The “L” Word

I think one of the most successful ventures of the Conservative political establishment in recent decades has been to turn “Liberal” into a bad word.  This really cool study by a Harvard Sociology graduate student shows that the true gap between liberals and conservatives is quite overstated because a good 13% of the electorate labels themselves “conservative” but is actually “liberal,” in contrast to only 5% the other way round.  If you go by self-labeling, conservative outnumber liberals 55 to 32, but when you go by how they behave politically, the advantage shrinks to 47 to 40.  And, of course, this ignores the fact that huge portion of the public has very little idea of what the terms “liberal” or “conservative” mean, but use them anyway

I found these findings especially interesting in light of an assignment that I've been giving my Intro to American Government students for years (with full credit to Barry Burden for sharing the idea back when we were both in grad school at Ohio State).  Anyway, I have students write their ideological autobiography.  It is always interesting the number of students who thought they were conservative, but with a little investigation, learned they were a lot closer to Hillary Clinton than to George Bush. 

Here's a couple of on-line ideology quizzes that my students usually enjoy.

As for the slandering of the term “liberal,” I would assume that it predates George Herbert Walker Bush's 1988 campaign against Dukakis, but I will always remember Dukakis poorly for trying to run away from the term instead of standing up for the best of what “liberal” represents.  If you're curious, this article in The American Prospect from Michael Tomasky does as good a job of defending liberalism as most anything I've read. 

Activist Judges

So, what is an activist judge, anyway?  For a few semesters now I've been telling my students: “an activist judge is one who makes a decision conservatives don't like.”  The sad truth is, as much as people throw the term around, that's basically what it comes down to.  I've been looking for a while for an article which would nicely lay out how and why this is the case.  I've found it.  I expect this will be a required reading in my PS 201 coursepack for some time.  The key summary:

“For conservatives, as the above examples show, judicial intervention is
fine when it means slicing up labor, consumer, civil rights, and
environmental regulations intended to curb the potential excesses of
laissez-faire economic policy. It isn't fine when it means enforcing
civil rights and civil liberties. Liberals take pretty much the
opposite view. This is, of course, a crude generalization, but the
exceptions?conservatives (like liberals) want courts to protect the
freedom of religious minorities, liberals (like conservatives) want
courts to scrutinize over-aggressive eminent domain practices?don't put
much of a dent in it.”

What it comes down to is this:

“The truth, then, is that despite all their fulminating about judicial
activism, conservatives today firmly believe that courts must step in
to oversee, correct, or invalidate the actions of government officials.
They simply disagree with liberals on when to do it.”

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