The other day, I came across data that showed a difference between Republicans and Democrats (Republicans Support Big Government… just as long as Republicans are in power). Republicans support big government when there is a Republican president, but they fight, fear-monger, criticize and obstruct what they label as big government when a Democrat is president. Democrats, however, show more even support for big government no matter which party is in power. For example, almost the same number of Democrats support Obama as supported Reagan. This explains the point (which I think Cenk Uygur made) that bipartisanship is usually Democrats agreeing with Republicans but rarely the other way around.
There is a fundamental difference in worldview. This probably relates as well to my argument that liberals are less dogmatic in their ideology (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism). Conservatives seem more likely to see themselves as principled and so more willing to stand by their principles no matter what. It’s not that liberals aren’t principled, but a major liberal value is trying to understand the views of others and working towards a middle ground of agreement or at least acceptance. Liberals aren’t against big business in the same way or to the same degree as conservatives are against big government. Instead, liberals think capitalism and democracy need to work together without either being subsumed to the other.
Obviously, this leads to a different view of the Federal government. Conservatives tend to reminisce about early America that was built on small farming communities that were largely independent of the Federal government (out of necessity since the early pioneer farmers were more isolated). Conservatives only like government when it serves their own ideology and purposes, but they overall mistrust the government. I think conservatives base their mistrust on the fact that the Federal government grew larger as industrialization grew (big government and big business inevitably grew simultaneously). The modern industrialized world is more complex, but conservatives wish the world was simpler like in the pre-industrial age. At the same time, the early industrialists developed a new conservative movement supported by the growing affluent ownership class. So, conservatives simultaneously support big business and criticize big government even though both were inevitable results of industrialized capitalism.
The liberal worldview developed out of the small town democratic values as they were translated into the scenario of the big city. Industrialization initially led to big business and big government being aligned against the working class. In the working class, there were conservatives who wanted a return to an agricultural-based democracy and there were liberals who wanted to empower the working class through organized protests and the forming of unions, but both conservative and liberal working class were aligned against big government and big business. At that time, the political split was more of a class war.
The unions did manage to win in certain ways, but the liberal vision of the working class was integrated into the Federal government. Eventually, the Democrats became the party for unions and for the poor. This altered the dynamic causing the class wars to be less clear, especially as class has been mixed up with race and culture. The Democratic party has done some good things for the working class and so that is why the poor working class is loyal to the Democrats to this very day. The vision of Democrats is that the average person can actually be served by his representatives in Washington. The vision of liberalism is that democracy is strong and not easily destroyed.
Conservatives are less confident. They see democracy as constantly threatened and that is why they are much more partisan in their support of big government. It’s also why conservatives support big military despite claiming to be against big government. Conservatives live in fear of democracy being destroyed. Enemies are everywhere. The enemy threatens both from outside (Russia, Islamic terrorists) and from within (Communist witchhunts, social programs, gun rights). Conservatives don’t trust any governments. They only trust our own state government to the extent it might protect us from foreign state governments, but idealy they’d love to live in a world where state governments didn’t exist at all or else had very little power which means they wish they lived in early America.
My above commentary was inspired by this comment:
It is fascinating to me to have “The Naked Communist” resurface, even as a second work of fiction by a newly rediscovered author. When I was in high school (1960 to 1963) I listened to a series of radio lectures by (apparently) W. Cleon Skousen which culminated in a pitch for his book, The Naked Communist, which was going to expose the evil plans of the terrifying international communist conspiracy. I bought the book and read it and found myself nagged by one question that stayed with me for years. The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.
When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?