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Liberal, Conservative And Other Political Labels

Matthew Jones (Political Science Instructor) gives expert video advice on: What is a 'liberal', and which party does it best describe?; What is a 'conservative', and which party does it best describe?; What is a 'progressive', and which party does it best describe? and more...

What is a 'liberal', and which party does it best describe?

American liberalism describes what we call the "left side" of the political spectrum. It really applies, mostly, to the Democratic Party, although more so to the green party, a lot of people would say, than the Democratic Party. But, in terms of parties and power, the Democratic Party tends to try to encapsulate the left side of the political spectrum. That would be modern liberalism. Modern liberalism got its start and came into its own in the twentieth century, when it combined the progressive movement, which was workers' rights, social justice, that idea--this civil libertarianism, civil liberties, and that idea. It really came into national prominence with the Civil Rights Movement, and the fight to end segregation and for African-American equality, that sort of thing. Then it changed with the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s. It changed to encapsulate feminism and then later on, gay rights, and that counter-culture, which is the anti-traditional, or against challenging traditional values. That was brought into that, and it still combines support for the welfare state, government intervention into the economy, workers' rights, social justice. That kind of encapsulates modern American liberalism.

What is a 'conservative', and which party does it best describe?

Modern American conservatism, which again is different than European conservatism or classical conservatism, classifies the right side of the ideological spectrum, and really that applies best to the Republican party. The Constitution party, and to some extent the reform party when Patrick Buchanan was the nominee, really was more conservative in certain ways than the Republican party, but the Republican party tries to be the party that catches all the right side of the political spectrum. And conservatism applies to traditional values, free markets, law and order - the rule of law, following the law, and an aggressive stance in foreign policy.

What is a 'progressive', and which party does it best describe?

A progressive, in one sense we can go back to the progressive movement that started after the industrial revolution. The champion was William Jennings Bryan, he was kind of populous in a lot of ways. It was for workers rights, social justice, challenging, or reforming established powers like big business, or different parties and that sort of thing. They are the ones that wanted to reform the party system. The progressive system was the one that changed the way that senators were elected in the United States. It used to be that senators were appointed by the state government. They're the one's that movement was significant in getting that changed to being elected directly. The progressive movement got absorbed into modern liberalism during the 20th century. Nowadays, being a liberal and being a progressive is used interchangeably.

What is a 'moderate', and which party does it best describe?

People can self-identify as moderate in two ways. One way is that they don't like to take extreme positions on any particular issue. So for instance, a moderate on abortion would be somebody who doesn't want to like say, no abortions, all abortions are illegal, or doesn't want to say abortion at any time, any time during the trimester for whatever reason. What they want is, they consider themselves taking a moderate position by taking a middle stance which is, yes abortion legal, but it's restricted. That would be maybe a moderate position in that sense. Another way to look at a moderate, if somebody considers themself a moderate is if they take conservative positions on certain issues and liberal positions on other issues. So that they can't really lump themselves into either party or either ideological camp very easily. So they consider themselves a moderate, but that's more because they're taking different ideological positions on different issues, which is different than a moderate who takes kind of the middle ground on any particular issue. And moderates, in terms of the party that they're more affiliated with, really by definition, they're - it's a toss up. Right? They can go, moderates can go more for the Democratic party, they can go more for the Republican party. Depending on which issues are prioritized, or who the candidates are. And a lot of times moderates focus on aspects of the candidates, like likability, like speaking, mannerisms, those sorts of things, to decide between them. Because they can be less ideological or because they can't fall into an ideological camp that predisposes them to vote for the conservative candidate or the liberal candidate.