A casualty of today's superheated, overly emotional political discourse is the meaning of two time-honored political labels - conservative and liberal. Too often, the terms are used as pejoratives rather than accurate descriptions.
Through most of America's political history, conservative has meant defending the status quo and liberal has meant challenging the status quo. It began with the Revolutionary War when liberals (social change) opposed the monarchy (the status quo). With its longer history including royalty, Europeans have always had a slightly different set of definitions.
Which type of politics was on the side of the angels depended upon the times and in which portion of the country the term was being used. At one time in Hawaii, conservative politics meant plantation control under the banner of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party up set that status quo under the liberal banner, i.e., freedom for the people. Along came Linda Lingle to challenge the status quo (liberal) as a Republican because Democrats had become entrenched (the status quo).
Nationally, the terms liberal and conservative are being used today as ammunition in a mudslinging contest, blurring, if not destroying, whatever meaning they had in American politics.
In a time when labels are used as substitutes for rational argument, the terms conservative and liberal are used as shorthand euphemisms for nastier appellations. Both conservative and liberal policies should play a part in the evolution of our society.
Conservatives could be safeguarding the basic systems that have contributed to the well-being of all, including the U.S. Constitution and free-market capitalism. Liberals could be devising and advocating programs designed to meet the individual challenges of an increasingly global and technological world. Both approaches are necessary.
Turning either term into a dirty word is simply one more step in turning what should be rational political debate into a childlike temper tantrum of invectives and accusations - a clash of idiotologies rather than ideologies. The United States and its people deserve better.
* This editorial appeared previously in The Maui News. Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.