Sorry to have to climb up on the soapbox again, but with an election looming, I'm once again being involuntarily exposed to a lot of ignorant pap being uttered by wankers trying to convince me to part with my vote -- or more importantly, it seems, my money.
The most recent provocateur of my ire is Newt Gingrich, who decided to blame "liberals and Democrats" for the big flap over the moron who was sending nasty-grams to his teen-aged pages. Aside from providing more proof that anyone who voted in 2004 based on their "moral values" was suckered by cynical con-men with all the moral fiber of a box of Lucky Charms, the incident doesn't really have much bearing on anything... but of course it has been seized upon because of the election. In Jerry Springer-land, anything salacious will translate into free publicity, so of course the Democrats grabbed it and ran.
But what has me so irritated is that constant mis-use of the term "liberal". It reminds me of the "good old days" of communism, we could just call anyone we disagreed with a "commie" or a "pinko" (implying that they were only slightly communist) as the perjorative de jour, and thus win our political argument. It made a nice, simple shorthand for the sheepish masses to rally around. The old "give it a label so you can kill it" trick. Ever since Rush's ratings blitz in the early '90's, self-identified "conservatives" have begun to use "liberal" the same way. I find that disturbing because all of the conservatives that I know personally don't seem to know what "liberal" actually means.
I went looking for quick, concise definitions of "conservative" and "liberal" so I could contrast them for you, but it's hard, because there is no such thing as a quick, concise definition of "conservative". It seems that "conservatism" as such doesn't exist on its own. It doesn't have any of its own ideas or ideologies. "Conservatism" tends to uphold existing ideas or traditions, so it depends on the context of the political ideals of those who espouse it. And in asking my own conservative friends, and surfing around reading conservative bloggers, it seems that American conservatives believe they are fighting for "freedom", "limitations on government", "the law" and "free economy." That's funny, in light of this Wikipedia excerpt:
"Broadly speaking, contemporary liberalism emphasizes individual rights. It seeks a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, free public education, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports relatively free private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of all citizens are protected. In modern society, liberals favor a liberal democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law and an equal opportunity to succeed."
So you can see where I get confused; if the "polar opposites" of the American political debate both stand for the same ideals, then what is all the fighting about? I suggest to you now that it is all for show.
It is in the interests of those with power to keep us all polarized into two boxes; it doesn't matter that everyone in both boxes believes largely in the same things, because there are always things to argue about. And there will always be a media market for those who like to argue, be they Bill O'Reilly or Al Franken. They've all managed to convince us that we have to choose between "liberals" who want to abort your babies and force you into gay marriages, or "conservatives" who want to throw you in jail for having sex or for painting your house the wrong color. It doesn't matter which box you go into: as long as you get into a box. Baa-aa-aa...
I think it's significant that they don't ever ask for our votes anymore. They assume that they know whether you -- or at least your gerrymandered district -- will predictably go to either the "liberals" or the "conservatives". They so effectively marketed this idea, that as soon as you claim to be one or the other, all of the other sheep put the pressure on to guarantee that you line up with their ticket, and give them what they really want: cash.
And so, because there is an election, the pressure is on everyone to come up with the next big "red flag" to wave. Newt has his "liberals"; every Democrat challenger has some conservative boogeyman. I recently received a money-plea from some Democrat running in Washington state claiming that they needed my funding to beat "Karl Rove". Beat him at what? As I told the horse-flogging Senator:
"If your party plans to represent me, and the large number of voters like me who feel they are not represented by either of the major parties, then you will have to do something more impressive than wave a picture of Karl Rove in my face. Try offering solutions to our national problems first... If I see that happen, then you won't need my money, because you will have something that SHOULD be more important to an elected American official: my vote."