"Liberal" sounds positive, "Conservative" sounds negative. Agree?

I’ve been wondering about the catch-all terms for left- and right-wing politics used in the USA (well, and in the UK, partly).

Are “conservatives” really happy with that label? And how has “liberal” come to be an insult, of sorts?

Think about the words’ meanings, divorced for a moment from their political affiliation. “Conservative”, to my ear, means “staid, boring, unexciting, unwilling to experiment”. “Liberal”, by contrast, means, depending on context, “generous” (e.g. “a liberal coating of sugar”) or “freedom-loving”.

So why are conservatives proud to call themselves such, while “liberal” is generally used by conservatives as a derogatory term, rather than being used proudly by left-wingers themselves? (Or so it seems to me.)

I’m not sure if this is more suited to IMHO or GD… if things get heated then feel free to yank it over, Mods.

I know plenty of liberals who are proud to called “liberal.”

Personally I’m sick of both terms and the polarization that has gone along with them. Probably because I’m middle of the road.

To these pinko Commie ears, your take on these terms feels right. But my guess is it depends on what side of the fence you’re on. Folks on the right ascribe very negative connotations to the word “liberal”- to them the word stands for naive, flaky, overtolerant, fiscally irresponsible, unpatriotic goofballs. Whereas “conservative” likely drums up images, for them, of highly responsible men navigating the social and financial avenues of life with caution and discretion. Y’know. Like Bush does.

Regardless of what it has been turned into over the years, I wear *liberal * like a badge of honor for pretty much the same reason you mentioned in your opening paragraph.

I’ve never really understood how it’s become almost a slur over time but c’est la vie.

Nope. I can easily bring up positive and negative feelings about both terms.

I’m sure that if John Kerry thought that liberal were a positive word, he would’ve responded differently when reporters asked him “Are you a liberal?”

Heh. :slight_smile:

I have to say, when I saw the tanks rumbling through Baghdad, or unconvicted prisoners beaten to within an inch of their lives, “conservative” wasn’t the first adjective that sprang to mind. Curious, isn’t it, how words change their meanings…

Nice link, Engineer_Dude. That encapsulates exactly the phenomenon I mean:

But “liberal” is a nice word! Sure enough, in the UK, the Liberal Democrats are the “middle of the road” party, aligned somewhere between the fringes.

Actually, if you could strip them of their political baggage, they both sound like pretty good things to be. “Liberal” connotes freedom, generosity, and openness. “Conservative” suggests thriftiness, responsibility, and wanting to preserve what’s good.

As a Liberal, I actually would like the word “conservative.” It is so similar to “conservation” which has lots of nice associations. In my Ideal World:

Liberal: Someone who wants to keep the good things and change the bad ASAP.
Conservative: Someone who wants to keep the good things and change the bad after a long carefully studied period of time.

So Thudlow Boink’s association of only Conservatives wanting to keep the good is rather startling. A very polarized Rush Limbaugh way of saying things.

The thing to keep in mind, is that most US Liberals and Conservatives agree on most issues. It’s only in talk radio land that a myth of “disagree on everthing” has been created. So you have really nasty stuff like “Liberals disagree with GWB and therefore are supporting terrorism!” being spread as “factual.”

ftg, I was not trying to describe what (capital-L) Liberals and (capital-C) Conservatives believe or want. I was trying to say what the words “liberal” and “conservative” suggest to me in their original, non-political meanings. Both the OP and myself were deliberately discussing the words without reference to their political meanings/affiliations. Certainly I don’t believe Liberals don’t care about preserving what’s good! But the word “liberal” doesn’t inherently, etymologically have anything to do with that. (Kinda like the word “pro-choice” doesn’t inherently have anything to do with abortion.)

I don’t think either “liberal” or “conservative” are perjorative. I am conservative myself, and I am not offended by being called one.

If the label “liberal” is becoming less popular, that may be because liberalism itself became less popular during the 80s.

The term I object to is “progressive”. What that sounds like to me is “a person who is so liberal that he realizes most people think he is nuts, and is trying to cover it up.”

I realize this may be partly because of Kerry and that Pelosi witch trying to weasel out of being called what they are. Shodan’s Rule of Thumb: Anyone who says “labels don’t mean anything” is a liberal. Conservatives aren’t as ashamed of what they believe. :wink:


Good point. I have to say that quote lowered Kerry in my estimation somewhat. You’re a liberal. Reclaim the word!

I’m not sure how anyone can be labeled as a “liberal” or “conservative”, since Kerry is not for gun control and Cheney is for gay rights. I hate shows that pit one against the other and neither is willing to break away from what positions represent their side. I sorta liked Pat Buchanan, because he would laugh when he knew he was being ridiculous. On Hannity and Colmes, Colmes every once in awhile will break ranks with the liberal stance, but I can’t give his partner the same credit. The fact is that if it weren’t for both sides, we’d be stuck without a balancing factor. I’m either in the middle or a little bit of both. I am probably as leary of the word “conservative” as I am of “liberal”, that is until you put Northeast in front of “liberal”. Sorry. :frowning:

I imagine Liberal himself will be along to agree with you shortly.


I don’t know anyone who is 100% conservative or liberal, actually. I lean towards the conservative end of the spectrum, with a number of shifts to the radical. I think people who keep trying to define political positions or persons by one or the other as an absolute are idiots.

I think both views have their positives and negatives. I just wish there weren’t so much desire to demonize the opposite of what one has chosen to label oneself.

Are you sure about that? I thought the LDs were the most left-wing of the main 3 parties, with Labour being in the middle and the tories on the right.

To me, “liberal” can mean (in varying combinations): flexible, accomodating, hasty, generous, rash, forgiving, anticipating, understanding, sloppy. Some words are good things, some are bad. Some liberals have good qualities, some have bad qualities.

To me, “conservative” can mean (in varying combinations): calm, critical, stubborn, skeptical, traditional, stagnant, self-absorbed, timid, slow. Some words are good things, some are bad. Some conservatives have good qualities, some have bad qualities.

I dare say that there are some people that would tend to ignore the bad qualities of their self-identified “side”, while magnifying the bad qualities of their supposed “opponents”. This is hardly an unexpected trait, but it is one to try to be mindful of.

I apologize in advance if anyone takes offense at this post, though I don’t see why anyone would.

Speaking for at least this conservative, ‘Progressive’ is worse than ‘Liberal’. Liberal evokes images of ‘I just don’t know any better’. ‘Progressive’, on the other hand, is the American word for ‘Socialist’.

This is why I generaly say “left-wing” or “right-wing”, the terms are much more neutral.

This is also, partly, why I think that the people who call themselve “progressives” are slimeballs.