Defining Barack Obama
Part One: Liberalism and Conservatism in U.S. Politics
Review of liberal and conservative strains in U.S. political scene is a prelude to ‘Defining Barack Obama’.
Defining Conservatism and Liberalism
The word 'liberal' comes from the Latin word 'liber' which means 'free'. The word 'conservative' comes from the Latin word 'servare' which means 'to preserve'. Liberals thus consider individual liberty as important, whereas conservatives consider tradition as important.
Liberalism arose out of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason. John Locke laid the foundation with his Second Treatise of Government (1689) in which he introduced concepts like rule of law, property rights and freedom of speech. The missing brick was individual liberty, which John Stuart Mill provided in his On Liberty (1859). The case for individual liberty is made based on rational and logical arguments.
Conservatism arose as a reaction to liberalism. The ideas of the Enlightenment inspired the French Revolution (1789). A year later, Edmund Burke argued in Reflections on the Revolution in France that tradition is a better source of wisdom than reason. Society is so complex that it is impossible to conjure a perfect society merely by our reason. It is better to rely on tradition, which is accumulated social experience, so goes the conservative concept.
The intellectual divide of tradition vs. reason translates into a practical divide of culture vs. politics. The late U.S. Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed it up best when he said, "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success or failure of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change culture, and help save a society from itself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson on The Philosophy of Liberalism said, "The basic difference was between the party of the past and the party of the future, between the party of memory and the party of hope. It is still true that the American liberal believes that society can and should be improved, and that the way to improve it is to apply human intelligence to social and economic problems. The conservative, on the other hand, opposes efforts at purposeful change -- especially when they threaten the existing distribution of power and wealth -- because he believes that things are about as good as they can be reasonably expected to be, and that any change is more likely than not to be for the worse."
The term liberalism in the United States today most often refers to Modern liberalism, a political current that reached its high-water marks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. It is a form of social liberalism, combining support for government social programs, progressive taxation, and moderate Keynesianism with a broad concept of rights.
Demographics of Liberals in U.S.
Liberalism remains most popular among those in academia and liberals commonly tend to be highly educated and relatively affluent. According to recent surveys, between 19 and 26 percent of the American electorate self-identify as liberal, versus moderate or conservative. A 2004 study by the US-based Pew Research Center identified 19 percent of Americans as liberal. According to the study, liberals were the most affluent and educated ideological demographic. Of those who identified as liberal, 49 percent were college graduates and 41 percent had household incomes exceeding $75,000, compared to 27 and 28 percent at the national average, respectively. Liberalism also remains the dominant political ideology in academia, with 72% of full-time faculty identifying as liberal in a 2004 Pew Research study. The social sciences and humanities were most liberal, whereas, business and engineering departments were the most conservative. In the 2000, 2004 and 2006 elections, the vast majority of liberals voted in favor of the Democratic Party.
Some positions associated with liberalism in the United States
- individual freedom
- unalienable human and natural rights
- freedom of speech and the press
- separation of church and state
- equality of opportunity for all regardless of race, age, religion, income, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity
- freedom of information; the right to know what the government is doing
- the rule of law; the equal protection of the law
- higher concern for the environment and worker rights than market forces
- the value to society of working people
- social security, universal health care, and the provision of support to poor workers & families
- progressive taxation
- reluctance to use military force in a rash and hasty manner
- woman's right to choose to have an abortion
- proclivity toward supporting "home" issues versus foreign
- proclivity toward supporting federal power (central) versus state (devolved) power
- proclivity toward supporting public education versus private
- right of citizens to have legally recognized marriages/unions regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity
Barack Obama; born August 4, 1961 is the junior United States Senator from the State of Illinois. He is the first African American to be a major party’s nominee for the President of the United States.
The ethnic composition in the United States according to the 2008 census, the percentage of African Americans is 13%. Non-Hispanic Whites 68%, Hispanics 13.5% and Asians 5.5%.
A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama worked as a community organizer and practiced as a civil rights attorney before serving in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004. He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate in January 2003. After a primary victory in March 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Party Convention in July 2004. He was elected to the Senate in November 2004 with 70% of the vote.
As a member of the Democratic minority in the previous 109th Congress, he helped create legislation to control conventional weapons and to promote greater public accountability in the use of federal funds. He also made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. During the current 110th Congress, he helped create legislation regarding lobbying and electoral fraud, climate change, nuclear terrorism, and care for returned U.S. military personnel. After announcing his presidential campaign in February 2007, Obama emphasized withdrawing American troops from Iraq, energy independence, decreasing the influence of lobbyists, and promoting universal health care as top national priorities.
A standard method that political scientists use for gauging ideology is to compare the annual ratings by the Americans for Democratic Actions (ADA) with the ratings by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Based on his years in Congress (i.e. 2005, 2006, and 2007), Senator Obama has a lifetime average conservative rating of 7.67% from the ACU, and a lifetime average liberal rating of 90% from the ADA.
The prestigious and widely accepted National Journal rated Barack Obama as the most liberal lawmaker in the United States Congress.
(Part Two: Barack Obama’s Communist mentor in his teen years)