What does it really mean to be labeled conservative, liberal, progressive, right wing, left wing, libertarian, TEA Party Patriot, Marxist, socialist, communist, etc? These are all stereotypical labels that say little about the individual and a great deal about the assumed ideological principles. Senator Johnson’s broad brush of derision of liberalism, equating it ultimately to socialism, Marxism and communism, is more than a bit disingenuous and was only used to inflame the passions of those in attendance. If Senator Johnson was pressed to share the details of his statement, he would probably be hard pressed to even define the foundation principles of the liberal ideology.
As with all ideologies, there are the principles of foundation from which that ideology grows and flourishes. Liberalism is no different. A central principle is the principle of Social Justice. The idea of social justice incorporates the highly held American value of Equal Opportunity. How equal opportunity is defined and limited is the first point of contention between conservatives and liberals.
Although in principle, all are created equal, this is far from actuality when one looks at the circumstances of birth. From the onset, the “accident of birth” phenomenon is the single one element that initially creates unequal opportunity. Some are born into abject poverty; some are born into unlimited wealth and every condition in between. That which makes opportunity unequal can be the non elements of wealth or wealth distribution; but physical and mental dysfunction, social structure inequities, race, religion, location, familial SES, economic structures, political system, etc; all will contribute to the condition of unequal opportunity. The modern liberal agenda and ideology is the commitment to the elimination of the conditions that lead to unequal opportunity and create a state of the “level playing field”. This is precisely the point where ideologies divide. What is the definition of a level playing field? How does one know when a level playing field has been created? What are the actions and revenues that must be invested to create the level playing field? When does it stop being the creation of a level playing field and when it becomes a state of guaranteeing outcomes? These are all the fundamental questions that are debated back and forth.
With the long history of racism in our culture and society, it becomes a challenge to overcome the obstacle that race plays in creating the equal opportunity. Hence, we have legislated mechanisms that compensate for the obstacles created by those not completely assimilated due to race. This has been and continues to be a very contentious issue, but seems to be consistent with our commitment to social justice and the creation of the level playing field. American society has had to seek similar solutions for others who find structural obstacles to the level playing field. Females, LGBTQ, and persons with physical and mental disabilities have required legislative intervention to equal the playing field to exercise opportunity.
Yet another element of creating equal opportunity is found in providing and assuring survival and security needs. Liberal ideology is committed to assuring that everyone has access to clean water, adequate sanitation, healthy food, clothing, adequate shelter, healthcare and education. No one can pursue any opportunity as long as they are faced with a deficit of the most basic human needs. We, as a civilized society, have mandated that all citizens should have access to these fundamental needs. This has necessarily become an important part of government. There is no one single entity that can guarantee that basic needs are met, other than the government. Another basic function of government is to provide for basic security.
Individual security must be maintained to have a stable and orderly society. Coupled with basic survival needs, security ranks next in importance. A commitment to providing a safe environment and to remove elements from society that threaten the safety of individuals and groups is of a high priority. Only when society can guarantee a basic level of security can opportunity be truly equal to all.
To provide the revenues necessary to fund the primary function of government to eliminate the obstacles leading to the level playing field, it is necessary that members of society should contribute to the general effort based on the ability to contribute. The progressive tax system represents the best model for accomplishing the adequate funding necessary. The liberal ideology finds this to be inherently fair since those with a greater ability to pay, gain a greater advantage and benefit from the social system. This is more accurately reflected in calling this an advantage tax. It is basic human nature to assure one’s permanent advantage for themselves and their progeny by accumulating wealth and power. The inequity of advantage and assurance of opportunity success for the advantaged can and should be offset with additional contribution, by percentage, to meet the needs of the less fortunate. In this case, sharing is the opportunity cost that leads to higher social stability and opportunity, leading to greater gain.
The right and the left both are focused on providing a stable and orderly society. Both are committed to the value of equal opportunity. However, what separates the two ideologies is at what point has the level playing field been achieved. Conservatives tend to set the bar lower than the liberals. Liberals are specific in what their expectations are for meeting the basic safety and survival needs of all. The debate will continue on.