- Politics and Social Issues
Liberal v Conservative
Liberal Vs Conservative: A War of Words©
April 9, 2011 (Revised March 23, 2016)
Every once-in-a-while I will break down and watch the “News”, which is loosely referring to national broadcast outlets such as CNN, Fox News, ABC, MSNBC, NBC, and CBS as a source of some information. Unfortunately, these outlets are the only source of information most people in this country rely on. The author Michael Parenti, highlights this point in the opening line of his 1986 book, Inventing Reality, by stating, “For many people an issue does not exist until it appears in the news media. How we view issues, indeed, what we even define as an issue or event, what we see and hear, and what we do not see and hear are greatly determined by those who control the communications world.” (Parenti ix) Even with the advent of Internet information sites, the majority of what is talked about is filtered through the major news outlets. Despite the fact that people depend on the news being fair, complete, unbiased and accurate, there is a general understanding that these outlets of information may not always be 100% factual, some may even say the news is a fiction that is loosely based on a true story.
The news, no matter who presents it, is going to have some level of bias, some sources more than others. It is hard, I would dare say nearly impossible, for anyone reporting on an issue to leave her or his personal beliefs completely out of the story. With that being said, there is a difference between slanting the news and bending the information and propaganda. Where rumors and myths are purposely being presented as truths and facts.
One of the few consistencies in this nation’s news outlets representation of reality is the presentation of the stories in a dichotomous manner. It is interesting to watch these organizations try to divide the nation up into the Left and Right ideology, (Figure 2) as if there was no middle ground from which to work from. The current conventional line of thinking has the Left referring to Liberals (Democrats) and the Right is Conservative (Republican). Depending on whom you are listening too, the political Left or the Right is to blame for everything that has gone wrong in this country or the world. The Left claims that everything the Right or Conservatives does is for the advancement of old money and stagnation. The Right believes that the Left and the Liberal influence are ruining the traditional values America was based on. Both approaches are overly simplistic and inaccurate way to view the world.
In this war of words, it sometimes appears as if people are working off different meanings of the same terms. In formal logic, this is called equivocation, which means the argument is sliding between two or more different meanings of a word. It reminds me of a line from the 1987 Rob Reiner movie called The Princess Bride, which was based on the book by William Goldman. In one scene after the criminal mastermind, Vizzini used the word “inconceivable” five (5) times, in a very short period-of-time, until the last time, Vizzini says, “HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE,” to which his co-conspirator Inigo Montoya responds, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Goldman) When I listen to news outlets and political pundits, I swear I can hear Inigo’s statement. I am not sure if they know what the words they are using mean.
Most people do not understand what the labels they are using mean. For example, many titles have been placed on me during my working career. People have tried to place my political views which is generally different from how I see myself. (Figure 3) Some of my more conservative friends tell me that I am "so liberal that you have to look right to see Lenin." I do not think they were talking about John Lennon. Which is funny because I have read some of Lenin’s works and studied a little of Russian history, so I can confidentially say we have a very different opinions of the world.
At the same time, I have friends at the other end of the political spectrum that claim that I am a conservative, because I have spent more than a quarter century in the military combined with my Midwestern upbringing. The people that really know me understand that both labels fit me, while at the same time neither label is applicable. Depending on the issue, I can be seen as Liberal or Conservative. I believe that I am in the middle of the road. I am going to go out on a limb here to state that most people in this country are operating in this kind of environment, they are Liberal/Conservative or Conservative/Liberal depending on the point of view they are starting from of themselves.
In political discourse, a problem is that people often use words that they do not understand their meaning or that the meanings are being manipulated. This is often done to help create the illusion of a great ideological divide. For example, there was a 2010 Associated Press article about President Obama’s reaction the Tea Party movement. According to the report, “President Barack Obama says he believes the Tea Party is built around a "core group" of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen and believe he is a socialist. But beyond that, Obama tells NBC he recognizes the movement involves "folks who have legitimate concerns" about the national debt and whether the government is taking on too many difficult issues simultaneously.” (AP) To me this article states that the President thinks a small group of that movement is on the fringe of the political spectrum and he recognizes their concerns.
