laboring man, is a left-winger.

Understand, many people believe in a strong federal government, a government active in international affairs, a government that promotes both free-trade and business, protects the working man's interests and promotes them, and are neither right or left wing.

The defining quality of being 'far right' or 'far left' is conspiracy theories about groups of people who are always 'out to get them', usually the people who hold beliefs opposed to theirs.

As used by political scientists, 'left' and 'right' mean those gradual progressions from center to far right (anarchist) or center to far left (communist) positions.

Thus a person could be slightly right (or left) of center, based on objective standards of where the center is.

However, because public opinion is an always changing affair, the center itself can shift from left to right, within a certain boundary.

Rather than thinking of left and right as a scale, with Zero in the middle, and going from 1 to 10 on both sides, right and left:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 -0- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

think of it rather as a circle, because both the far left and far right meet at the other side of the circle in dictatorship-- either the dictatorship of a Communism, or of Fascism.

I hope this explanation is not confusing. For test purposes, right and left mean those positions right (more conservative) and left (more liberal) of majority, or centrist, positions.

I'm providing below a list of links to Political Science sites, where you can check out the terms 'left' and 'right' in their search engines.

Prof. Dan Graf's Links for Students to History and the Social Sciences:


Return to index