Opinion: Liberal? Conservative? Huh? A beginner’s guide to our Country’s political ideologies – By Yona Bellar

we-the-pplBy Yona Bellar. It may seem strange to be reading a beginners guide on politics a mere week before the election, but because we tend to pick up much of our political knowledge from the media, many of us still don’t have a complete understanding of a lot of political terms, and because the rhetoric is now flying faster than ever, more and more people are stopping and asking themselves, “Do I even know what conservatives and liberals truly believe?”

While much of this article may seem elementary to many readers, I would venture to say that most people will gain at least somewhat of a better understanding by reading it.

Let’s first classify the basic terms. “Republic” and “Democracy” refer to two forms of Government. “Republican” and “Democrat” refer to two political parties. “Liberal” and “Conservative” refer to two ideologies, or Hashkafos.

The Forms of Government

There has been much controversy over the years as to the exact definition of the terms “republic” and “democracy”. (They both loosely translate to forms of government controlled by the people, whereas in a democracy the people vote on the leaders, in a republic, while its definition connotes democracy, it can also include aristocracy, where the leader inherits power, such as in the United Kingdom.) While the original names of the two major political parties were based on the words “republic” and “democracy”, the split in their ideological makeup today is hardly defined by the contrast between those two very loose terms.

The Parties

A political party is basically a block of voters who nominate someone to represent them in political races. The Democratic Party, founded in 1828, is symbolized by a donkey, while the Republican Party, founded in 1854, is symbolized by an elephant. The Republican Party is also referred to as the GOP, though I have yet to meet someone who knows what GOP stands for. (Just in case you actually want to know, GOP is an acronym for Grand Old Party, a term that dates back to 1875. How that name stuck is beyond anyone’s understanding!) Since the 2000 election cycle, the color blue has come to represent the Democratic Party, and the color red the Republican Party. (Yes, it’s that recent. That was the first year that the television networks all used those colors to represent the parties, and it stuck ever since.)

A political party, though, does not represent an ideology. Any person of any ideology can join any party. However, the members of the Democratic Party generally uphold liberal values, while members of the Republican Party generally uphold conservative values. Therefore, when explaining ideologies, I will refrain from ever mentioning the words Republican or Democrat, and will stick with the terms liberal and conservative.

The Ideologies

Just a word of introduction. The terms “right” or “right-wing” and “left” or “left-wing” refer to the two ends of the spectrum, with right meaning conservative and left meaning liberal. While for the sake of clarity I paint the schools of thought in black and white, in reality there are many people whose beliefs fall somewhere in between the realms of far-right and far-left.

There are two basic “Hashkafa differences” between a liberal and a conservative that most of their political differences stem from. The first is the outlook on personal responsibility.

Personal Responsibility

Let’s say someone commits murder, and is caught in the act. The conservative mindset is that he did a terrible deed and must be punished to the fullest extent, perhaps even with a death sentence, while the liberal mindset will appeal for him to be exonerated because he had a hard childhood and can’t really be held responsible because human nature caused him to do the deed. (Yes, a slight exaggeration, but only slight.)

Liberals believe that equality includes defending the individual dispositions and inclinations of every creature, even if those dispositions and inclinations may seem like legitimate reasons to not treat them fairly (like a predisposition for crime). Liberals are therefore the torchbearers of political correctness. We cannot discriminate against you. Period. We must protect you at all costs. Even if it means changing our perspectives or bending the way we traditionally viewed the constitution, we will gladly do so, just so that everyone can fit in and feel welcome.

Conservatives believe in personal responsibility. If you do something wrong, you will be held accountable. It’s not an excuse that you had a Taavah to do it. If you’re going through tough times, man up and face them.

This difference in ideology is the basis for many other principle differences on a whole slew of issues.


Liberals use this ideology to stretch the definition of marriage to places it should never go, considering it wrong to define marriage in its traditional form, because it discriminates against people with certain “natural inclinations”. Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, and that “natural inclinations” aren’t an excuse for immorality.

Displaying Religion

Liberals believe that displaying a religious symbol in a public place or government property is unfair to someone who doesn’t align themselves with that religion. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, and it is insensitive (and a violation of the separation of church and state) to impose such symbols on passersby. Conservatives say that the separation of church and state just prohibits the government from passing laws that limit the freedom of religion, but it is in no way a violation of the law to acknowledge G-d in a school or public place.


