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Will the Real Liberal Please Stand Up?

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Posted on August 23 2010 9:00 pm
Suzanne Venker, a.k.a. "No Bull Mom," is an author, blogger, and speaker. You can find her at www.suzannevenker.com.

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It’s no secret we’re a divided nation, locked in battle between left and right in a new and profound way. But our use of the terms liberal and conservative is misguided.

I often find myself in conversations with people who vote Democrat, yet their lifestyles are decidedly conservative. Similarly, I know many people that vote Republican, whose lifestyles and attitudes are liberal. I’m convinced the reason for this is that the notion of being liberal is associated with being open-minded and non-judgmental. People believe that being liberal means they’re nice. And who doesn’t want to be thought of as nice?

Indeed, few people want to come across as being mean — and that’s how Americans have been taught to think about conservatism. That conservatism’s spokespeople come across this way doesn’t help. But being conservative is, in fact, the more compassionate worldview.

How did it become so skewed?

There was a time when America was a conservative nation, and American conservatism is, in fact, a liberal philosophy. It is modeled after the Founding Fathers’ vision, which seeks to preserve classic liberalism: less government so people can have the freedom to prosper — and the support of science, capitalism, and democracy, which the old regime rejected.

Americans in previous generations also understood that they, as individuals, were a small but significant part something greater than themselves. They believed in personal responsibility and thus adhered to a universal moral order that made demands on them. This moral order wasn’t necessarily dictated by God (though for most people it was), but it was clear there were certain moral parameters — rules — by which we must all live.

Unfortunately, during the 1960s this popular worldview was put to the test. The men and women of this generation — Baby Boomers — found the universal moral order constricting. They didn’t like to be told what they could and couldn’t do, so Boomers came up with a new plan. Rather than obey God or society’s rules, they suggested Americans dig deep within themselves to find life’s meaning and purpose. Theirs was the first generation to fight for “a new ethic based not on external authority but on the sovereignty of the inner self,” writes Dinesh D’Souza in Letters to a Young Conservative.  This new worldview became the hallmark of the baby boom generation – and those who succumbed to it were called “liberals.”

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