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Why We Should Define the Terms "Liberal" and "Conservative"

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Given the reality that many notable political figures like to use the terms "liberal" and "conservative" as swear words in an attempt to discredit, as well as insult, rivals and legislation they oppose, we clearly have lost touch with what these terms actually reference, thus they simply become a means to manipulate constituents instead of serving as useful descriptions. Quite frankly, no one can truly be a conservative or liberal on every issue. To make matters worse, what is liberal today will be conservative tomorrow while conservative views of yesteryears tend to die away, unless they are resurrected as liberal reforms.

Liberal is a word that often shows up on one end of any given ideological spectrum. As a relative term, it helps us describe the orientation of a particular person or idea, but it has different uses and meanings that are often poorly verbalized or understood. Even within the liberal versus conservative context of politics, both terms often mean contradictory things, depending upon the subject at hand. Social conservatives, for example, may hold views that are incompatible with the views of economic, legal, judicial, and political conservatives; the same is true of liberals. Consequently, no one can be strictly conservative or liberal.

It is important to remember terms like liberal and conservative are simply reference points, so we need common definitions that allow us to use these terms to adequately and constructively understand where a person stands on given issues. With that said, here are two definitions, which might be useful to our society, for the generic terms "conservative" and "liberal." A conservative idea, or person, is something, or someone, that defers to the current longstanding practices and views of the era when addressing issues. A liberal idea, or person, is something, or someone, that seeks to use novel or unconventional practices and views of the era when addressing issues.

It goes without saying, more often than not conservative and liberal views will contradict each other. It is, however, possible for self-proclaimed conservative and liberal ideologues to find middle ground on particular issues, because their views are not solidly conservative or liberal on every front of a given issue. More importantly, we should recognize that broadly defining these terms helps us pursue conservative and liberal solutions based on their merit instead of following the nonsensical default views of supposed conservative and liberal figures. In other words, we should think and embrace our own beliefs instead of following the ideologies of others.

Beyond definitions for these generic terms, we must seek to understand what "conservatives" and "liberals" in our society actually stand for; otherwise, politicians can use these words to manipulate us at the voting booth and the result is elected officials who work against our views instead of for them. Because speech is powerful, the powerful like to subtly transform our language to fit their views of the world and change the meanings of words so they can persuade us that their agendas, which might include harmful practices, must be embraced along with sensible policies. "Conservative" and "liberal" are just two terms that the political elite have narrowly defined in order to polarize the electorate while forcing us to choose sides.