Many conservatives believe that if the security of America is threatened by a specific ethnicity or group, it is okay to scrutinize them more than other ethnicities or groups. Why waste resources screening white women when most terror attacks are carried out by Muslim men? Profiling is an efficient and logical way to successfully secure America.

Liberals, on the other hand, are staunchly anti any sort of profiling. How can we single someone out just because of their religion? It is not fathomable to be so politically incorrect.


Conservatives oppose long-term welfare, saying that it is more compassionate and effective to help people become self-sufficient, and it’s not our job to support poor people indefinitely. We’ll help them get jobs, and then expect them to work for a living. Liberals support welfare for as long as necessary. We can’t judge them just because they don’t make enough to support their family. We must help them in any way we could. How can you complain about the national debt when there are hungry Americans?


Liberals take one look at illegal immigrants and their hearts melt. Poor fellow, he escaped the oppression of his home country and followed his dream of coming to America. We couldn’t possibly throw him out just because he came here without proper permission! Most liberals support blanket amnesty, in which millions of illegal immigrants (such a harsh term! Say undocumented souls) will be granted a free pass to stay in America. They also believe that illegal immigrants have the right to all educational and health benefits that any citizen has.

Conservatives believe that if we allow people to illegally flood our country, it would be a disaster to our economy, besides that it wouldn’t be fair to all the people waiting in line to come in legally. So if you came here without permission, you should leave. (Whether or not we should deport all illegal immigrants is debatable within conservative circles, with a big emphasis on the amount of manpower it would take to round up all the illegal immigrants.)

Euthanasia and Capital Punishment

Other policy differences that stem from this debate are the morality of physician-assisted suicide (conservatives: immoral, liberals: moral) and, as mentioned earlier, the death sentence (conservatives: moral, liberals: immoral).

The Liberal Paradox

Before we move onto the next part of this article, I would like to point out a big issue with the aforementioned liberal Hashkafa, an issue that I like to call “The Liberal Paradox”. (It’s an expression that, while not terribly original, I coined myself.)

It is not physically possible to be fully compassionate to everyone.

Let’s use the murderer as an example. If we let him murder because he has the tendency to do it, is it not unfair to the victim who underwent the murder, and to any potential victims if we let the murderer go scot-free? If we demand that all marriages are legal and must be upheld by all, doesn’t that compromise on the religious freedom of a faith that doesn’t allow it’s clergy to partake in such ceremonies? Is it called compassion to prosecute a man who didn’t treat his animal with its “due” respect?

This “Stira” comes up time and time again within the liberal mindset. A lot of effort has been expended on finding the balance between all the pities. And many times, in the words of R’ Avigdor Miller Zatzal, the balance is completely warped.

(Although it has no place at this point of the article, I find it too hard to mention R’ Miller Zatzal without quoting him saying “All liberals belong in jail.”

Sorry for bringing that in here. I just couldn’t resist.)

The Second Hashkafa Difference

As was mentioned at the onset, there are two major differences in Hashkafa that are the source of most political differences. We covered their outlooks on personal responsibility, and now we move onto the second, perhaps more recognized, major difference. The role that Government should play in our lives.

The Role of Government

Liberals believe that it is the job of the government to solve all problems. Conservatives believe that individuals should have the power to solve their own problems, and that the government should only do the bare minimum necessary, and only be involved in matters that individuals cannot orchestrate themselves. Even when matters must be orchestrated by the government, it is best cared for by local and state government.

There are many attitude variations that are direct offshoots of this basic argument.

The Economy

                Liberals see it as the government’s role to keep the economy fair. Government must protect citizens from the greed of huge corporations, and level the playing field when necessary. Regulations are the only way to keep our economy balanced.

Conservatives argue that a free market system, with healthy competition and citizen-run businesses, produce the most economic growth, and in the long run, is better for everyone. Burdening businesses with excessive government regulation stunts growth and is ultimately detrimental to everyone.


Along the same lines, liberals believe that taxes is a great way to raise money for government expenses, and primarily emphasize taxing the wealthy, who can widely afford to foot the cost of expensive government.

