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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Labels: What Am I? What Are You?

"He's a solid Democrat." "She's a good social conservative." "That guy is so liberal, he's just a moon bat." "They are very Green, what a good example." "Republicans are all wing nuts." "Liberals are ruining this country." "She's moderate."

Fundamentalist, socialist, hard liner, liberal, conservative, wing-nut, moon bat, extremist, moderate, Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, Green, and many more are the labels we use to label ourselves and each other. But are they accurate? What do they mean? The saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I say ideological and political labelling is in the definition of the labeller.

How often is it that we comment about someone, "Boy that person is so (fill in the blank: liberal, conservative, extremist) only to have a friend or someone say, "Oh I don't think so. I think s/he's rather moderate." Our President is a very good example. Poll the country to place him on the political scale of extreme liberal (far left) to extreme conservative (far right) and the chances are the arrow will rest somewhere just to the left of center. Many of those who voted for him will consider him somewhat moderate--most Americans do not want to be led by someone they consider very liberal or very conservative so they will not identify someone as such that they support. Many of those who did not vote for him will label him liberal or an extreme liberal. Many of those to the far left of the political scale will think he is too conservative--especially since his inauguration with the many policies of President Bush he has continued.

Which label is correct? Are these labels fair? Do they help us in identifying someone and their ideals, opinions and character?

I have been thinking about this idea of labels following the comments made on my post last week on "Lady Justice and SCOTUS" . The discussion, and thank you everyone for your civility, allowed for labels of liberal, conservative, activist, etc. based on the arguments posited. One issue, one opinion, one label. So using this context, one issue, and the prevailing labels of our day, what label do we put on this person:

This person: is in favor of legal abortions with limitations, wants a strong military and international presence, supports gay marriage and the Iraq War, is in favor of very strong border control and repealing the 14th Amendment but feels there is a limited amnesty solution to illegal immigration, strongly opposes higher taxes and big government, supports conservation efforts within reason but agrees with those scientists debunking global warming. Liberal due to stances on gay rights, abortion, amnesty? Conservative due to stances on 14th Amendment, Iraq, taxes and limited government? When voting this person can find issues with which to agree with a Democrat on social issues and with a Republican on economic and political issues.

What am I? How am I labelled? In my own family I am too liberal on many issues. To my friends I am too conservative on issues. Am I a moderate because I move across the political spectrum from issue to issue? Many have said, "You are a Libertarian." And in looking at the party of Libertarians and the candidates they have put forth I cringe.

What about you? Are you in agreement with all the solutions presented for the issues by the political party with which you affiliate? If you are unaffiliated and registered as an Independent what is the filter by which you determine for whom to vote? Is there one issue that presents itself that is your guide? A series of issues?

In 1984 I did my senior thesis on the decline of party identification from Eisenhower's election in 1952 through Reagan's election in 1980. During that period a series of issues came forth that became the primary filter for most Americans. They identified less with the political parties of their parents and through the social discourse and discord of the period found specific issues to claim as their political identity. Without conducting any research, but just based on my observations, readings and listening, if I were to recreate my thesis today covering from 1980 through the Obama election in 2008 my thesis would not be the decline of party identification but the decline of issue oriented identification. Given the rise in Independent registration the thesis seemingly would be disproved, however the rise of electronic media has given rise to so many specific issues that voters have become more attuned to the labels, which connote ideology, which they feel they can more easily identify with or be repelled from.

Back to our labels. Why do we label? Is it because it makes it easier for us to define someone? One argument that is often made, and I find to be true, is that when we label someone it makes it easier for us to dismiss them. If I do not like your position on gay rights I can simply label you a bigot and then because you are a bigot I do not need to listen to you--you are dismissed. But I know many people against gay rights that I know not to be bigots, that I know to be compassionate people with a diverse range of relationships and great moral compasses. But taken on one issue they are easily labelled and dismissed. As in our discussion on SCOTUS nominee Sonia Sotomayor, based on the opinion presented we can easily label that person based on our definitions and their arguments. But can we dismiss them?

So what am I? What are you? I am against illegal immigration and the huge financial burden placed on the American tax payer and social services by illegal immigrants--am I a bigot? I supported and still support the decision to go to war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein--am I a war monger? I support personal responsibility and accountability, less government intervention and support in people's lives who have made bad decisions and more feeling of the consequences of those bad decisions--am I lacking compassion?

What difference does your label of me make? None really. I am uncaring of what you label me, as long as you do not use that label to dismiss me. Label me, your neighbor, the columnist and the commentator, label everyone how you will, but do not use the label as an excuse not to listen to what someone has to say and the opinion they present. I often learn more from those with whom I disagree than I learn from those with who I do agree. Were I to label and dismiss this would not be the case--I would never learn anything but what those with whom I agree desire me to learn.

What am I? What are you?



Rick Berry said...

It is curious to me how invading and occupying another country is considered conservative. It seems pretty radical to me.

I think it is time to put all labels aside but two. It's come down to the Capitalists vs. the Socialists. Can we get government out of the way in time to let free market principles heal our corrupted system of Capitalism, or do we continue down the road of central government planning, which has failed so many times in Socialist countries around the world? Are we really willing to let government plan our lives? They've done a pretty lame job of it so far. Who do we trust to make decisions for us? It's time to return to the principles that our country was founded on and eliminate the corruption that is proving to be our downfall.

Reno Mike said...

I think that a person's views on a myriad of issues are irrelevant to their "label". Everyone compromises significantly when they get to the polls on election day. While Dennis is a very compassionate and thoughtful person, and would, I think, consider himself a cross-boundaries moderate, as such he probably compromises much more than most.
And from what I know of him I also think he would vote in favor of the candidate or issue that holds his self-styled conservative views over his self-styled liberal views. Which to me, makes his liberal positions "nice-to-have" and his conservative positions "must have". So I don't think it matters what you believe it matters what you vote. Your compromises define you.

But he makes a helluva good tri-tip, and that's what I consider a "must-have".

poolman said...


I couldn't agree more. I usually cringe at the invocation of labels to describe others (I am sure I am just as guilty as anyone) because more often than not it serves as a vehicle to misdirect the discourse, a point which you made so eloquently. Well said!

Haiku Frank (D) said...

Gingrich and Limbaugh
Called Sotomayor “racist.”
What label is this?

poolman said...

Well said Frank, and I think that is precisely the point Dennis was making. Labels, especially emotionally charged labels tend to not add anything of value to the public discourse and more often than not have the intended/unintended consequence of distracting the discussion away from the issues and moving us into a defensive position of people and or organizations in which we are emotionally invested.

John Greet said...

According to my family I'm a card-carrying member of the "Cranky Old Fart" party.