how do you describe "x"
November 21, 2005 5:07 AM   Subscribe

When you hear that someone is a "liberal" or a "conservative", what mental images immediately come to mind? What kinds of attitudes do you expect them to have? What do you think a political conversation would be like with them? Also, are you "liberal" or "conservative" or something else?
posted by GernBlandston to Society & Culture (37 answers total)
When I hear "liberal," I am forced to decide between the image of some youngish shoot-from-the-hip in faux outdoor clothing or a middle-aged smug baby boomer with an anti-Bush sticker on the back of an expensive sedan.

When I hear "conservative," I see either a cynical, selfish well-dressed white man who is trying to grab all they can while offering thin justifications; or a low-intelligence, priggish-looking person holding a bible and looking afraid.

I am a leftist, but more of a New Deal/pro-labor kind that is usually thought to be extinct. I usualy agree more with liberals on the end points of policy, but not on the rationalization.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:25 AM on November 21, 2005

The one-dimensional liberal/conservative split really doesn't mean much. The Political Compass is really a much better model for looking at political beliefs. There is an economic scale (left/right) and a social scale (libertarian/authoritarian).

Take the test to find out where you score.
posted by tom_g at 5:26 AM on November 21, 2005

Coming from outside the US I find the use of liberal to mean left-of-centre a bit weird. But that's the USian political landscape for you...
posted by i_cola at 5:41 AM on November 21, 2005

Liberal? A new immigrant struggling to deal with a new country that they don't completely understand yet.

Conservative? A stolid worker at a blue collar job with a reasonable income.

Bonus: An NDP? A tossup between younger new-age hippie or government worker.
posted by shepd at 5:55 AM on November 21, 2005

it depends on the nationality.

for "liberal", if it's american, i assume someone young who lives in a major city, is well educated and disdainful of poor, non-urban whites; if it's english i assume someone older, educated, middle class, concerned with human rights, but also committed to a free market.

for american "conservative" i have no real image; for english it's a well-off upper mdidle class businessman who is more concerned with making his business a success than anything else.

it's curious how the english ones are based so strongly on people i knew as a child. the american liberal is how i imagine a typical strident mefite.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:03 AM on November 21, 2005

I see liberals as a group who used to put human rights and welfare above other considerations. Now I vacillate between thinking of them as moderates with some fairly bad conservative habits (an irrational dislike of taxes) or as a hodgepodge of groups whose only thing in common is that they don't see themselves as conservative.

I think of Conservatives as either non-Catholic christians or greedy industrialists.

I happen to be a social conservative and an economic liberal. So I favor heavy taxes and social(ist) government programs for things like healthcare, while championing a much less permissive culture than is currently in vogue. (Oh yeah, I live in the US (don't want to assume an unnecessarily US bias)).
posted by oddman at 6:29 AM on November 21, 2005

I agree with the differences by country.
Within the US, my impression varies greatly depending on whether we're talking about a politician or a voter, roughly along the lines Mayor Curley gave. It is incredible that the latter are satisfied with being represented by the former.
posted by Aknaton at 6:31 AM on November 21, 2005

Liberals believe the government knows better than you how your money should be spent, and they don't want you to have a choice.

Conservatives believe the government knows better than you how you should behave -- even when you're minding your own business -- and they don't want you to have a choice.

I am a libertarian.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:32 AM on November 21, 2005

BTW, libertarianinsm is also know as "classical liberalism."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:34 AM on November 21, 2005

Oddman, I like how you differentiate your political leanings in terms of social vs. economic. Out of curiosity, did you take the Political Compass "test"? If so, were you surprised by the results?
posted by tom_g at 6:34 AM on November 21, 2005

In the UK the image of a "conservative" is (somewhat obviously) linked to the Tory party.

My personal perception, based mainly on Tory MP's or supporters, is close-minded, slimy, rich/upper class, reactionary and with a superiority complex. This is of course a stereotype, but you wouldn't believe how often it is reinforced.

Liberal, in the UK at least, can mean almost anything, but I would personally say that it is someone with an open mind to new ideas, and the viewpoints of others.

I am... well, I ain't rich.
posted by Blip at 6:41 AM on November 21, 2005

Well, as an American the word "Liberal" and "conservative" when applied to politics means simply being associated with the democratic or republican party. The terms are actually almost entirely devoid of meaning at this point. I mean John Edwards as "the second most liberal senator"? What ever.

I think the biggest defining characteristic of conservatives is their evangelical base, and their pro-big-business and pro-rich policies.

