"Liberal" and "conservative": Partisans in today's bitterly polarized political debate hurl these words at one another like javelins. Enough already! This sells the meanings of these words short, making pejoratives of both.
Surprise! There's really nothing shameful about being liberal or conservative. What do they mean? Among definitions of "liberal" in Webster's New World Dictionary are "giving freely," "generous," "ample or abundant," and "tolerant of views differing from one's own." For "conservative," you'll find "conserving or tending to conserve" and "tending to preserve established traditions or institutions."
Both words have a wide range of meanings beyond their narrow and often epithetical use in politics. What's really silly is using these words to describe a person's entire way of looking at things. The thinking of most of us is probably a mixture of both.
For example, a politically conservative pastor may seek liberal contributions to his church. We may be attracted by our job's liberal opportunities for advancement, but conservative about volunteering for overtime. A staunch conservative who is seriously ill may welcome medical advances promising possible cure. We may liberally spend time and money to preserve a beautiful building, a great orchestra or a cherished lifestyle.
Celebrities and politicians, like the rest of us, do not always conform to liberal or conservative stereotypes.
Perceived by many as a liberal when he ran as a Democratic candidate for the presidency, the late Adlai Stevenson went on to become our U.N. ambassador. He strongly held his ground against Andrei Gromyko of the Soviet Union in the now-famous confrontation over Soviet missiles in Cuba. Republican Richard Nixon initiated a thaw in relations with China. Democrat Bill Clinton worked with Republicans to bring about welfare reform. And conservative movie icon John Wayne favored return of the Panama Canal to Panama.
Derisively yelling "liberal" or "conservative" at someone may release tension in the person doing the yelling, but it does great disservice to the words. Next time we feel like doing it, best look in the mirror first. We may be criticizing ourselves.
Don Herman of Anderson Township is a retired broadcaster.
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