In the last article in this series, You, we learned that people can be classified or pigeonholed according to a number of variables or “lifetags,” including race, gender and age. Another lifetag that was mentioned is political orientation — and that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.
An orientation could start with up and down, but we’re going to start with left versus right.
The Political Spectrum
Picture a simple political spectrum, with people who hold certain views on one side (the left) and people who have different views on the other side (the right). People on the left are generally called liberals, while those on the right are called conservatives.
People who share similar political views often organize themselves into political parties. In the U.S., most liberals who vote belong to the Democratic Party, while the most important conservative party is the Republican Party. Thus, liberals and conservatives are often referred to as Democrats and Republicans. But keep in mind that, even in the U.S., not all liberals are Democrats, nor are all conservatives Republicans. (Making things even more confusing, not all Democrats are liberals; more about that later.)
Before we continue, let me warn you: The meanings of left, right, liberal, conservative and related words are commonly distorted by propaganda. For example, conservatives sometimes refer to liberalism as “the L word,” as if it’s an obscenity, while liberals may call conservatives “Christian kooks.”
Of course, the meanings of political terms also vary from one place to another. However, left and right are pretty common political terms that are generally understood around the world. When used in a political context, either word is often capitalized, particularly when preceded by “the” (e.g. the Left).
Red vs Green
Neither the Left nor the Right has an official color. However, red is commonly associated with the Right, green with the Left.
Liberals typically care about the environment more than conservatives do. Therefore, green is probably a more logical symbol worldwide. In fact, one of the more prominent liberal political parties is called the Green party.
In addition, liberals are often associated with the color blue in the United States. This color was likely inspired by the U.S. flag.
The colors of the United States flag are red, white and blue. Since conservatives are associated with the color red, it’s logical that blue might be reserved for liberals. At any rate, states that are predominantly conservative are called red states, while liberal states are called blue states.
U.S. Conservatives vs Liberals
Why do people believe what they do? Many people simply believe whatever their parents teach them. But home and occupation are also important factors. In other words, if you know where a person lives and what s/he does for a living, you might be able to guess whether that person is a liberal or conservative.
Where do they live?
The terms red states and blue states came into use in 2000 to describe states whose residents ordinarily vote for Republicans (red states) or Democrats (blue states). On the map below, blue represents states carried by the Democrats in the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Red represents states carried by the republicans.
The blue states are clustered into three groups. The first group includes all the states bordered by the Pacific Ocean, except Alaska. Indeed, the nickname Left Coast is often applied to the West Coast, or to California in particular. The second group consists of the Great Lakes states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois). The third group consists of most of the northeastern United States (New York, Pennsylvania, New England and a few other states). What makes these regions different?
Most of the United States’ biggest cities — including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle (biggest city in the Pacific Northwest) — are located in blue states. People who live in big cities are less likely to be xenophobic. After all, they live and work with people from various backgrounds.
In addition, many minorities are concentrated in cities, and one wouldn’t expect minorities to hate themselves. Thus, minorities generally support the Democratic Party. However, Hispanic citizens — most numerous in the Southwest and California — have given Republicans a lot of support in recent years.
Notice that, except for Alaska, all the red states are clustered around the Great Plains (on the left) and the South. (Texas lies partly in the Great Plains and partly in the south.) So what does this tell us?
The Great Plains is a sparsely populated region of farms and ranches, with few large cities. The people who live there are overwhelmingly white, with few minorities.
People who live in rural areas tend to be xenophobic — afraid of the outside world. They are often afraid of anyone different than their neighbors, including minorities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people. Many are simply ignorant and/or brainwashed.
Propagandists love to target rural people with hate campaigns. They warn them that their tax dollars are going to help lazy Indians or black people, or that Communists or Muslims are planning on attacking the United States. When people hear these things, they get scared. Next, they start hating their imaginary enemies — including the liberals they’re told support those enemies. Bill Janklow — the most popular governor in South Dakota’s history — was famous for stirring up hatred against Native Americans, for example.
But what about the South? There’s a lot of rural agricultural land in the South, which was alienated from the other states by the Civil War and later by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. Polarized by the Democratic Party’s support of civil rights, the South began to shift towards Republicans.
Religion is another thing propagandists love to exploit. The Bible Belt runs through the South. In other words, a lot of right-wing conservative Christians live there.
But why isn’t the southernmost state, Florida, solid red? Many people from northern states have moved to Florida, making it a little different from other Southern states.
What do they do?
Show me two people, one from Texas and the other from California, and I’ll guess the Texan is a conservative who votes for Republicans, while the Californian is probably a liberal who votes for democrats.
Unfortunately, that would be a very sloppy guess, and I would quite likely have it exactly backwards. But I could make a better guess if I knew a little more about each person.
Academia is a traditional bastion of liberalism. In other words, many college professors, teachers and librarians are liberals.
The military is associated with conservative elements. Many liberals were drafted during the war in Vietnam, but most career military people were probably conservatives. Now that there’s no longer a draft, the military has become even more conservative.
Law enforcement professions are also said to attract more conservatives than liberals.