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that the government is wasting far too much money, and cutting away needless programs is the best way to lower the deficit. They strongly oppose raising taxes, especially on the wealthy, because high taxes will cause corporations to move to other countries, which will greatly damage the economy. Businesses who employ a lot of workers should get tax breaks to incentivize them to remain, which in the long run will be much better for the economy. (It is better if there are ten thousand people paying taxes on meager salaries than overcharging the big boss and driving his business overseas, which will eliminate the jobs he provides and leave us with no tax money at all.)


                Liberals see it as the role of the government to ensure that everyone has adequate healthcare. Leaving healthcare in the hands of private companies exposes the risk of rates becoming unaffordable, and leaves people with preexisting conditions open to being denied healthcare. The government should supply equal health benefits to all, even if some can’t pay.

Conservatives support a competitive, privatized, healthcare market. Competition drives down prices, and is ultimately better for most people. There is indeed an issue that some people cannot afford healthcare, but it’s not included in the government’s role to fix it by taking over healthcare. Government-controlled healthcare will lead to a lower standard of healthcare, or it will drive up rates, sometimes both.


                Liberals believe that the public school system is suitable for everyone. Vouchers take money away from public schools and should not be issued. Conservatives believe that individuals have the right to choose which schools to attend, and have the right to use their tax money for private schools.

Gun Control

                Liberals support minimizing the use of the second amendment allowing citizens to bear arms. The government can adequately protect its civilians, and the main purpose of the second amendment was to allow states to maintain their own militia. Countless innocent people die each year due to gun violence, and it’s the government’s duty to get as many guns as possible out of the hands of civilians.

Conservatives believe that it is the constitutional right of every citizen to own a gun, in order to protect their liberty in the event of the government ceasing to abide by the constitution. Gun violence is a problem, but it is not solved by gun control. On the contrary, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Statistics indicate that some of the areas with the strictest regulation have the highest crime rate.

Energy, Social Security, and Eminent Domain

                Other policy differences that stem from this debate are the control of the gas and electric industries (liberals: government, conservatives: privatization), controlling and sustaining the Social Security program (liberals: government, conservatives: self-controlled or privatization), and the right of the government to seize private property for private development (liberals: support, conservatives: oppose).

Global Warming and Terrorism

Besides for the two major “Avos”, there are a few other big differences between the two camps.

A huge talking point of the liberal movement is the danger of climate change. They point to scientific research that indicates that global temperature is changing, and if we continue to carelessly corrode the environment, mass catastrophe is imminent. They call for all sorts of laws to be passed to protect the environment. Conservatives brush away the concerns, pointing to alternate scientific research that indicates that climate change is natural and temperatures will eventually return to normal.

(Some pundits align the opinions on global warming with the general mindsets on personal responsibility. They say that liberals, in an attempt to unshackle themselves from morality, must deny the hand of a commanding orchestrator in the universe, and claim the destiny of the earth to be solely in the hands of our actions.)

While liberals hail climate change as the greatest threat to society, conservatives point instead to terrorism. Violent Islamic terrorists threaten our country, and we have no choice but to do everything in our power to completely annihilate terrorism. Liberals, however, believe that diplomacy is the best way to deal with terrorism. Using violence against terrorism will only incite them and create more hatred.

A Word on Libertarians

                Besides the two major political ideologies, there is a noteworthy number of libertarian thinkers, who belong to the libertarian party. While this tag can be applied to many different schools of thought, it is generally used today to describe people who are socially liberal but fiscally conservative, usually with an emphasis on isolationism (liberal in matters of human rights but conservative on financial issues, and believe that America shouldn’t get involved in other countries’ business). (Please excuse the gross simplicity of this explanation, as the main focus of this article was to explain the two most common ideologies.)

The Libertarian Party has never gained too much traction, but generally does better than the other fringe parties. Some say that had Rand Paul, who ran in this election as a Republican, run instead as a Libertarian (his views are closest to that mindset, and he is the son of Ron Paul, a self-described libertarian), he may very well have garnered enough votes to cast the Libertarian party into the ring alongside the other two major parties (given the nature of the candidates on the ballot). But since the Libertarian Party’s candidate is arguably more inapt than the two main party candidates, they missed an opportunity to start playing in the big leagues.