The article was very short; it only was three paragraphs long. What is interesting was the reaction some people had to the article. The responses that follow demonstrate how the play on words begins. They are using key words to demonize the President.
“Scorpio800: Who can beleive he is NOT a Socialist at this point?”
“Craig: What?? Question the legitimacy of a Radical Socialist who wants to change the core values of our constitution. What nerve!!!!!” (AP)
These two comments are just an example of how people jumped on the word “Socialist” and immediately equated it to something bad or evil. With any political interaction, there is a great deal of name-calling, which is the history of politics. With the current administration, the favorite name the opposition likes to use is Socialist or Liberal. Some even go so far as to equate the two with Nazism. The following is an excerpt from a September 2009, Anderson Cooper 360 show where Mark Williams, founder of the Tea Party Express, is being interviewed on his opinion of President Obama.
WILLIAMS: I did not call Barack Obama a Nazi.
COOPER: Yes, he's on your list, on your Web site, of you -- of, like, 21st century Nazis. It has his name.
WILLIAMS: We have got the philosophy of fascism and national socialism at work here. Of course we do. (LAUGHTER)
COOPER: No, no, but you have the president's name, although it's a derivation.
WILLIAMS: He's under my...
COOPER: It's not his actual name. It's a name -- it's kind of a negative...
WILLIAMS: Mubarak Hussein Obama.
That's what you call him on your Web site. You're the one who is using the term Nazi.
WILLIAMS: Sure. Sure. I call him Mubarak Hussein Obama.
And he's a man who is sitting in the office right now taking the -- taking the seeds planted of socialism planted by George W. and fertilizing them and watering them until they go into full bloom. And what...(Cooper)
The Cooper interview and the remarks to the AP article are examples of what is call Ad Hominem fallacy, which means, against the man. Instead of addressing specific issues or perceived flaws in the President’s policies, this group would rather attack his character. The confusion that is created over the definition of words is used to cloud the issue. I found it interesting he would go so far as to state President Obama was carrying out the programs established by President G. W. Bush. Political commentators repeatedly misuse words to play on the emotions of the reader. In the early stages of the 2016, Presidential race, Republican contender Donald Trump has taken name calling and misdirection to new level. The politicians are not the only ones getting into the game. In the discourse of cyberspace, name calling seems to be the preferred method of debate.
FireWraith: Just because all you left-wing anti-progress anti-capitalist confederate sympathizer Democrats are pulling for an obvious scumbag like Cleveland.
nerevar59: He's a socialist. He wants to take my money and redristribute it. That makes him a thief. To vote for him is blatantly anti-Constitutional and you are a traitor to work for him. My God, how can you be so ignorant.
Statetheobvious: You know, the biggest GOP donors are also the biggest proponents of the current immigration system, right?
Hank: Americans made a mistake but we still can save the country. We need another type of policy. We need another type of candidates. Hillary, Romney, Bush etc. - they can't run the country. We need people like Sheriff Joe who cares about Americans and can prove that. (Graham)
Placing labels on a person is a form of fallacy. In the book Logic and Mr. Limbaugh the author describes this error in logic. “Argumentum ad Hominem This fallacy gets its name from the Latin, meaning ‘at the man’. We commit the FALLACY OF ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM when we reject a person’s reasoning or position by criticizing the person instead of the reasoning or position.” (Perkins 30) This action is by no means a new tactic. The misuse of words or creating new meaning of words and name calling is one of the oldest political tactics.
Another strategy is to over complicate the language to confuse the issue. There is a cartoon strip by Bill Watterson called, Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little boy and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger, who comes to life when no one else is looking. In one episode, Calvin has figured out the purpose of writing.
Calvin: I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them.
Calvin: I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity.
Calvin: With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! Want to see my book report?
Hobbes: “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes.”
