, the willowy
look-alike and conservative provocateur, insists that she is more of a man than any liberal.
You know she's just having a little fun. Many talk radio/public affairs TV/newspaper columnists tend to spread the hyperbole a bit thick.
However, our political and journalistic culture is becoming increasingly adolescent as we throw around this liberal and conservative stuff as if we're talking about a sporting event.
Public policy and political ideas and civic affairs are too complex for the simple-minded analysis that pretends every disagreement is some tug-of-war between liberals and conservatives -- as if they wear uniforms and hope to win a World Series ring.
For an example of how shabby political analysis has become, look no further than
, which panted its way through a long front-page story last month indicating that ``young Americans are leaning left.''
Put aside the suspicion that the editors of The Times really, really want the young folks to lean left. Put aside that this Page 1 ``news'' was an opinion piece masquerading as objective reporting.
No, take the sense of the story at face value: According to a public opinion poll, Americans ages 17 to 29 ``are more likely than the general public'' to favor a ``government-run, universal health care system,'' a casual immigration policy and legalization of gay marriage. This, The Times concludes, is concrete evidence that the young folks are ``leaning left.''
Why was The Times reluctant to suggest that the kids were stampeding left, or racing left, rather than merely ``leaning''? Perhaps because more than 60 percent of young people think
should be outlawed or further restricted; that less than half favor the legalization of gay marriage; that fully 45 percent of them think that global warming either is not a serious problem or is a problem that need not be a high priority.
In truth, the young people are a bit of a political mess. Perhaps The Times' headline writers and reporters let their enthusiasm for left-wingy triumph get out of control -- and perhaps the ``liberal'' and ``conservative'' labels are insufficiently precise to be useful.
For many, if not most, voters, the ``Democratic'' and ``Republican'' labels are an easy tool to help select candidates. ``Cognitive stinginess,'' one analyst called it -- a method of choosing that doesn't waste valuable brain space on subtle policy issues.
deciding that after being a Democrat, and then being a Republican, he would be a mysterious blank slate; and with our own Sen.
positioned as a moderate Republican kind of Democratic warmonger; and with Connecticut's Lowell P. Weicker Jr. deciding that he was a Republican U.S. senator, but ``A Connecticut Party'' governor, we have come to understand that party labels are dubious guarantees of consistent ideology or identity.
Is the left-right, liberal-conservative approach any better? Not really.
Are candidates who want to curb government social service programs, but have no interest in regulating abortion, marijuana smoking or gay marriage, liberal or conservative? In the old days, these folks were ``classical liberals,'' or, in today's vocabulary, ``libertarians.''
If politicians protect the most irrelevant, backward, old-fashioned labor unions, does that make them progressive, or does it make them conservative? If you sabotage school-choice programs that liberate minority kids from lousy schools, does that make you liberal because the teachers unions prefer no competition?
If you are Gov.
, and you suggest gutting the spending cap, raising the income tax, dumping the car tax, capping property tax increases and vetoing a
bill, are you liberal or conservative -- or something else altogether?
We have drifted far from the comfortable hope and occasional reality that ``conservative'' meant a defender of individual freedom and limited government.
The general proposition that liberals are a collectivist, expensive threat to freedom, and that conservatives will throw themselves in front of the liberal train, is worthwhile shorthand -- but too many candidates are content to hide behind these dumb labels. And the journalists are content to play along.
Competent. Careful. Honest. Those traits may be helpful to identify. The liberal-conservative thing should be valuable, but has been demoted to jokes, opinion columns and radio