To understand the philosophical differences between conservative, liberal, populist and libertarian cultures; to comprehend the impact of race and gender on political opinion; and to evaluate the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Opinion is the driving force of politics, and this unit examines how opinion acts upon the structures and processes of government (which were described and analyzed in the first part of this course).
When a critical mass of citizens feels strongly about an issue, they pressure Congress to pass laws favorable to their opinion or they vote a president in or out. Controversial topics in American society today include:
The Spectrum of Opinion: Liberal, Conservative, Populist and Libertarian
The United States has four political cultures: Conservative, Liberal, Populist and Libertarian, with the first two being the most dominant.
Conservatives, who today tend to affiliate with the Republican Party, also tend to prefer order; and liberals, who tend to affiliate with the Democratic Party, tend to prefer equality, but there are much more profound differences to be explored below.
Again, the United States is primarily characterized by a spectrum of opinion ranging from liberal on the left to conservative on the right. Traditionally, most people were in the middle, but in recent decades there has been a polarization of opinion. Today, liberals are very liberal and conservatives are very conservative, with fewer people occupying the middle ground.
Conservatives prefer that the government stay out of the economy as much as possible. They see government regulation as interference. Also, conservatives believe that the overall economy performs best when industry and management is given wide latitude. Specifically, these views pertain to “economic conservatism."
In this same line of thinking, economic conservatives place little faith in affirmative action programs to lift up the lives of the poor and of minorities; they prefer to contribute to a culture of hard work and sacrifice. For this reason, conservatives tend to support standardized testing in schools and performance-based pay for teachers.
Most conservatives also believe in a strong moral order, which means that the government must frame culture, regulating individual behavior: drug addiction, homosexuality and other forms of behavior that oppose traditional morality. One reason for this is that most conservatives (but not all) also self-identify themselves as Christians or with related terms: evangelicals, born-again Christians, fundamentalists or Dominionists. Most Christians would point out that the Bible is clear regarding matters of personal and sexual morality.
“Conservative” justices of the Supreme Court who practice “judicial restraint” believe that the U.S. Constitution should be considered: 1) as literally as possible; and, 2) with the “original intent” of the signers. This tends to advance the concept of “States’ rights.”
The criticism often made against conservatives is that they have a reflexive tendency towards authoritarianism and protecting the powerful against the powerless; that the States’ rights argument is a thinly-disguised excuse to perpetuate race and class imbalances; that conservative judges are in fact “activist” when it comes to imposing conservative morality (like prohibiting States from legalizing medical marijuana); and that the Founding Fathers never intended the Constitution to be fossilized in the 18th century.
Liberals (left-wing) want to government to intervene