Liberals I guess oppose that.
posted by delmoi at 6:57 AM on November 21, 2005

Literaly, on the other hand Liberals want "change" and conservatives want things to stay as they are. In that sense, the republicans are actualy the liberal (but certanly not leftist) party and democrats are the conservative party (wanting to keep everything the same as in the second half of this century, and add universal health care)
posted by delmoi at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2005

Liberals believe the government knows better than you how your money should be spent, and they don't want you to have a choice.

it's true! we all think this way!
posted by mcsweetie at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2005



posted by I Love Tacos at 8:01 AM on November 21, 2005

My mental images:
Liberal - 70's hippie
Conservative - The 'God Warrior' lady
posted by LadyBonita at 8:22 AM on November 21, 2005

As far as the US goes, the terms mean nothing to me any more. Bush and his pals are not interested in conserving anything. Those who are so interested are not being called conservative now. Nobody seems to want to be a liberal, so it's a term that other people use as an insult. When I hear either of those words, I treat them sort of the same as "y'know" or "fuckin'" - they're meaningless noise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:37 AM on November 21, 2005

Tends to be well-off or very poor, usually caucasian. Wants everyone to follow his/her rules based on his/her personal interpretation of the Bible. Taxes for war and big business. Interfering small minded busy-bodies.

Pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-personal rights in general (little interference in a person's personal life). Taxes for social programs (welfare, health, art, etc.). Pro-environment. Wants everyone to be happy.

I think it's clear which side I'm on. Also - I Love Tacos is spot-on.
posted by deborah at 9:04 AM on November 21, 2005

I've always thought these labels to be rather worthless in the U.S. because they are so strongly tied to party affiliation. (If you're liberal, you're a Democrat. If you're conservative, you're a Republican.)

Personally, I'm interested in specific issues and how I feel about those issues can fall into either party's "camp" at various times in the party lifecycle.

I'm a Christian, pro-commitment (whether straight or gay), anti-unwanted-pregnancy, human rights advocating, against pork barrel spending, low federal deficit, pro-education, free trade with a level playing field from a worker's rights standpoint, smaller government lovin', cut the crap, Jon Stewart lovin', corruption hatin' Midwesterner.

I guess that would make me an Independent. In other words? I like to think for myself. I wish more people who blindly identify as liberal or conservative, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. would identify themselves on issues versus labels. Somehow, I think we'd all get farther in this mess of a political landscape.
posted by jeanmari at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2005

Generous, broad-minded, cosmopolitan, well-traveled, Earth-friendly.

Stingy, narrow-minded, red-neck provincial, Christian church-going, jingoistic, nosey.

Consider myself a progressive -- registered Green.
posted by Rash at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2005

OFF-TOPIC, sorry gern. (Tom_g you should really have an e-mail in your profile for this sort of stuff). :)

Yes, I took the test and I come out in the lower left quadrant: leftist and anarchic. I wasn't surprised because even though I am socially conservative I don't think anyone has the right to force their beliefs on others. So, for example, while I don't agree with abortion, as things stand I think it should be legal. (Well my thoughts on abortion are more complex than that but we've derailed this thread enough.)

To redeem myself somewhat and get something remotely related to the topic into this post, the party I most identify with is the Green party.
posted by oddman at 9:24 AM on November 21, 2005

How they see each other, in one word or less:

conservative = asshole
liberal = pussy
posted by LordSludge at 9:30 AM on November 21, 2005

honestly these terms are nearly meaningless to me. they are an apish parody of useful political nomenclature.

maybe it's just because i'm not from the US (seriously, somestimes you folks are speaking your own language) but i don't honestly see much difference between the two. conservative means you want to destroy everything for your material gain. liberal means you want to dismantle everything for your material gain, and possibly that of a couple of other people in the immediate vicinity.

if they are both rich, they will both look exactly the same.
if they are both poor, the liberal will perhaps have more interesting hair, and maybe a pair of birkenstocks. maybe.

to most folks i know, liberal is a step backward from progressive, and not much of a step ahead of conservative.
posted by poweredbybeard at 9:35 AM on November 21, 2005

Liberal: Blue suit, tailored, red tie, whishy-washy, able to pander to any denominator, common or no.

Conservative: Bad suit (from Sears), checked tie, loud, patronizing, may contain nuts.

Bonus Round:
NDP: No suit, tie-died, loud, smelly, always can score some primo BC gold (or could until Sven left the party).
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on November 21, 2005

conservative = asshole
liberal = pussy

Who gets the other orifices?

posted by Aknaton at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2005

(Sven Svend)

One more:
BQ Good fashion sense, incomprehensible, always first in line at any buffet, seem angry about something.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2005

Aknaton: Who gets the other orifices?

Good point!


libertarian = mouth (hah!)
greeny = ears (ooooo, deep...)
posted by LordSludge at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2005

Slightly off-topic, but in high school when I was taught about the Right and Left spectrum (do kids still learn this?), Radicals were described as being left of Democrats, Radicals being those who wanted to change things to something new; and Reactionaries were characterized as being to the right of Republicans, Reactionaries being those who wanted to arrest change, in fact change things back to the way they were in some mythical good old days. Going to the extreme, Socialists and Communism was to the left of Radicals, and Fascists were to the right of Reactionaries, both winding up resembling each other in the tyranny of Totalitarianism.

