Right and Left

1 06 2009

There was this column in the Oregonian by Nicholas Kristof about a study of the different tendencies between self-identified liberals and conservatives. The upshot is, conservatives are more likely to feel disgust and respect for authority. Interesting I suppose, but in my experience, liberals and conservatives alike claim to champion the rights of the individual over the tyranny of the oppressor (government if the opposing party is in power; otherwise the tyrant is corporations, Hollywood, etc.)

In school I learned that Left and Right are two ends of a political spectrum, with a linear progression from one extreme (communism) to the other (fascism). From what few fragments of European political discussion I pick up, this model seems to hold true across the Atlantic. Not so in America. Our two major parties have more or less consistent platforms that are more or less in opposition much of the time, but both claim to be pushing for individual liberty.

The Libertarian Party argues that both parties are tyrannical, just in different areas; socially for Repubs, economically for Demos. They claim to be for freedom across the board, pushing government out of our bedrooms and out of our paychecks, thus transcending the Right/Left dichotomy. Strictly speaking, the Libertarian model verges on anarchy, more of a leftist extreme. Aesthetically, the Libertarian party is incredibly right wing. Their whole platform amounts to cutting taxes, which accounts for half of the Republican platform. (The other half is Evangelical morality, which also has it’s own dedicated proponent in the ironic-name-trophy-holding Constitution Party.) (Biased? Me?) Plus Libertarians always exhibit a surly cynicism commonly seen in right-wingers. Compare the approaches of Rush Limbaugh and John Stewart and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I think about all this stuff, and I try to understand what people in America mean when they say Right and Left. Well generally what they really mean is Republican and Democrat, even though both parties all all over the political spectrum. But if the spectrum is a viable model, than people ought to fall somewhere along it, even if party platforms have been compromised and muddled over the years. So what does it mean in America to be Right Wing or Left Wing? It’s not a matter of adhering to individual freedom. Lefties want everyone to be free to love who they want and plan their families. Righties want everyone to be free to do their work and keep their earnings. Each side would accuse the other of driving society toward fascism. Righties call it communism, but they’re talking about Iron Curtain communism, not the philosophical principles at the left end of the spectrum.

So how can we define Right and Left? My latest theory is to go by what trips up our leaders. Righties want money. Lefties want sex. Discuss.

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