From Left to Right

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"It's all relative."  And relative things are difficult. For example, take hot and cold.  At what temperature does something move from being cold to being hot?  Certainly there is a fairly generous cushion given to either side of what is comfortable to us, say 75 °F.  But that doesn't provide a set definition.  It's relative.

In thermodynamics, all related calculations for processes involving temperatures are done in terms of heat.  Something cold would be regarded as having less heat.  But using "heat" is arbitrary in itself.  These things could also have been worked out in terms of cold.  Something hot would just indicate the absence of cold.

And thus I began searching for definitions of liberal and conservative.  As it turns out, most online dictionaries are aggravating in that they use the word being defined to provide its meaning.  However, I found one with fairly specific definitions for liberal:


1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.
14. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion.

Generously, synonyms are provided: progressive, broad-minded, unprejudiced, beneficent, charitable, openhanded, munificent, unstinting, lavish.

It seems by definition, liberals have claimed the available human virtues.  Turn them upside down, and conservatives are a sorry lot. 

Well conservatives, here you are:

1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
4. (often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
5. (initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.
7. Mathematics. (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.
8. a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc.

No synonyms are even offered, and the above doesn't speak to any particular related virtue.  "Old fuddy duddy" might summarize the lot.  I can't help but think responsibility, self-discipline, loyalty, honesty and faith might have been included.  I would suspect that the definition of each had different authors.

There has been a general saying that people become more conservative as they age.  I have no doubt that the ample "older" liberals could and would cite themselves as proof to the contrary. 

In theory, the idea goes that youth, having nothing to lose and a full unencumbered life ahead of them, are idealistic about the way things should be and are hopeful of making things just that way. As they get older, obligations and responsibilities engender a wisdom in accepting that things are the way they are for what often turns out to be good reasons.

Winston Churchill speaking to Congress, Dec. 26th, 1941

There's a quote sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill (seen speaking to Congress in 1941 in the picture above):

If you aren't liberal when you're young, you don't have a heart. If you aren't conservative when you are old, you don't have a brain.

Extrapolated, the young have no brains and the old have no hearts.  Hmm.  Where is the middle ground?

The political terms The Left and The Right (one source indicates) referred to the seating arrangements in the French Legislative Assembly of 1791, with the moderate royalist Feuillants on the right side of the chamber and the radical Montagnards on the left.  You can imagine the dividing aisle, providing a clear path between the two.

And it is from that aisle that a savvy politician is told to lead.   Assuming that a President has a definitive stand on every issue, "governing from the middle" would necessarily include 1) not governing to their own beliefs or 2) not governing consistently with whichever side supported their advancement.  Fiscal conservatism and social liberalism are mutually exclusive, as are their opposites.  And that's why the aisle remains empty.

President Obama may be that rare individual who governs strictly to his beliefs, which are decidedly Left.  If that works well, then those of us who moved right may have to rethink our foundations as we tax our way to prosperity.  And if his policies fail, we have to pray for a champion for conservatism, because the Republicans have proven themselves incapable of making a difference.

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