Calvin: Academia, here I come! (Watterson 5)
To Calvin it is apparent that language is used to direct attention away from the real issue being discussed or to mask the lack of understanding of the subject. With that in mind this article will focus on the meaning of, Capitalism, Communism, Democracy, Fascism, Nazism, Socialism, Conservative, and Liberal. The following definitions are from dictionary.com, a free web site. While the formal definition of a word does not capture all the subtleties, it is a good place to start for a common understanding in a conversation.
Capitalism: “an economic and political system characterized by a free market for goods and services and private control of production and consumption.”
Communism: “a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.”
Democracy: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”
Fascism: “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.”
Nazism: “ideology and practice of the Nazis, especially the policy of racist nationalism, national expansion, and state control of the economy.”
Socialism: “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”
Conservatism: “a political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order.”
Liberalism: “a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.”
The first six definitions are talking about governmental structure and/or systems. This country is a Capitalistic nation with democratic tendencies. According to the basic definition, we are a liberal nation, because we have a general belief in individual and civil liberties. Even the people who disagree with the policies of any administration have to admit that they have the freedom to disagree. Look closely at the definition of Conservatives and Liberals in contrast to the political systems. A Conservative can operate in anyone one of the systems, while the definition of a Liberal does not fit the definitions of Communism or Fascism.
The attempt by political analysts to equate the Administration of President Obama and the Administration of President G. W. Bush as Nazi is ridiculous. Hitler and the Nazi Party hold a special place in history and it should not be diminished with frivolous references to current political figures. The combined efforts of Hitler and his supporter were responsible for the systematic extermination of millions of people that fact cannot be forgotten. When people like Mr. Williams claim that the seated President is a Nazi, it starts a process that dilutes what happened in Nazi Germany prior to and during World War II. A secondary implication of his statement is that the situation in Germany during that period may not be as bad as people first thought it was.
The problem with placing people in a political box is that the fit is not complete. While a “Conservative” is a person who believes in “Tradition”, they may at the same time have many traits that are considered as “Liberal”. This internal polarization makes me think of the character Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof. (Stein) He is the patriarch of the family representing the traditional thinking how he lives his life is in compliance with that belief system. Just because Tevye is the Conservative in the story does not necessarily mean that his three oldest daughters represent the Liberals of the family. They have all chosen lives that broke from the traditions of their father and family, which leads to an interesting paradox between what is old, and what is new. While Tevye is a Conservative, he is also a Liberal because he recognized, however reluctantly, the rights of his daughters to make their own decisions. We can see in this character a tug of war going on.
The context in which the words are being used is also important. Anyone from 1950 through 1980 who was considered a Conservative in this country would have been looked upon as a Liberal in the old USSR. Today there are many parts of the world that look upon our most Conservative individuals as Liberal. If the meaning of the labels that we believe to be fixed are in actuality fluid then what is the source of the tension?
An interesting dynamic takes place when the new becomes the old, what was once considered radical and cutting edge, becomes the block to progression. There is a quote that grabbed my attention, which articulates this concept. “Nothing can appear more contradictory than the principles on which the old government began, and the condition to which society, civilization, and commerce, are capable of carrying mankind. Government on the old system, is an assumption of power, for the aggrandizementof itself; on the new, a delegation of power, for the common benefit of society. The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation.” (Pain P 113)
The quote was written by Thomas Pain in 1792 in Part II of Rights of Man. The books (Part I published in 1791) were in support of the American and French Revolutions and a social comment on the existing monarchies of Europe. It was deemed so radical his publisher advised Pain to leave Britain before it was published. As it turned out, Pain was smart to take the advice; the British Parliament brought him up on charges of treason. Even though this work was published over 200 years ago, it is as relevant today as it was back then. The old guard is trying to hold on while the new continues to push the boundaries of human understanding.
At this point in the article some may be wondering what my intent for writing this piece was, because the start does not appear to match up with the ending. The beginning is talking about an attempt by the media to represent our society in a dichotomous manner and how they present information in such a way so it supports one side of the dichotomy. While the last few paragraphs are discussing the philosophical tension that exists between the establishment and change. In between, there is a piece that shows how elements of both (conservative and liberal) are in everyone. The point is the dichotomy is a false picture.
