Way back when, in the very inkling of the creation of the U.S. of A, a Liberal was someone who was against royal rule and did not want to pay taxes unless they had someone representing them in the governmental process. You might remember the phrase from U.S. History, “Give me liberty or give me death!”. A Conservative wanted to retain royal rule; they were called Tories. They generally adopted a ‘let’s keep it the same, stability is important for business’ tone. As we know, the Liberals carried the day, and a new country was born.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties of today can trace their roots back to this classic definition of ‘Liberal’. The Conservative Republican may quibble on this point, only willing to go so far back as 1860 and the ‘Party of Lincoln’. We’ll return to this point in a follow-up post.
A lot of time has passed between the formation of this country and now, and the definitions of both Liberal and Conservative have evolved some.
Q&A time: When did the ‘modern’ definitions of Liberal and Conservative first appear?
A. The 1980 Presidential Election, which Ronald Reagan won as a Compassionate Conservative and Jimmy Carter lost.
B. The 1964 Presidential Election where Barry Goldwater defined Libertarian Conservative, but Lyndon Johnson won the election.
C.The 1932 Presidential Election between Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
D. The 1896 Presidential Election which featured William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley.
If you picked D, give yourself a silver star.
The 1896 Election featured two competing themes. William Jennings Bryan, Democrat, ran on a populist platform. He supported the workers and farmers, and took on the big-money establishment by proposing policies that supported the common man, but which also had negative consequences for the rich. William McKinley’s platform rested on supporting banks and big business interests, which in turn would create jobs and prosperity. McKinley won big by carrying the vote in urban areas and ethnic labor groups, while Bryan lost even though he carried the rural vote.
Interesting how the key themes from an election 114 years ago continue to be the focus of the Republican & Democratic parties. In broad strokes, Republicans focus on supporting large business interests as a mechanism to improve the lot of all. And generally, Democrats use governmental policies to improve the lives of the citizens.
But, by picking one party over the other, are you more Liberal? Or, are you more Conservative?