Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tom Toles: the Difference between Liberals and Conservatives

Not only is Tom Toles a brilliant editorial cartoonist, he is an intriguing and funny writer. He has started a blog to accompany his daily cartoons on the Washington Post website, and today he had a wonderful statement about the difference between liberals and conservatives:

Everybody thinks I'm a liberal and I don't argue the point, but here's what the term means to me and always has. A liberal is someone who looks at a problem and is willing to consider trying a solution other than traditional ones. There. Can we all be liberal now?

And what of conservatism? It has become an irreconcilable pairing of the longing for past forms of Americana and devotion to the free market, which is even more ruthless in destroying those beloved forms than liberals are. Throw in pretending to want to cut spending, but habitually not proposing specific things to cut. So, can we all stop pretending to be conservative now?

No? Not until liberals are willing to check back on their efforts and see what actually works and readdress what doesn't? Okay, it's a deal! That was pretty easy, now wasn't it?

I wrote a column a little over a year ago discussing the difference between liberals and conservatives; I've copied it here.

The Giving Spirit (published Dec. 23, 2008)

Christmas is known as the “season of giving.” While pondering the difference between liberals and conservatives recently it occurred to me that perhaps one way to look at the difference is in terms of giving. I think this is the motivation of liberal philosophy: To give. To give opportunity to all people. To give all people a decent life.

If you look up the two words in the dictionary, besides their political meaning they have other meanings; “liberal” means “given freely or abundantly, generous” and “characterized by willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal portion” while “conservative” means “restrained” and “cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.”

Just to be clear from the start: this doesn’t mean I think people who are politically conservative are personally ungenerous. This is manifestly untrue in my experience.

Some conservatives might point to studies that “show” conservatives are more personally generous than liberals, but a close look at these studies demonstrate that it is religion that makes the difference in giving, not political beliefs. Religious people give more to charity, and religious liberals give as much as religious conservatives.

What I mean is that liberalism has a more generous outlook towards sharing the fruits of freedom and prosperity.

Liberals have pushed for the inclusion of everyone, the extension of freedom to all, equality of rights for all. One hundred and fifty years ago liberals—at the time their party was called Republican—fought for the rights of people of color. One hundred years ago liberals fought for the rights of women. Sixty years ago liberals fought again to give equal rights to black people. Now liberals are fighting for the equal treatment of homosexuals.

Conservatives have resisted every one of these fights for freedom. A conservative who is a strict constructionist would, I guess, want to restrict voting to wealthy white men again.

Liberals want to broaden the number of people sharing in the prosperity of our nation. Liberals have promoted such innovations as the minimum wage, the forty-hour workweek, and Social Security which helped to create the middle-class. Liberals have supported the labor unions, which were a major component of the great American prosperous decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Conservatives have fought every one of these tooth and nail. Do you remember the bitter struggle to get the Republican Congress to raise the minimum wage during the booming 1990s? If you’ve forgotten the trade-busting tactics of conservative hero Ronald Reagan, watch a film by Barbara Kopple, “American Dream,” a documentary about the strike at a Hormel meat-packing plant in the mid-1980s.

Liberals advocate giving everyone an equal opportunity. Liberals have created programs such as Head Start, free school lunches, and welfare to help the poor better their children’s lives. They’ve created mandates for such things as handicap access to make sure no one is left out of participating in life.

Once again, conservatives hate these programs. Remember Reagan suggesting the school lunch program could save money by labeling ketchup a vegetable? Or describing the welfare queen with her Cadillac?

Liberals want to give everyone the right to express themselves; they are tolerant of others. This is why the great urban centers of our country are far more liberal than the rural areas, because when you live around millions of people you have to learn to get along with people who are different.

If you spend an hour listening to conservative talk radio or Fox television, you will become acutely aware of the extreme lack of tolerance on the part of today’s conservatives for any point of view other than their own.

Maybe most important, liberals offer hope for a better future. Liberals are also called progressives because they believe in progress, evolution, improvement, change for the better.

I’ll quote from an authoritative source—William F. Buckley (from his book Up From Liberalism)—for what conservatives believe: “Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgement that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them. Whatever is to come cannot outweigh the importance to man of what has gone before.”

What a dismal philosophy! All the good times are passed and gone, to quote the old folk song. What a repudiation of the natural world, where all is growth—even death and decay is growth in another form. I can’t imagine not believing that the human race continues to grow as it progresses through time, that we learn and evolve in our cultural and psychological expressions (not to mention our technology), that we have great unimagined experiences ahead of us every bit as important as any in the past, and that we have fantastic adventures lying in store for us as the human race learns to live together on this small planet.

Sure liberals have made mistakes. Sure some of their programs have had unintended consequences, such as welfare contributing to the breakdown of the black family, or efforts to promote tolerance devolving into political correctness. But…….the reason liberals are called “bleeding-hearts” is because they have a heart for giving.

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