Liberals are pessimists and conservatives are

My subject header is quoted from a conservative aquaintance. “Liberals are almost always pessimistic about outcomes, and conservatives are almost always optimistic”.

Like any generalization, there’s a kernel of truth. But when you start looking for a pony under the horse manure, you’d better pause, take stock and face the facts.

This articulates my biggest fear – that the administration really is deluding itself. That frightens me much more than if they were simply lying. To quote from Kristof’s column (the above link), “I wish administration officials were lying, because I would prefer hypocrisy to delusion — at least hypocritical officials make decisions with accurate information.”.

Interesting editorial. I was surprised to see that the Zogby poll numbers were far from what the Bush administration touted.

Mr. Cheney has cited a Zogby International poll to back his claim that there is “very positive news” in Iraq. But the pollster, John Zogby, told me, “I was floored to see the spin that was put on it; some of the numbers were not my numbers at all.”

Mr. Cheney claimed that Iraqis chose the U.S. as their model for democracy “hands down,” and he and other officials say that a majority want American troops to stay at least another year. In fact, Mr. Zogby said, only 23 percent favor the U.S. democratic model, and 65 percent want the U.S. to leave in a year or less.

“I am not willing to say they lied,” Mr. Zogby said. “But they used a very tight process of selective screening, and when they didn’t get what they wanted they were willing to manufacture some results. . . . There was almost nothing in that poll to give them comfort.”

So we’re not wanted, being attacked daily, going deeper into debt to pay for the war, possibly radicalizing more muslims and creating new terrorists, and we have no exit strategy. At least we dismantled the WMD programs that were threatening us. Oh wait…

You know, “liberals are always optimistic and conservatives are always pessimistic” would be a hilarious inversion of the usual definitions. I don’t think it’s true, of course; conservatives are only optimistic about stuff they like.

Well, of course. Liberals want a better world, conservatives strive to maintain the status quo. Anyone who’s a realist (and over 21–ah, I miss my idealism) should be pessimistic about a better world, but pretty confident that the in-place power structure will maintain the status quo.

One only has to look at social programs like welfare to see the optimist/pessimist spin invert itself.

I think the “pessimist/optimist” thing is a silly comparison. It all depends on the issue.

Conservatives predicted disaster in Kosovo. Liberals predicted success.

But the thing about conservatives is that they always lose.

Whatever cause they fight for is eventually doomed because society is always changing. Fighting social dynamics is ultimately as fruitless as fighting gravity. This does not mean that liberals are winning, because the changes that do take place rarely lead to a better world, only a different one, but at least they are looking to a future that might come true instead of a past that is doomed to fade away.

I think it’s a little unfair to characterize conservatives as “opposed to all change,” though. I think that’s a gross exaggeration of most conservatives’ views.

Oh, I don’t mean to imply that conservatives are opposed to all change, but they generally feel that the status quo is what they want, and that status quo is always a lost cause.

Didn’t we go through this with that whole “moderate” debate? You wacky Europeans have different definitions of liberal, conservative, and moderate. I do sometimes wonder what happened to the Republican Conservative ideals that Bush Jr. espoused during the campaign: “No nation building.” “A humble nation that avoids foreign entanglements.” I know, I know, 9/11… but Iraq is actually something Clinton wanted to do* (especially Albright).

I mean, the idea of ro-active regime change (even through war) and reconstruction is actually more of a traditionally liberal ideal, than a conservative one.

Perhaps. I think most conservatives are more concerned with proceeding carefully rather than with preserving the status quo unaltered, however. For what it’s worth, the American system of government is largely based on that concept. The system of checks and balances, and the republican (not to be confused with the political party) elements of representation are meant to slow the pace of change, and make sure that the changes that do happen aren’t born from the whim of the moment. In one sense, fighting change is a losing battle. But in another, resistence to change serves a practical purpose, and discarding things that have worked in the past simply because change is inevitable is foolhardy.

Well, right now conservatives are executing the most radical experiment in the propagation of liberal democracy in fifty years, an exercise in “nation building” of the sort they leapt to criticize ten years ago but on a vastly larger scale. So maybe “conservative” is something of a misnomer.

Aren’t the liberals supposed to be the ones with their idealistic heads in the clouds and the conservatives be the “realists” (cynics)?
This is like sheep and wolves living together! Insanity!

Conservative in America doesn’t mean what it used to. Although theoretically part of conservative idealogy is preserving the status quo, there aren’t many of those old school conservatives left. George Will still talks about fiscal prudence, conservative (“small c”) legislative and judicial policy, and small government. But after that, all of the big name public-figure conservatives that I can think of are “movement conservatives”. As Kevin Drum pointed out over at Calpundit, movement conservatism is a revolutionary idealogy (remaking America into an idealized version of the “historical Christian free market America” [which never existed as imagined]).

