The answer is, there’s no reason I can’t. In fact that’s what I am. But dang, it’s hard to explain to people, even though it seems natural to me.
Harry Harris and I were having a good discussion about political labels — ones that people apply to their opponents, and ones they apply to themselves (which can be just as irritating sometimes) — on a previous post. The thread started here.
The last thing Harry said about it was this:
My experience with self-labeled persons has been colored by encountering the very aspect of labeling that you parody. A frequent irritant is the conversion of an adjective (conservative, liberal) into a noun – “a conservative” or a whatever. What is it you want to conserve, Mr Conservative? What liberty do you want to unleash, Mr. Liberal? The assumption of a label, other than as a general description, often leads to a forced skewing of one’s understanding of many important ideas or issues. It often then promotes group-think and seeking-out only opinion or fact that would reinforce the prevailing attitude associated with that label. Many of us are overly binary in our thinking, and I believe the prevalence of self-adopted labels promotes such thinking as we basically throw ourselves in with that group. Then starts the name-calling. Now we feel almost compelled to label “those people” as leftists, liberals, commies, gringos, flat-earthers, knuckle-dragging reactionaries, or tree-huggers. I’m a liberal, Southern Baptist, Jesus-follower. The first few parts of my label are just adjectives. I’m probably more conservative on matters of church polity than my “conservative” Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. I’m more conservative on child-rearing related to behavior and decorum than most – but more liberal on allowing children to question and reject my theology and values. I ran a strict classroom with clear and strongly-enforced limits – but those limits allowed as much discretion and freedom as my students could handle – tailored to the situation. Was I liberal or conservative? I changed my mind and my practices on issues as experience dictated. Was I liberal or conservative? Or did I not let labels get in the way.
Labels can increase polarization, and self-adopting those labels equates to giving in to that polarization in my opinion.
Lots of good points there. My response ran along these lines…
The thing is, despite how irritating it has become to hear them, “conservative” and “liberal” are perfectly good words, implying perfectly good things. If only the people in and around our political system hadn’t dragged them through the mire over the past 50 years.
It’s a good thing to be conservative. It means, more than anything else, that you respect tradition — which is a value I cherish. It means respecting those who went before you, instead of assuming that “progress” means you’re better and wiser than those old dead dudes (which you’re not, especially if you have that attitude). It implies caution and responsibility. It means you don’t go off half-cocked. It means you respect the fundamental institutions of society — the family, the church, and yep, the government and its component institutions, such as the police, the military and the public schools.
“Liberal” also means good things. It means you favor liberty. It means you believe in pluralism, and freedom of conscience — including the views of people who don’t share yours. It means openness to new ideas. It means a willingness to change things if they aren’t as good as they should be. It means being generous. ALL Americans should be liberal, including conservatives, because conservatives believe in our institutions and underlying principles, and the essence of our system is that it is a liberal democracy.
The ideal public servant, in light of all that, would be both liberal and conservative, and I see no contradiction in that. For instance, you can have a deep respect for, and deference to, existing institutions while at the same time wanting to improve them. It means you can be a change agent while being cautious and responsible in your approach to change.
But folks who’ve been brainwashed by our parties, and by media that cover politics like is HAS to be a competition between two mutually exclusive teams (the sports model of coverage, which I despise), aren’t able to conceive of the two concepts going together. Language that should bring us together builds walls between us.
This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding. A lot of folks thought I was nuts, back in 2008, when I said I was happy either way the presidential election came out. The two parties had nominated the two people who I thought were the best candidates — John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the greatest win-win situation I’d seen in my adult life — the choice in November was between the two people we had endorsed in their respective primaries. Force to choose, I chose McCain over Obama — but I was pleased with Obama’s victory. Of course neither man was perfect — no one is. But they were both awfully good.
That made some people think I’d lost it, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.
I am conservative, and I am liberal, or I try to be. We should all strive to be both, as I defined them above. We should use these fine qualities to unite us, not as a means of separating us — which is what I’ve seen, unfortunately, for most of my adult life.