Commentary

Letter to the Editor

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Read the original column here.

To the Editor:
You rightly point out how polarizing political mythology is alienating Americans. Between the Right Wing and the Left Wing there no longer seems to be any chicken in the middle.

However those definitions you’ve found of “liberal” and “conservative” themselves reflect prevailing mythology and distort the whole issue. Your “Liberal” is defined almost entirely as depending on the government, while your “Conservative” is all about individual freedom. But these words have quite different meanings in the dictionary — and in history and current events.
For instance, “Liberalism” is defined online as “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.” The ACLU, defenders of Net Neutrality, and those protesting corporate personhood would seem to fit this definition.
Likewise, “Conservatism” has historically meant something quite different from your “empowerment of the individual.” Online definitions include: “A political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order.”

American Conservatism is composed of several competing ideologies. Economic conservatives and libertarians favor limited government and few regulations, low taxes, and free enterprise. Social conservatives support traditional social values and would often impose them by law. Paleoconservatives oppose multiculturalism and want restrictions on immigration. Neoconservatives want to expand American influence in the world, and they strongly support Israel. The current Republican primary campaign reflects some of these conflicting concerns.
Also, “Left,” “Liberal” and “Democratic Party” are not equivalent terms, and neither are “Right,” “Conservative” and “Republican Party.” I am not just quibbling about words — ideology has made our whole political landscape absurd and surreal. You can’t talk intelligently about something if you don’t even know what your words mean.

For instance, “personal responsibility” sure sounds good — who would be against it? But what does it mean in the real world? Privatizing Social Security so janitors and waitresses can play the stock market? Or “free enterprise” — just how does that work in an economic system where many industries are shared monopolies that keep out any competition? As you suggest, let’s have fewer glittering generalities, less ideology, and more of plain old American citizenship.

Coralie Koonce
Author of “Swimming in a Sea of Ideology”

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