A pair of weeks ago a Al, Paul, and I struck up a conversation involving how & why one begins to identify with one political party over another. What makes someone a Democrat? What makes someone a Republican?
The topic is a giant in the field of political science, with hundreds of tomes having been written on the question over the last few decades.
In general, it is often very easy to determine which party a specific individual will classify themselves based on a few key demographic variables: age, gender, education, income, and living location. The strongest indicator of all, however, is the party ID of one’s father. Much more likely than not, an individual will ID with the political party of their father by the age of 35.
But, I’m rambling. The real question I’ve been weighing is how should someone determine which party to identify with? For simplicity’s sake, I’m sidestepping the entire idea of never identifying with a party and forever labeling oneself an independent. Most of us would do that, if we could.
What is the ideal way to end the sentence: I am a Democrat/Republican because…..? What is the reason that we should cite for picking a party?
The typical process of determining party ID includes three steps: (1) List the handful of ‘issues’ that one considers most important; (2) Find out where the ‘typical’ party member stands on those issues; (3) Select a party based on that evaluation.
Voila. Works well for most. But I’ve never bought into that method myself. I don’t buy it, because the method is so unstable. What ‘issues’ are important change over time…both for each individual and for the parties. Also, It is very tough to label a ‘typical’ member of any party. It may work for one specific moment in time, but I prefer a method that is all-encompassing…grounded in a larger ideals of political theory.
In other words, when pressed to pick a party, I rely on the classic interpretations of liberal and conservative. I do not agree with either mold universally (I’m a moderate to the end), but as a general guide I lean conservative.
That, of course, has nothing to do with the so called ‘conservatives’ of today.
Today’s conservatives make moral judgements on society. A classic conservative has no interest in judging society, only government. A classic conservative’s only concern is limiting the role of government, allowing society as much freedom as possible to develop however its member see fit.
In reality, today’s ‘conservatives’ are more like classic liberals. The guiding framework for both is the idea: “We know what is best for society. The government should have the power it needs to make this as close to a reality as possible.” What one defines as the ‘best for society’ differs from person to person, but there is a shared belief that the government’s role in creating the ‘best’ is expansive. This logic is behind such divergent issues as massive income redistribution and opposition to gay marriage. We know what is right, just give us the power to enact it.
The classic conservative, however, is leery of that role of government. He is scared by it. The conservative doesn’t think the government ever truly knows what the ‘best’ is. No one does, because it differs from person to person. Sure, I may personally like the direction of things right now, but what happens when the people in power change and their idea of what is ‘best’ changes too?
Instead, I prefer a limit on the role of government. Small government. Local government. I do not think we have governments to solve all of the problems of the world and to push our planet toward a utopia. On the contrary, more misery, suffering, and death have come at the hands of over-acting governments than anything else. That’s the big, general view of government that I support right now. That is why, when pressed, I call myself a conservative. It has nothing to do with the issues and specific politics of today.
I have a thousand other thoughts to clarify, but I’ll save those for later. No one reads these long political posts anyway. 🙂