Which is why I'm confused when hearing about Right-wing Radicals.
posted by Rash at 10:09 AM on November 21, 2005

liberals - want change
conservatives - uphold tradition
posted by ewkpates at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2005

Just me but when I hear "liberal" I see what Rush Limbaugh wants you to see, a dirty, bearded hippy pissing on a dead soldier wrapped in an American flag, but just for a sec, then I picture some urban hipster.

For "conservative" I get an image of Mr. Burns saying, "excellent."

That's just off the top of my liberal American head. Oh, gotta go, I just had a Venti mochachino, surely their must be an American flag around here...
posted by Pollomacho at 12:16 PM on November 21, 2005

I seriously think people should check out the Political Compass linked above in my post.
I think it's clear from many of these posts that the one-dimensional "liberal/conservative" model serves the interests of the status quo.

Fiscal conservatives have been successful at wooing the religious right to serve their needs. They are pretty sure they won't be able to sell their fiscal policies to the people who are to be hurt most by their policies, so they have the religious right. Fiscal issues are secondary. Rather, it's about morals, etc. That is why many people have images of fiscal conservatives as either rich people or poor people. The rich people usually aren't religious fundamentalists (because they're educated), but they have a ton of money and they would like to see their fiscally-conservative policies (tax cuts, etc) help make their wallets even fatter.
Poor people tend to have less education and tend to be socially conservative. The religious right's message is a unifying cause. The very people that they vote into office are getting rich at their expense, but the religious/social conservatism allows this to happen.

Fiscally-liberal minded politicians also may benefit from the false dichotomy. Socially-conservative working-class people may be encouraged to vote for fiscal liberals because of their policies that favor workers over investors. As long as these politicians focus on economic issues and pretend that there are liberals and conservatives, they stand to benefit.

Using the economic and social scales provides a better model, and a better way to stop the ridiculous squawking like "conservative = uphold tradition, liberal = want change". What does that have to do with so-called "free trade" agreements? Nothing. One thing you learn when looking at things this way is that here in the US, there is very little difference between the 2 parties - especially on the economic scale.
posted by tom_g at 12:35 PM on November 21, 2005

I checked it out. I'm perplexed that the only examples of politicians in my quadrant were Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. I found the quadrants to be interesting, but found some of the inventory items used to arrive at the outcome to be very questionable. A few seemed to play into extreme stereotypes, rather than break them apart.
posted by jeanmari at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2005

jeanmari, click on the country-specific analysis for some additional names.

I agree that this isn't perfect, but I've found it to be the best out there.

my scores:
Economic Left/Right: -8.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.26

Yes, I am extremely left/libertarian.
posted by tom_g at 1:07 PM on November 21, 2005

Yes, it would be wonderful if the great unwashed would wake up and learn about the Authoritarian-Libertarian axis, and how the rich control the terms of the debate, but I think that's beyond the scope of this question.
posted by Rash at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005

That silly "political compass" quiz is so full of horrible oversimplifications, false dichotomies and utter irrelevancies that I can't even bring myself to finish it. Do you people really believe that you can learn anything useful about anyone's political position by asking questions like these?

"When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things"

"It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents"

"Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all"

"Astrology accurately explains many things"

I can only hope you're all kidding.
posted by tangerine at 2:18 PM on November 21, 2005

Also, are you "liberal" or "conservative" or something else?

I describe myself as a "libertarian-leaning pragmatist."

By "pragmatist," I mean that I think solutions to social problems should be evaluated empirically on a case-by-case basis, rather than derived from high-level liberal/conservative/libertarian/socialist axioms.

By "libertarian-leaning," I mean that I believe the solutions libertarians come up with from their high-level axioms work more often than solutions based on the high-level axioms of other political philosophies. Not always, just more often, and I'm happy to abandon libertarian-based solutions when they don't work, or advocate non-libertarian solutions when they do work.

As far as two-dimensional political models such as the Political Compass, while they may be better models than a one-dimensional liberal/conservative scale, it is important to remember that they are still models, and still imperfect in categorizing political philosophies.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:25 PM on November 21, 2005

tangerine, yeah...we're "all" kidding. Note that I'm the only advocate of the silly quiz. And, yes, I'm well aware of its problems.

And Rash, yes - I'm a snob to be speaking down to the unwashed. Not convinced this is too far beyond the scope of the question, however.

DevilsAdvocate, of course this is a simplified model. It's an understatement to say this is imperfect. It takes 3 minutes to do and is terribly inadequate to categorize political philosophies. However, here in the U.S., the vast majority has never once played with a non one-dimensional model for looking at poliitical philosophies.
posted by tom_g at 6:35 PM on November 21, 2005

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