It seemed like a good idea to add basic terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to our growing word list, but I get stuck. First I checked Dictionary.com.
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
That doesn’t really sound right, does it? The English language, like the Constitution (some would say), is a living thing. Practically nobody remembers anymore that Begging the Question exclusively means making an argument that takes its own conclusion for granted. Even Kevin Drum, who kept sniping from a tree in the Philippines decades after purists lost the war to preserve begging the question, eventually gave up in 2005.
The BJ lexicon should take common usage into account, but that doesn’t work here. With respect to common usage liberal and conservative have gone batshit insane. Conservative used to imply defending individual liberties against government interference. By that definition the ACLU is the most conservative nonprofit entity in America, and Glenn Greenwald, Joe Klein’s “civil liberties extremist”, counts as more conservative than practically anyone writing today. Yet for some reason nearly every American who calls himself ‘conservative’ hates Glenn Greenwald and despises the ACLU*. Conservative dogma also dictates resisting international adventures. Back when such things mattered, the Republican party tried to block the war against Hitler and it was two liberal Presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) who sent us to war in Vietnam. Today “conservatives” on FOX News sneer down their noses at anyone who disagrees with bombing and (this part particularly tickles traditional conservatives like Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley) militarily occupying Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Burma, Venezuela and whoever else they hate today.
Some help here. We’re a political blog, so we need some definition for the central terms in American politics. Clearly Dictionary.com won’t do the job. For now I will just plug in a Barry Goldwater quote that I picked up from urbandictionary.com.
“Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ don’t even know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right. It’s not a conservative issue at all.” — Barry Goldwater
If you think that you can do better, have at it in the comments.
(*) Perfectly distilled by a brief exchange that I had with Ed Morrissey in the comments of this thread.