It may surprise most people that Liberalism and Conservatism have the same fundamental beliefs in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, along with a mutual respect for our Constitution. There are many small disagreements between the two ideologies, but the major differences between them are the size of government, economic policy, individuality and America’s role at home and abroad.
The size of government is probably the biggest division between the two political ideologies and serves as the foundation of all further disagreements. The conservative movement generally believes in a very limited federal government. This means lower taxes, less regulations on business and more power being given to the state and local governments. On the other hand, liberals believe in more federal governmental power. They want more governmental control that historically leads to higher taxes, increased regulations on business and more power given to the three branches of American government. The conservative movement believes that the more control the government has then the more corruption, the less individual liberties and the larger possibility of a tyrannical government taking power there is. Interestingly enough, these are exactly the things that America’s founders were fighting when they declared their independence. The liberal movement thinks that there should be no power that comes close to the government, that it can prevent inequality, both fiscally and socially, and more government control will lead to a more fair and just country.
The most effective economic policy is directly related to the size of government. The conservatives believe in laissez-faire economics, which is the idea that the market will work itself out without needing government interference. Conservatives think that less business regulation leads to more innovation and that lower taxes lead to more exponential growth in the long run. They also stand for privatization of industry, such as medical insurance and infrastructure. The government should be the last resort and the only real expense should be on defense spending. The conservative movement believes in a large military to protect us from outside threats and since everyone benefits from a good defense, then everyone’s taxes should pay for it. They also think that every government welfare state eventually becomes a Ponzi scheme, meaning the people will pay into the system but never see the money they put into it. A good modern example of this is the terror of our social security system.
The other side of the aisle believes in Keynesian, or interventionist economic policies. They believe in raising taxes during times of economic boom to put away and spend during down times. They also believe in more business regulation because they feel like big businesses do not have the good of the public in mind. They think that if they control businesses, then the consumer will benefit more. What we have found after eight years of increased government regulations on businesses is that there is a positive correlation between the amount of regulation and the cost of goods and services to the consumer. In other words, regulation costs the consumer more.
The role of the individual is another very important difference between the two ideologies. To conservatives, the rights of the individual are of the utmost importance. To a conservative, in order to be successful it is on the merits of the individual and no one else. You have to make the correct choices, you have to work for everything you get and you have to adapt in order to change your circumstances. No one else is at fault for your problems and it is wrong to expect the government to fix them.
On the other hand, liberals tend to think that it is the government’s purpose to fix their problems and wipe away their issues and mistakes. They believe that the government’s main role is to save the individual from failing and in the event that an individual does fail, it is the government’s responsibility to bail them out.
The conservative movement believes that America is the last best hope for the earth. They believe that America is the most free and most fair country to live in. Conservatives say that there is no institutional prejudice and that every American citizen has the exact same rights, regardless of social group. They believe that a strong America on a global scale leads to a stronger world. The further the spread of American ideals across the globe, the better off the rest of the world is.
Meanwhile, liberals tend to believe that America is a place with a lot of social and economic inequality that needs to be healed. They think that the United States was built on white nationalism and racism. They also do not think America has fully gotten over these issues and that it is still an institutionally, systemically prejudice place. They also tend to think that America is a very flawed country and there are many other nations worldwide that are “doing it right,” comparatively.
The most important thing is that no matter what we believe, we have to get away from becoming ideologues. Citizens should start deciding our opinions on each issue separately. We should not make our voting decisions based on party lines but instead, our views. What it comes down to is the importance of doing individual research, engaging in a dialogue and open debate and understanding that your view being different from mine does not mean that I am automatically wrong. We can all agree that the world is not black and white. But it is impossible for anyone to find common ground unless we engage each other civilly and do our own research. So from this point on, be open to debate, be open to suggestion and look for fresh facts and new ways to look at the world.