During the reading of chapter four in Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, I was most captivated by the section "Commonplaces in American Political Rhetoric." This section discussed eight contemporary and highly prevalent debates in American culture; they were phrased as a series of questions that many citizens might ask themselves. It was interesting to address these particular topics in relation to either liberalism and conservatism. There is certainly no question that these two ideologies dominate American politics, but the textbook material defined these groups in a unique and frustrating way for me.
I was especially taken aback by the notion that "liberalism" is a dying ideology. "[A] more accurate depiction of the contemporary political spectrum might name two poles in commonplace American political thought as 'conservative' and 'not conservative'" (Crowley and Hawhee 136). In fact, I couldn't disagree with this sentiment more. I might suggest that the nation is even more polarized than ever. Yes, there is an increasing group of Americans who find themselves in the middle of liberalism and conservatism. However, a significant number of citizens still associate with one of the majority parties; neither of which is "not conservative." For example, I am proud to call myself a liberal and have many friends and family members who feel the same. To me, this belief that individuals identify as "conservative" or "not" is just ridiculous. What, I question, does it even mean to be "not conservative?" Wouldn't the opposite of conservative be liberal anyway? To put it bluntly, this sentiment is outrageously confusing and somewhat contradictory. Perhaps it is my personal bias speaking, but I feel as though the only people who consider liberals to be "not conservative" are conservatives. The same could be said if I started calling conservatives "not liberals" because they did not follow my same political agenda. The label is all in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.
For the most part, I agreed with the definitions of liberalism and conservatism as explained via answers to each of the eight questions. There were just a few that left me with questions or frustrations.
1. What is the appropriate foreign policy (nationalism, internationalism, interventionism, pacifism)?
I agreed with their assessment of liberals as peace-loving, diplomatic policymakers and conservatives as anxious, military-minded politicians. One has to look no further than the drastically different international policies of President Clinton (still too early for an analysis of Obama, for me) and President George W. Bush. My only critique was when the textbook suggested that liberals escalated the Vietnam War because those were the decisions of individual Presidents, not liberals as a whole. There was incredible protest from the liberal side in regards to that war.
2. What is the role of the federal government in legislation, as opposed to the roles of state and local governments?
The evaluation of "bleeding heart liberals" who are interested in legislation that corrects social injustices seems absolutely right, as does the description of conservative rhetoric against these liberal policies. No argument on my part!
3. What level of fiscal responsibility do citizens bear toward federal, state, and local government?
Again, a flawless analysis of liberals and conservatives. Liberals acknowledge the importance of taxes for the betterment of our communities and social welfare while conservatives argue against raising taxes to lessen the burden for individuals. A common thread: liberals are interested in community strength while conservatives are more-or-less invested in rewards for individual people.
4. What social and economic relations are appropriate among citizens (more or less personal freedom: more or less economic equality among classes, races, and genders)?
I take extreme issue with the notion that "contemporary conservatism does defend the fundamental American principle that all citizens are equal before the law" (Crowley and Hawhee 138). In examining the recent debate over gay rights, for example, I struggle to see conservatives as "defending" the equal rights of these citizens. I believe that many conservatives feel that they respect all people as demanded by the Constitution, but I know that there is a great deal more progress that needs to be made before this is true.
5. What levels of political and legal equality should exist among genders, races, classes, sexualities (none, some, full equality)?
It is sad for me to admit that the discussion of liberalism and conservatism, within the confines of legal equality, was an appropriate analysis. Does anyone see the shame in a majority party that is still "iffy" on the matters of women's and homosexual's rights?
6. What is the appropriate relation to authority (acceptance, questioning, skepticism, rejection)?
The quote, "It makes ideological sense that people who subscribe to liberalism would be more skeptical of received religious wisdom or traditional notions about family structure than are those who subscribe to conservative positions," was very poignant to me. It was quite a unique and honest sentiment about liberal vs. conservative approaches to enforcement of the law. I think that morals and religiosity are dramatic influences on the authority of the government and this quote matter-of-factly summarized this. I think that politics can be sugarcoated sometimes, so this analysis was refreshingly blunt.
7. What is the appropriate role for government to play in legislating moral issues (none, some, a lot)?
Ain't politics one big contradiction?! All statements were strikingly accurate.
8. What is or should be the relation of human beings and governments to the environment?
While I was largely in agreement with the answer to this question, I struggled with the last thought. The textbook says that liberals, who are often supporters of environmental regulation and conservation, put themselves in challenging rhetorical positions due to their "green" approaches. The argument is that environmentalists want to restrict the use of automobiles and place limits on human reproduction, thereby limiting the individual right to freedom of movement and freedom to have as many children as you wish. These make sense in theory, but not reality. Not once have I heard a liberal criticized for being eco-friendly because it "restricts individual rights." That last thought sounded more like textbook theory than a plausible human reaction.