I can't be the only one who thinks today's political labels have outlived their usefulness. The tags "liberal" and "conservative" or "left" and "right" are supposed to serve as a kind of ideological shorthand that helps us make sense of the political world. The code is all garbled.
Many liberals hate the "L" word, or at least fear it, although when you look it up in the dictionary it's hard to see why. The word comes from the Latin liber, which means "free." One dictionary defines liberal as "generous" and "tolerant; broad-minded" and "one who favors reform or progress."
Among the definitions of conservative is "tending to preserve established institutions; opposed to change" and "moderate; cautious."
If Webster's is to be believed, liberals play offense and conservatives play defense. Yet in modern politics, it's the self-described "conservatives" who are on the attack, seeking to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society reforms of yesteryear. And it's the "liberals" who always seem to be on their heels, seemingly incapable of an original thought, gamely defending decades-old programs.
We are sorely in need of some new labels. How about commoners and royalists? Under this new lexicon, we would stop thinking from left to right and start thinking up and down. If the defining standard became whether you are for those on top or for those on the bottom, many "liberals" and "conservatives" fall in the same category as they slavishly service their wealthy campaign donors. The bankruptcy of the old labels is apparent.
If you really want labels that speak truthfully about the condition of our democracy and faithfully describe our current batch of elected officials, how about distinguishing between the naturally born and the test-tube babies? That is, those politicians who are genuine products of their communities as opposed to those who are essentially clones of the political bosses and were groomed in the Capitol farm system. You could call 'em "amateurs" and "professionals" if you prefer. Again, if measured by this standard, most "liberal" politicians and their "conservative" counterparts are cut from the same cloth. The old code fails us again.
There's significance in the increasing uselessness of our old political vocabulary. It means the ground has moved beneath us, but our language has not yet caught up to this shift in the tectonic plates of our democracy. Something historic is happening, but we haven't figured out how to talk about it yet. Once we do, politics will begin to make more sense to more people again. That can only result in something good.