The views expressed in this article, while they may seem like facts, are in truth just opinions, and are solely those of the author. They do not represent this forum in any way, shape, or form. Any comments or feedback are welcome at [email protected]. Information in this article was gleaned from Wikipedia.com, StudentNewsDaily.com, Frank Benjamin’s “You Know You’re a Republican/Democrat If” published by Sourcebooks, and from conversations in BMG’s coffee room.

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  1. I’m staunchly conservative, and I found this primer to be both biased and inaccurate. You can see for yourself how biased it is (in favor of conservatism) but I’ll point out some of the inaccuracies.

    1) Liberal and democrat are not interchangeable, nor are conservative and republican. There are millions of conservative Democrats (most notably African Americans) who are pro-life, anti- SSM, and traditional in many ways, but vote Democrat. There are also liberal republicans, most of which are in this part of the country and can be called “Wall Street Republicans”, who vote primarily on fiscal issues for which they side with the GOP.

    2) Libertarian does NOT mean socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Its a completely different paradigm, with the main premise being smaller government in all areas. So sure that means privatizing health care and education (sounds good to me!) but also means doing away with any federal regulations on safety and legalization of all drugs including cocaine heroine etc. Fiscally they are not conservative in the same way Republicans are, as they want to shrink the military budget by a huge number, reduce spending on border patrol, and not give any foreign aid , whether to the Haitians after the earthquake or for iron dome in Israel.

    3) Liberals do NOT believe the public school system should work for everyone. They simply believe that the government should not pay for any private education whatsoever as that is a personal choice. I disagree with them, but its a reasonable position. And they believe that the public school system is a benefit to all society because an education populace is better for us all (can’t contribute to the economy if you can’t read or write).

    4) Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a Democrat, is the one who said that Climate Change is the biggest danger to the US. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are hawks and hold similar positions to George W. Bush on terrorism; in fact Barack Obama followed Bush’s blueprint to catch Osama bin Laden and has been far more aggressive than Bush ever was in terms of drone attacks. When you are looking at Democrats and Republicans, you shoudln’t look at fringe people within the party (like Sanders) but rather those who hold prominent positions . That could include Democrats like Clinton, Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and Republicans like Paul Ryan, John McCain, George W. Bush, and Scott Walker. Not Sarah Palin or Bernie Sanders, neither which are representative in any way of their party.

    You should’ve billed this as an opinion piece , as that’s what it is.

  2. Thank you Politico for your comment. Everyone enjoys feedback, even critical feedback. Please allow me though to address the points you brought up.

    Regarding being biased, I can hardly deny the accusations. I personally agree with most of the conservative views, and have done litte to hide that. Had I been writing for a national site, it may have been otherwise. But since this is a Lakewood site, and most of Lakewood aligns themselves with these views, I chose to expose my personal opinions in this piece. I have, however, clearly written in the final paragraph that everything stated was mere personal opinions, so that even someone who wouldn’t otherwise figure it out won’t be misled.

    Regarding points 1 and 4, which basically both argue that everyone in the democratic party is a far-left liberal (and visa versa fot the Republicans), I have written just that clearly in my introduction, “A political party, though, does not represent an ideology. Any person of any ideology can join any party. However, the members of the Democratic Party generally uphold liberal values, while members of the Republican Party generally uphold conservative values. Therefore, when explaining ideologies, I will refrain from ever mentioning the words Republican or Democrat, and will stick with the terms liberal and conservative.” (I specifically obstained from mentioning the names of elected officials, because most elected officials don’t preach any extreme, because they must appeal to the masses. I specifically wrote that although many people’s ideology falls somewhere between fars right and left, I’m only going to explain the extremes.)

    Regarding point 2, I wrote a disclaimer that ” Please excuse the gross simplicity of this explanation, as the main focus of this article was to explain the two most common ideologies.” While it is true that you are acurately discribing the Libertarian Party, your discription is far longer than mine and I wanted to aviod expounding on it.

    Regarding point 3, you may be right. The places where I did my research (and I have listed some at the end of my article) wrote it the way I presented it here, but I cannot argue if you have other sources.

    Thanks again for your comments. If you stll don’t agree, feel free to speak up again.

    Yona Bellar

  3. Biased much? Sheesh. I’m sure there are folks in Lkwd who have never taken a history of the US govt or civics course who will gobble this up.

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