Ideologically, a liberal is one who wants change, and a conservative is one who wants things to remain as they are. In American politics, liberals generally believe that government should care for all of its citizens and therefore fund social and economic programs ensuring that everyone’s needs are met and that everyone has equality of opportunity. Liberals believe that “abuses” by wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations should be curbed and regulated. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that government should be small and not involved in socio-economic endeavors or business regulations. Both sides, however, engage in hypocrisy, making their “ideologies” far less than pure. They seem to want government intervention when it suits their purposes but not when it would interfere with their specific agendas. As I think about current and future issues, I find that I am a liberal on some matters and a conservative on others. For example, I do not believe that government should define marriage or control women’s health choices. Ideologically, that would seem to be a conservative position; yet, it is actually a current liberal position. On the other hand, I do believe that there are abuses of the welfare system and that there should be some reforms. That is a conservative position. There is a huge deficit, and I believe this can only be solved by cutting spending and raising taxes, which is a combination of both liberal and conservative views. I do not want to be labeled as liberal or conservative, because the traditional ideologies have become so corrupted. Rather, I want to look at both personal and national needs and goals and evaluate each issue at it relates to these. I know things must be paid for, but I also know that government must care for all of its people, guaranteeing equal opportunity without crushing individual freedoms.
Question 2: Which areas of life (family, religion, school…) have influenced your political attitude formation?
I was raised in China, in a traditional family, with values of hard work, self-reliance, respect for authority, and accountability for actions. Because China is an autocratic state, there is no active citizen participation in government, and people who openly criticize the government are subject to consequences. My father liked to discuss politics at the dinner table, however, and he believes that the government is definitely too autocratic. I guess he would be a liberal in China. I think the cultural background of my family lends itself to conservatism in America, but my experiences here have also impacted my political views. Exposure to a great deal of diversity in beliefs and behaviors has resulted in much more tolerance for multiple value and belief systems, and I see how this tolerance is important in a democratic society. Because of these experiences, I have become far more socially liberal, believing that everyone should have the right to pursue their goals, so long as they do not trample on others. I also see the value of government intervention with programs such as Pell grants and guaranteed student loans, as a part of the democratic idea that everyone should have the same opportunities to advance. I have also come to understand that everyone does not start the “race” of life in the same place. The Rockefellers, the Kennedys, and even the Romney’s have so much to begin with that their successes are pre-determined. The poor child from an urban slum, however, begins with terrible handicaps, and those should be mitigated when possible, through government intervention. In the same manner, individuals who are unemployed, because of an economic crash they did nothing to cause, should receive assistance, health care, and even employment, at government expense. At the same time, my cultural and familial background has impacted my staunch belief that laws are to be obeyed, whether an individual sees them as just or not. No one has the right to violate the law, and that should apply to everyone equally. Underage drinking and smoking pot may not be serious felonies, but they are, still, against the law. In some ways, then, the cultural and familial values with which I was raised continue to influence my political beliefs and actions; in other instances, the exposure to the diversity of America has caused me to see that even with the freedoms of democracy, government must play a strong role in promoting equality and welfare for everyone.
Question 3: Are you “ideological” in your political thinking?
The authors of our text define ideology as a “...patterned set of beliefs” that include who ought to govern, certain uncompromising principles, and certain policies that should guide everything a government does. (Wilson and Dilulio, Chapter 7). While I have a “patterned set of beliefs,” I do not believe that I am so rigid in these beliefs that they will not evolve as situations and circumstances evolve. Ideologies simply cannot be absolute, as ideologues claim they can be. Communism, socialism, and laissez-faire capitalism, for example, can all be seen as ideologies, and yet nowhere in the world can pure forms of these ideologies exist. An American libertarian holds an ideology that government exists only to build roads and provide for defense. Yet, the practical application of this ideology is completely unrealistic in light of today’s national and global complexities. People are relatively happy, for example, that their meat is inspected by a federal agency. A pure political or economic ideology, in fact, is a concept that is no longer rational.
If I hold to any ideological thought, it is that all humans have value and rights, and that all citizens should have equal say in who governs them and what government should do. Beyond this basic set of beliefs, I believe that pragmatism should guide how a government meets the challenges of its people and its nation. Sometimes, this may mean a larger role for government, such as in time of war or great economic crisis; and sometimes this may mean a smaller role for government, when, for example, the vast majority of people are employed and meeting their own needs.
People who hold to rigid, sweeping ideologies are destined to live frustrated and angry lives, and governments that hold to rigid, sweeping ideologies are destined to fail.