But what about rich people? Liberals and conservatives alike can be poor or rich, but the super rich are generally conservative. It’s no secret that the rich have been getting richer even as everyone else gets poorer.
The most important issues that separate the Right from the Left worldwide are probably war, economy and the environment. We might also add social justice, which is closely related to all three.
Liberals are typically anti-war and are often associated with symbols like the dove and the peace sign.
Conservatives are more pro-war. Right wingers (the more extreme conservatives) are often referred to as war hawks.
Chickenhawks are right wingers who advocate war even though they never served in the military themselves. Rush Limbaugh, a radio talk show propagandist who is a hero to millions of conservatives in the U.S., is one of the best known chickenhawks. George W. Bush served in the military during the war in Vietnam. However, he served in the Texas Air National Guard. In addition, there’s evidence to suggest he was AWOL (absent without leave, or permission) on more than one occasion. Thus, Bush is widely considered a chickenhawk.
Just to confuse you, consider Obama. He may be a bigger war criminal than Bush and never even served in the National Guard. However, Obama isn’t a right winger — or is he? In fact, Obama’s politics are very right-wing, even though he’s officially a Democrat. Making things still more confusing, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, even though he’s a de facto war criminal.
Liberals are more likely to support socialism or a “mixed economy” combining capitalism and socialism. Nevertheless, the great majority of liberals in the U.S. probably support capitalism.
Liberals are more likely to champion nationalization. More liberal countries — including Canada and many European nations — have socialized health care; in other words, all citizens can get free health care.
Liberals typically favor higher taxes, with the money spent on education, the environment and other good causes. Unfortunately, tax dollars are often lost to government corruption.
Conservatives generally champion capitalism.
Conservatives are more likely to support privatization. For example, the privatization of the health care industry and education in the U.S. has been promoted primarily by Republicans (though Democrats have been helping them).
Conservatives generally favor lower taxes, and conservative governments are likely to oblige them. But rich people typically pay the lowest taxes of all. Making matters still worse, money that should be spent on good causes or necessary services is more likely to be spent on war (or lost to corruption).
Liberals are more likely to favor environmental protection. In fact, the modern environmental movement was launched during the 1960s and 70s, when liberals were very active politically. Later, President Jimmy Carter (a liberal Democrat) championed America’s national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, setting aside vast areas of Alaska for protection.
President Ronald Reagan (Republican) appointed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior (the agency that oversees the environment). Watt was widely seen as a fox guarding chickens. Attacks on the environment grew even worse under presidents George W. Bush (Republican) and Barack Obama (Democrat).
Liberals traditionally believe that people are basically good. They favor governments that help people who are typically at a disadvantage, notably women, children and minorities. Liberals may even support higher taxes in order to help disadvantaged groups.
Here’s one of the biggest ironies in politics: Conservatives typically believe that government should mind its own business. Yet they support governments that persecute people they regard as enemies, including minorities, political dissidents and liberals. Conservatives were behind the communist witch-hunts of the Joseph McCarthy era (1950s), just as they were behind the Muslim witch-hunts of the George Bush era. Sadly, many liberals followed Obama down the same path.
Liberals are more likely to welcome immigrants.
Conservatives are more likely to favor stricter control of immigration or to be anti-immigration altogether.
In the U.S., liberals generally support a woman’s right to choose for herself. They call themselves pro-choice.
In the U.S., conservatives typically oppose abortion. They call themselves pro-life.
In the U.S., liberals commonly support gun control.
U.S. conservatives generally oppose gun control.
Who do they support?
Liberals and conservatives all think they’re patriotic Americans who support decent people, but who do they really support?
In fact, the Republican and Democratic parties have both sold out to corporate interests. It could almost be argued that they’ve become corporations themselves.
Reft vs Light?
Are you getting confused? OK, time for a refresher.
We know that people and politics are both very complex. We learned about an imaginary political spectrum that’s used to divide most people between Left and Right, based on their political views.
Of course, we have to realize that many people aren’t 100% liberal or conservative. What about people who are anti-war and care about the environment (liberal issues) but don’t like gun control? Are they liberal conservative?
Imagine two liberals who are anti-war. One also cares very much about the environment, while the other one doesn’t care about the environment at all. Is one more liberal than the other?
Now you can see why some people are described as moderate Democrats or Republicans. People who are right in the middle (or center) are sometimes called centrists.
More extreme liberals or conservatives are often referred to as left wingers or right wingers. They are sometimes referred to as radicals, or fringe elements. Propagandists like these terms, because they imply that left- or right wingers are crazy or dangerous. In fact, many people who are politically astute believe that most average Americans are crazy.
Another trick is to insult liberals by calling them socialists or commies (communists). This is unfair for two reasons: 1) Not all liberals are socialists or communists. In fact, most liberals in the U.S. are not socialists or communists. 2) It implies that socialists or communists are bad.
Vice versa, liberals may call conservatives fascists or nazis.
On the other hand, there is growing interest in socialism in the U.S., and the government is becoming more fascist. Many people compared George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. At the same time, a growing interest in WWII has led many people to believe that Adolf Hitler was actually a far better person than Bush. Hitler certainly wasn’t any more racist than Bush, Winston Churchill or the colonial French.