While it is expected and natural to have tension between the old and the new, there is a point when the tension becomes so great that the system cannot bare the pressure and the society fails. As a society, we have reduced ourselves to name-calling, blaming, and polarization verse a review and discussion of the essence of the issues. Instead of addressing issues, we are arguing the perspectives on the fringes. Political manipulators (whether it be politicians or the media) benefit from the confusion. Placing people in little boxes, such as Liberal or Conservative, Republican or Democrat, does nothing but draw attention away from the important discourse. Discourse and reason are replaced by emotion as the driving force in the society.
Individuals have to take responsibility and understand that they have the capacity to be politically and philosophically multi-faceted. It should be understood that media outlets have a political agenda and that agenda is going to bias in the way the information is presented. The political extremes are presented as if they were the norm. Liberal and Conservative should be viewed as liberal and conservative, because they are not absolute values, they are floating perspectives on the world.
Bonus Points: Who are the people featured in Figure 4
 I like the word pundit, which is referring to a person who makes expert or authoritative comments, usually about politics, but to me it sound like putz
 To the younger readers I am referring to a member of the rock group of the Beatles
 The misspelling is a direct quote
 include related variations of the word such as Socialist
 One such example came be found at. George W. Bush is Becoming More Like Hitler Everyday. http://www.oreilly-sucks.com/hitlerbush.htm.Accessed May 9, 2010
 For those of you under the age of 39 here is a trivia question, “What does USSR stand for?” answer: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
 the act of increasing the wealth or prestige or power or scope of something
Associated Press. Obama: Tea Party features ‘core group’ against him. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100330/ap_on_el_ge/us_obama_tea_party (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Cooper, Anderson. Cable News Network (CNN).Anderson Cooper 360. September 14, 2009. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0909/14/acd.01.html (Accessed March 30, 2010)
Goldman, William the Princess Bride. Director: Rob Reiner. Writers: William Goldman (screenplay) and William Goldman (book) 20th Century Fox (Domestic theatrical and television rights), Vestron Pictures (now Lions Gate; international rights), MGM (Domestic home video rights) Release Date: 25 September 1987
Graham, David A. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet. The Atlantic.http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/2016-election/384828/#article-comments. November 2, 2015. (Accessed November 8, 2015)
Pain, Thomas. Rights of Man. Dover Publications Inc, Mineola, New York. 1999.
Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media. St. Martin Press. New York. 1986
Perkins, Ray Jr. Logic and Mr. Limbaugh. Open Court. 1995
Stein, Joseph Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and based on the 1964 book by Joseph Stein, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905
Watterson, Bill. Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat. Andrews and McMeel. 1994
People Featured in Figure 4
Barack Obama: http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/new_official_portrait_released/. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Sarah Palin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SarahPalinElon.jpg. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Benito Mussolini This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division under the digital ID ggbain.37518. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Colin Powell: http://pristina.usmission.gov/bushph/powel2.jpg. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/998481.stm#leaders. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Karl Marx: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Marx_001.jpg. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
George Bush: http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/newsphoto.aspx?newsphotoid=4269. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Kim Jong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kim_Jong-Il.jpg. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Vladimir Lenin: http://s123.photobucket.com/albums/o298/RedElephantMSU/?action=view¤t=Lenin.jpg. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Figure 1. Dr. Marshall Soules, Malaspina University-College, http://www.media-studies.ca/articles/war_propaganda.htm. (Accessed March 23, 2016)
Figure 3: The Sliding Scale of Mark
Figure 5: Calvin and Hobbes dancing. http://www.cliparthut.com/calvin-and-hobbes-dancing-clipart.htmles. (Accessed April 3, 2010)
Figure 6 Mudslinging Candidates: Grate Bend Tribune. http://www.gbtribune.com/archives/44/preview/. August 03, 20110. (Accessed October 22, 2015)
© 2011 Mark Monroe