Politics, Part One

Well, a title like Politics is far more likely to scare people away than invite them to read, but politics has been on my mind lately and I wanted to do a bit of a brain dump while I’m thinking about this stuff.

I’m a Canadian but I like watching CNN and Fox, and these days, talk is mostly about the US primaries. Looks like John McCain is going to be the Republican candidate and either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate. The race between the latter two is too close to call at this point.

What does mean? I’m not here to provide in-depth analysis of the candidates, but let’s look at the system.

In Canada, the major parties on two sides of the political spectrum are the Liberal and the Conservative party, and I think those are better names than Republican and Democratic when talking about ideologies, so I’m going to use those terms, but without the capitalization so you know I’m not talking about specific parties. So we’ve got the liberals, and we’ve got the conservatives.

Wikipedia is a great forge for things like definitions of loaded terms, so let’s compare the two there:

Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal.

And…

Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs.

These aren’t much help, but they do set a bit of a tone; in my opinion, the tone only really covers social issues, not necessarily foreign policy issues, for example. There’s also the progressive conservative, which is a term used in parties in a number of countries to basically mean conservative, but not quite as conservative.

Trying to distill something as complex as the set of beliefs and policies and strategies that make up the platform of a political party into a one or two word description is just not possible, so it’s important to distinguish ideals from the Democratic brand of liberalism and the Republican brand of conservatism.

When I was growing up, I heard the words “liberal” and “conservative” for the parties in Canada, and I came to my own conclusions about what these parties stood for based on what those words evoked. I never paid too much attention to politics, but one day I noticed the Conservatives didn’t seem all that conservative and when it came to spending money, the Liberals didn’t seem quite as liberal as the conservatives.

And now we’ve got the current US government, an allegedly conservative government, spending money like there’s no tomorrow. Whether you agree with this particular fiscal policy or not, I don’t think it’s very conservative.

But Bush did cut taxes, and both Hillary and Barack (why are they so often referred to as “Hillary and Obama”?) are promising to take away those tax cuts. So maybe those terms do still apply but only to the idea of personal income tax.

So in the US there are two brands of politics. Democratic and Conservative. The aspect of politics that has been on my mind lately, though, is how partisan the US has become. People are either strongly Democratic or strongly Conservative; it’s rare in my experience talking with Americans that people are ambivalent (which, on the other hand, is the norm for many Canadians).

It’s interesting to compare political parties and religious denominations.

Both of these things represent a vast array of beliefs on various issues. If you “become” a Pentecostal or a Baptist, there are particular stances on various aspects of theology that you’re basically expected to believe if you’re going to stand under that label.

The same seems to be true of the political parties. If you want to be a Republican then you must be in favour of both the tax cuts, and the war on Iraq. If you declare yourself a Democrat then you must favour both increased taxes and withdrawl from Iraq.

With religion, it’s presumed that the leader of your church or denomination is doing the Lord’s work, and if he preaches on one particular side of a denominational divide then you’re expected to believe it unquestioningly. But hey kids, political parties don’t have divine leaders.

There are some instances where it makes sense to inherit the beliefs of the party. Chances are they’re fairly well researched and are more reasoned than what you’ll come up with on your own. But still, when there are experts on both sides of an issue, it means that there likely isn’t a right answer. Is the right answer for you going to mesh with what your party decides? What if it doesn’t?

I believe the political process needs more granularity. I don’t want to be a Democrat or a Republican. I have my own stances on many issues, and neither of the mainstream brands fits my particular beliefs. And I’m not willing to change them just to fit the archetype.

To be continued.