When you look at the behavior of the Bush administration: much larger increases in government spending (and massive increases in debt) than Clinton, a HUGE expansion of goverment police and search power in the Homeland Security acts; an interventionist foreign policy complete with extensive nation building and massive social engineering in a foreign country, its NOTHING like old school conservatism. Plus when you hear some of the rumblings in other parts of the “conservative” movement: Congress using its article 3 powers to remove federal court jurisdiction on marriage, abortion and other hot button issues, a vast imposition of federal power by forcing federal definitions of marriage onto state, its frankly a misnomer to call those folks conservatives. It used to be that judicial restraint and federlism / state’s rights were major conservative issue. Now those are less important than making sure those horrible gays can’t have a wedding.

The modern Republicans ain’t your grandad’s conservatives :).


One more comment: the old rule was that liberals were about the way things OUGHT to be, and that conservatives were about the way things ARE.

That’s also turned on its head. When you listen to modern conservatives, its all about making the current world into what it should be: morally, internationally, economically. Modern conservatism has become the “we need to make this country a better place” idealogy. Conservatives still slam liberals for “hating America” but when you listen to conservatives its clear thath THEY are the ones dissatisfied with the current state of America: our morals are too loose, gays have too many rights, our media are too violent, our economy is too regulated, our taxes are too high, our allies are useless, our enemies are dangerous and must be aggressively attacked. They are the ones clamoring to remake America now.


[size=2]Hasn’t there been enough gay issues already?[/size]

Dunno. I was thinking about these definitions, then I thought about the arguments what conservatives and liberals today argue over and fundamental philisophical differences.

There isn’t any one “thing”, just as most people have some liberal views and some conservative views depending on the topic. But to me it seems a very basic difference is that liberals tend to think that the government is the center of the world, and that the government should be responsible for taking care of everyone and everything. Conservatives tend to believe that non-governmental approaches to many problems is the best path. This seems to lead to some of the fundamental arguments, e.g., liberals tend to believe that taxes are the answer to quite a few problems, that tax cuts are bad because you’re taking money away from the government which is where it belongs, etc. Conservatives tend to think that tax cuts are good, that the money is best in the pocket of the person that earned it, etc. Each side actually has some valid points (but heaven forbid either admit that.)

I also perceive a moderate to strong anti-capitalism streak in most true liberals. Maybe the death tax is the best illustration of this: conservatives think it is outrageous that the government should have the right to swoop in and confiscate a large portion of what someone has earned over a lifetime, since they have already paid taxes on that money - they feel that there’s no way that the government has any right at all to simply take a large portion of someone’s estate. Liberals often argue that this money is best “redistributed” by the government into places where it can do more good than it will by being kept in the estate.

Of course, it is pure dumb to try to classify anyone as thinking purely one way or the other. The people I fly fish with in the gorgeous rivers and streams of upper Michigan are some of the strongest environmentalists you’ll ever meet, and if that was the only topic discussed at dinner you’d assume they were all Democrats and liberals. But if you talk economics at dinner you’d assume most of them are Republicans and conservatives. (They are about equally split between Dems and Reps.)


And both left and right forget that while the money goes to the government, it’s returned to the people in the form of services and infrastructure.

I thought this was a ludicrous issue, for both sides.

The Estate tax only affected a very small number of people. By the time you removed all the exemptions, you still had to have over $1M before the tax kicked in. Hell, Bill Gate’s father thought the Estate Tax was a good idea. The whole “they’re gonna take away the family farm” panic-speak was purely bogus.

I’m not a huge fan of Steven Den Beste, but one of the more interesting things he once discussed was the oversimplification of the linear political spectrum. Political points of view are more like points in n-space, not simply left, right and center.

This is, of course, amply demonstrated in the abortion debate.

Or maybe it’s demonstrated in debate over the Patriot Act, where the gov’t gets to dramatically increase its search & seizure rights.

Or the stem cell debate–it must’ve been the liberals who wanted the gov’t to step in.

Also, I hang out in fairly liberal circles (until recently I lived in Cambridge, MA, one of the most liberal areas of the country), and I’ve never met anyone who believes that “tax cuts are bad because you’re taking money away from the government which is where it belongs.”

I’ve also never met a liberal with a strong anti-capitalism streak; usually, it’s more the case that they feel that pure capitalism should be tempered to some extent.

I could set up a similar strawman for conservatives, but there’s no real point.