That reminds me of something else we learned: Politicos (people involved in politics) often lie. Many Democrats pretend to be liberals when they’re really conservative or even fascist (e.g. Joe Lieberman, Barack Obama).
In recent years, propagandists have described conservatives as “classic liberals,” whatever that is. Some have even suggested that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were liberals. In fact, they were about as far Right as one can get; they were fascists. Hitler once said,
What about claims that the republican party is “the party of Lincoln”?
That’s true; Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. But that was over 150 years ago; the parties were very different back then. In the 1960s, blacks and other minorities looked to the Democrats for help, not Republicans. Moreover, Lincoln wasn’t the hero many Americans think he was.
Many ordinary citizens even lie. Conservatives who claim to be patriotic may really be cowards who are simply rallying behind anyone they think can protect them from some imaginary enemy. Similarly, the liberals who claim to care about children have let corporations take over schools without firing a shot.
And things get more confusing still when we consider people who are neither liberal nor conservative. what about anarchists who don’t believe in government at all?
Patriotism vs Fascism
The Left-Right spectrum is seemingly mirrored by the Patriotism-Fascism spectrum, with patriotism on the Left and fascism on the Right. But take a closer look.
In fact, patriotism isn’t normally assigned to either side, though each side questions the other’s patriotism.
jingoism — extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy
fascism — a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual typically represented by a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
Nationalism — which might be regarded as an exaggerated patriotism — cuts both ways. Nations that are oppressed (by right-wing elements, for example), commonly rally behind national pride. Thus, nationalism might be seen as a good thing — a force for combating humiliation. On the other hand, corrupt and evil leaders like to exploit nationalism, often leading to worse things.
More extreme (and dangerous) nationalism is called jingoism, which can harden into fascism. Jingoism and fascism are typically associated with the political Right. The most famous examples of fascist states are Mussolini’s Italy (where the term originated) and Nazi Germany. Many people warn that the U.S. is moving towards fascism. Some believe the U.S. is already a fascist nation.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.
That leaves us with the question what is patriotism? Merriam-Webster defines it as simply love for or devotion to one’s country. Yet liberals and conservatives argue bitterly about patriotism and how it should be displayed — or whether it should be displayed at all. Right wingers are often stereotyped as selfish nationalists who like to sing the national anthem and wave miniature flags at sporting events, a very shallow display of patriotism at best.
Many right wingers apparently think patriotism means unquestioningly following rituals (e.g. reciting the pledge of allegiance) and supporting your leaders — especially if they’re right-wing and especially if they’re calling for war. Liberals are more likely to question their leaders.
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
Ignorance and selfishness degrade patriotism. True patriotism means having the courage to disagree with and even defy your leaders when they’re acting in a selfish or cruel manner. Thus, the people who forced President Richard Nixon out of office were greater patriots than those who supported his war in Vietnam, which may have killed over a million people and didn’t help anyone except corporate interests that grew rich off the war.
The Big Picture
History can be seen as an endless struggle between the rich and powerful few and the masses of people they exploit. From time to time, the slaves, peasants or workers rise up and fight back. They may fight by voting or protesting. If that doesn’t work, they may fight with their fists, clubs or guns.
Left-Right Word Listdemopublicans
Generally speaking, the rich and powerful are represented by conservative groups. Ordinary people are generally represented by liberal groups.
So if you want to understand what free trade is all about, just look at its supporters — corporations. left wingers generally support fair trade.
Business interests in the U.S. have long exploited Latin America (among other places). Latin Americans have traditionally rallied behind socialism or communism. Fidel Castro gained fame as a communist revolutionary; his ally, Che Guevara, was a socialist revolutionary. In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan — a right-wing Republican — supported Nicaragua’s right-wing Contras against the socialist Sandinistas. The political revolution now sweeping Latin America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, is generally socialist in name and character.
Many Latin American nations have been exploited by the U.S. or even invaded by the U.S. military. Time and again, the people who fight back are socialists (liberals). And if they aren’t socialists, the corporate media will likely call them socialists, anyway; nowadays, they’re often called terrorists.
As far as I know, there is no international right-wing holiday, no International Corporations day.
Famous Left- and Right-Wingers
Eugene V. Debs
George H. W. Bush
George W. Bush
This doesn’t mean all conservatives are bad or all liberals good. but here’s some food for thought:
Even many Democrats now ask people to vote for their candidates as the lesser of evils. In other words, they admit that many Democrats are corrupt, but they insist that Republicans are even worse.
In the meantime, many conservatives have abandoned the Republican Party for the Libertarian Party. Likewise, many liberals have fled the Democrats to join the Green Party or one socialist party or another. The bad news is that most, if not all, of these parties have been taken over by corporate interests.
But it’s important to know that corporations and the institutions that support them — including the CIA, the military and police forces — are generally right-wing, though their victims often include conservatives and liberals alike.
Bear in mind, also, that socialism was once a very powerful force in the U.S. In fact, it made your life better in ways you can’t imagine.