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How Both Liberals and Conservatives Contradict Themselves

Updated on February 16, 2012

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Both sides might claim this song as their own

How Both Sides Support and Distrust "Big Government"

I have come to realize over the years that both liberals and conservatives – as we define these terms in the United States - share the same basic ideological flaw. And while I doubt that I am the first person to have this simple insight, it cannot hurt in these highly partisan times to reiterate a moderate perspective. Who knows? Maybe if people on the ideological extremes see that both factions share the same basic contradiction, they will realize that they are not so different after all. Then - please allow me to continue indulging in this fantasy – there may be hope of moving beyond rhetoric and partisan bickering and get on with the compromises that are necessary for our nation’s future prosperity.

Three of the more contentious and important political issues of our time are health care reform, financial regulation, and climate change. On all of these issues, conservatives are skeptical of government action. They fear that excessive government regulation of banks and energy companies will put a stranglehold on these industries and lead to future economic problems. They also fear that a government takeover of health care will lead to higher future costs and poor service. As much as possible, they want to put things in the hands of private industry and give them the freedom to achieve financial success. Private businesspeople motivated by the desire for profit, when left to themselves, will make better choices than a government where officials get paid regardless of performance. And if private businesses make bad decisions, the competition will sweep them aside, and the overall economy will be better off for it.

So conservatives believe in limited government, right? Actually, things are not quite that simple. For at the same time that they argue for limited economic regulations, they often want a strong and aggressive military to protect us from foreign threats, large numbers of cops on the streets, and tough laws that punish criminals with the harsh sentences that they deserve. Foreign nations and individual American citizens are potentially dangerous, so we need a strong government to keep them in line. So when it comes to private industry, individuals are supposedly good and wise, but when it comes to citizens on the street, people can’t be trusted. Apparently, those who might rob liquor stores are a bigger threat than those who could potentially embezzle from businesses, issue stupid loans, or screw over stockholders. How is it that businessmen in private industry are inclined to do what is right while government officials and citizens on the street are inclined toward foolishness and immorality? When people are employed in the public sector, do they automatically lose their wisdom and sense of ethics? When citizens leave the office building and go out into the general public, do they suddenly become more potentially dangerous?

Liberals, of course, share the same basic contradiction as conservatives. It just happens to be in reverse. They tend to have much more favorable attitudes toward government run health care and business regulations. Instead of distrusting government officials, they tend to be wary of big business. Without a government watchdog, businessmen will often screw over the general public in their quest for profit. However, when it comes to the behavior of private citizens, liberals are wary of too much government. They fear that if law enforcement officials have too much power they might take away people’s individual rights. They often want prisons to seek ways to reform criminals rather than just punishing them. They are also wary of aggressive military action. Diplomacy, they feel, should always be the primary path, and we should start with the assumption that other nations are potential allies and not threats to our security. Excessive government action in the name of security can potentially take away the basic rights of American citizens and generally do more harm than good. Apparently, people are likely to lose their wisdom and ethics when they enter private industry, but if they work in government or go out into the general public, suddenly they improve.

It is often argued that political beliefs reflect one’s view of human nature. Those who have a negative view of human beings want a strong government to keep people in line. Those who have a more positive view of human nature emphasize personal freedom and believe that government should be as limited as possible. But when it comes to how Americans define the two extremes on the ideological spectrum, things are not so simple. Conservatives have a generally positive view of human nature when it comes to private industry but a more negative view when it comes to government officials or individuals out in the general public. Liberals, on the other hand, distrust human nature when it comes to private businesses but see government officials and those in the general public as more trustworthy. Conservatives want freedom when it comes to economic issues, but liberals want it more when it comes to the social issues.

I have often wondered why many assume that a person must accept one ideology or the other in its entirety. For me and many other moderates, each issue should be looked at individually, After all, why should a person who believes that abortion is wrong also be an individual who believes in business deregulation? Why should a person who wants health care for all also be someone who is open to gay marriage? From what I can see, many of these issues have no direct relation to one another.

It is my firm conviction that the wisest political path is typically found somewhere in the middle ground between the ideological extremes. Many American moderates who do not automatically ascribe to all of the beliefs of one side or the other have already figured this out. People leaning more to the extremes should be able to recognize something that both sides share: an ambivalent view of human nature. In other words, both ideologies recognize that human beings are a potential mixture of good and bad qualities. Because of this, laws that are effectively enforced by a strong government are necessary to maintain order and protect citizens. At the same time, excessive regulations can infringe on individual rights and eliminate the incentives that are the key to economic progress. The trick is figuring out how to find the right balance. A recognition that balance is the key can be the first step toward constructive action, and given the fact that our country faces some dire circumstances, my hope is that politicians and individual citizens can stop fixating on winning partisan battles and focus on finding the right balance for the country as a whole.


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    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      " So when it comes to private industry, individuals are supposedly good and wise..."

      Completely wrong.

      Conservatives understand that freedom can be painful. No conservative asserts that private industry is altruistic. Fortunes rise and fall. The free market is obviously better in the l0ng run than Central Planing but the free market is a free association of equals rather than The State as family.

    • profile image

      Patrick B 

      3 years ago

      Absolutely spot-on. Most everyone I know is so blinded by their political affiliations, they are unwilling to consider any argument presented by the opposite side - regardless of contradictions put forth by each political realm. I feel the the US political system is continually working it's way further down this path. Partisan presidents like those of our past half century have done nothing but exacerbate the problem. Far too few educated people, and an even greater number convinced they are intellectually superior. Our country sees true growth only in the small advances made by each each party in successive reins.

      Signed - a privately educated, small business running, self proclaimed libertarian.

      Forfeiture of freedom of any sort is the ultimate sign of weakness.

    • TheLibertyCell profile image

      Jim Lyde 

      5 years ago from Austin, Texas

      I wish your comment was in letters fifty feet tall on signs every mile or so on every highway in the country. I fear we will ultimately fail, like so many socialist endeavors before us, if we can't wake up to the cause of our national problems and base our voting decisions on the worth of the candidate as applied to the validity of the issues.

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      5 years ago

      Banks and large businesses give large campaign contributions, and often hire politicians when they leave office.

    • TheLibertyCell profile image

      Jim Lyde 

      5 years ago from Austin, Texas

      I agree with Mr. Watkins. However the practices of stealing from citizens/customers by banks, big business, etc., could certainly be pursued as criminal offenses. Neither conservatives nor liberals seem to have much desire for that endeavor, and that is just as serious a problem as is the thefts.

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      7 years ago

      Systems and regulations are only as good as the individuals carrying them out. I guess that's why I said that it comes down to human nature.

      I like your analogy comparing business to football. You need rules to even have a game, but efforts need to be made to continually improve them. In fact, I just recently wrote a hub that was partly about government regulation of business:

    • junkseller profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Hmm? I'm glad your not as pessimistic as I am about Capitalism. I'll have to think about it. I guess my point would be that even if everyone isn't a dog eat dog kind of entity, that it doesn't take many who are to cause some pretty serious harm.

      But really, what I don't understand is that Republicans always seem to be of the position that all regulations are always harmful. Maybe it is a bad metaphor but if you compare that to football - a game with referees and rules - you see a debate taking place that tries to balance competitiveness with fairness and safety. Why can't we seem to have that debate about business?

      I'm curious, now that I think about it - if you look at football, its regulations are fairly flexible; they are always under review and can change year to year. I wonder if, in regards to business, if the problem of regulations is less to do with the regulations in themselves, and more to do with being inflexible. Sounds like a hub in the making!

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      7 years ago

      I see your point, but capitalism does not necessarily have to be "dog eat dog." Plus, it only functions when there are a few basic rules that everyone theoretically agrees on. Some capitalistic enterprises will do whatever is necessary to make a profit, others think it is both ethical and good business to follow some basic principles.

    • junkseller profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      An interesting analysis. I don't entirely agree with it, though. Capitalism doesn't have any built in referee. Pure capitalism is a competition to get to the top by any and all means necessary. On the other hand, our government is theoretically designed with the belief that human nature isn't to be trusted and so the system is built with checks and balances and with the democratic possibility of changing leaders.

      I don't think faith in one or the other is necessarily about our perspective on human nature but rather our perspective on the systems themselves.

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      7 years ago

      James, It's funny. I just posted a couple of hubs that address the issues that you raise. Here are the links:

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Your article is very good and I am all for some kind of middle ground. However, it should be pointed out that defense of the nation and its citizens is a Constitutional mandate. Regulating business—other than disputes between states—and mandating health care insurance for everybody is decidedly not in our Constitution.

      The real difference then, following your line of reasoning, is between people who believe in our Constitution as written, and those who believe it is inadequate for modern times.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      If one political party can be bought - why on Earth would the buyers stop with just buying one party? This is America. America is not a real country. It's a corporation. It's a pyramid scheme and the ones at the top, stay at the top. The republican party is the voice of big business. The democrats are the voice of the "little people" There are no democrats after democrats become elected. Great post!

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      7 years ago

      Yes, moderate politicians may become an endangered species.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      7 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very wise Hub. Political zealots on both sides of the spectrum are usually blinded by their ideology. It doesn't help that primaries attract the true believers so moderates running for office then need to trend to the extremes. I prefer to look at issues with an unjaundiced eye and come up with a sensible solution. Black and white very rarely exist with these issues.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Good article. Thank you, and a very good comment from Mr Happy. When you get polarised politics, both sides seem to feed of each other. "Government of all the talents" has been a dream in all countries for centuries.

      Unfortunately it is unrealisable, especially in a democracy when politicians are forever looking over their shoulders at their constituencies. The only way there can be genuinely disinterested politics is in a "Robinson Crusoe" situation where the electorate and the politician are the same person. Otherwise compromises must always be made. That is how the system works.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Balance is one of the toughest things to achieve. Perhaps that is why we have so many problems in our lives (personal and public): we do not strive for balance.

      The political system is a joke in the States. You are indeed right, Conservative or Democrat is really all and the same. I wrote something on this too, a little while ago ( I focused more on private donations taken by Democrats and Republicans. If you follow the money, for both parties it comes from the same places. Wall St. funded McCain's campaign just as they funded Obama's ... it's a farce.

      Good blog. Cheers!


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