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Liberalism and Conservatism: Ideological Difference


American political discourse categorizes certain issues and stances as ‘liberal’ and the ones opposing them as ‘conservative’. This categorization remains true for a wide range of issues such as abortion, gun laws, homeland security, social issues, public spending, education, and foreign policy. It is often argued that the stances that provide greater individual freedom and equality are liberal views while the stances that are conformist in providing individual freedom are considered as conservative view. For instance, in case of abortion laws, a liberal point of view will be to allow the mother the freedom of choice, while the conservative opposes removal law against abortion based on religious beliefs. Thus, these two are opposing stances based on ideologies and beliefs.

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A lot research has been conducted to understand the underlying reasons for this ideological difference. Many researchers believe that the difference is ideological, difference in moral foundation, or due to their self-identification. This paper presents a study of the underlying assumptions to provide a substantive reason for the differences in the policy orientation of the Liberals and the Conservatives. In this paper I will argue that the main differences in the political views of the Liberals and Conservative stem from the difference in their ideology that arises from their self-identification with the party and their self-identity, based on the issue of. The paper will first discuss the various researches that define the difference between the two based on ideological and moral factors. The paper will then provide an analysis of the different stands of the two sectors regarding burning political issues prevalent in the US.

The Kaaba Structure: History and Description

In order to establish a specific difference between the two concepts it is important to define them. Liberalism, as a concept, is difficult to define as it has undergone constant change over time (Smith 480). Another problem that has been faced while defining liberalism is its enormous gamut. In most cases, academicians have only described a part of the whole thus creating a partial picture of what exactly the ideology stands for (Smith 480). Further liberalism has evolved over time and has no creator. Because of this, researchers believe in creating certain attributes to understand the difference between the two ideologies. Essentially these attributes are used to understand the stand of politicians regarding the issues and hence, gauge his/her political ideology. Smith has created a list of such attributes namely, “reformist, democratic, libertarian, regulatory and interventionist, centralist, humanitarian, egalitarian, and permissive” (481). However, in another study the difference between the

Ideological difference indicates the difference between philosophy-based difference in values and beliefs of an individual (Malka and Lelkes 158). Since the eighteenth century the ideological difference has been between the left and the right however, in the US the difference is named as liberals vs. conservatives. Liberalism originally meant supporting freedom and conservatism supports preservation. However, with time this simplistic definition altered considerably. Liberal ideologies have historically been described as seeking free market with less government intervention, but since 1930s redistribution of social welfare became the main portents based, on which the liberals and conservatives were differentiation (Malka and Lelkes 158). Opposition to military intervention in foreign countries was earlier considered as conservative but now is considered liberal. Since 1970s, stand towards social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, etc. have become an axiom based on which the difference between Liberals and Conservatives is established. Some academicians argue, “the conservative–liberal dimension is useful for conceptualizing individual differences in orientation toward the social and political world, including attitudes on a variety of issues across a variety of cultural–historical contexts” (Malka and Lelkes 159).

Even though the meaning of liberal-conservative ideology has changed dramatically over the years, scholars have been consistent in their belief that they demonstrate the political and social orientation of the politicians and their possible attitude towards a variety of issues. Thus, according to this distinction of conservative and liberal, they are ideas that describe people. Further, the core value to tolerate or oppose inequality is demonstrated by the two ideologies (Malka and Lelkes 159). Thus, based on their ideologies, people tend to adopt a political view in alliance with their belief. The differences in the ideologies are caused due to the effect of one’s experiences on attitude rather than due to influence of identity on their attitude. Identity based influence on attitude is related to party identity that is believed to have a social impact on one’s identity (Malka and Lelkes 159). Some believe that self-identification as conservative or liberal affects the conservative-liberal ideology (Zschirnt 687). Hence, what the politicians in America think of themselves has a strong influence over their ideas of “low vs. high social welfare spending, traditional vs. progressive cultural stances, and great vs. small emphasis on military strength” (Malka and Lelkes 159). Hence treating ideology and identity of conservatives and liberals is reasonably common.


In order to understand the variances between ideological difference concerning conservative and liberals arising out of self-identification an analysis of the stand of the self-identified political personalities on the two distinct political issues are discussed. This paper will discuss two cases – first, is the case of liberal and conservative stand over the renewed was on terror in Iraq with the resurgence of ISIS (The President’s War Plan; McParland; Friedman) and second, the stand over the new immigration law formulated by President Obama (Antle; Davis).

War on Iraq/ISIS

The question that arose between the liberal and the conservative quarters was due to President Obama’s reluctance to attack ISIS right after they released an atrocious video of beheading two American journalists in Iraq. The reason for the delay as has been described by many are – (1) lack of proper military strategy to attack ISIS, (2) the photographs were not direct threats to American homeland and hence did not require immediate military intervention, and (3) though Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar are US-alias but the country’s wealthy Sunnis are pro-ISIS (Friedman par. 4-9). Hence, the ideological difference between the Shia and Sunni community in the Middle East was a hindrance. Political bipartisanism loomed high over the issue of attacking Iraq to counter ISIS’s growth in the Middle East. However, President Obama has been anti-war and military action. This stand demonstrates his identification with the liberal view of freedom and equality and his ideological stand against strong military action. However, the conservatives headed by George W. Bush, who is his political opponent believe that the stance of the Obama government has been to appease the liberals and deter war:

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Mr. Obama is at least luckier than George W. Bush was in his political opposition. Some Republicans may look for partisan openings, but most understand the peril of the jihadist threat and the necessity of U.S. arms to defeat it. Their criticism will be from the right if Mr. Obama prosecutes the war too cautiously to appease liberals at home. (par. 9)

Hence, the difference between the conservative and the liberal ideology are clear in this second war on terror against Iraq. The conservatives have considered the delay on part of President Obama to launch an attack on ISIS as a deliberate attempt to please liberals in America who ideologically condemned any form of military action. However, his particular stand had dissatisfied conservative Republicans. President Obama’s focus was to please the Democrats who principally opposed any form of military action and supported greater spending for domestic social issues.

The ideological difference between the two groups is distinctly clear. The initial hesitance of President Obama to launch a strike against ISIS was considered as soft by the conservatives though the liberals considered it as a strong stand. The difference in support arose from the politicians’ self-identified identity as a conservative/liberal, which shaped their ideological stand.

President Obama’s Immigration Law

Liberals have hailed the immigration law by President Obama as “bad policy”. The new policy shields illegal immigrants work permits on US soil and shields them from deportation (Davis par. 1). They have accused the president of “cloaking” his bad policy with the garb of conservative rhetoric such as “family values, uncaring bureaucrats, buttressing a system that rewards people who work hard and play by the rules” (Antle par. 1). However, the bill has received support from conservatives: “Eric Posner of the University of Chicago, a conservative, that called the new policy “lawful” and “within the power of the executive branch”” (Davis par. 11). The executive action bill though legal, raises question amongst the conservative quarters regarding the legal implication of the law. So many students who have graduates in the US and awaited work visas would be helped and so will be the business houses who were willing to hire them. However, the plan is a mixture of liberal and conservative ideologies. First, the very idea to provide equality to the illegal immigrants is a liberal view. Conservatives oppose the idea of giving amnesty or refuge to illegal immigration on American soil and support deporting them to their country. The new immigration policy passed by President Obama directly attacks all these beliefs of the conservatives.

This issue of policy on immigration demonstrates the President Obama identifies himself with the liberals and mostly takes liberal stands regarding policy issues.


Can we identify if a politician is liberal or conservative from the political stand he/she takes? The difference in ideology of the politicians differentiates them as liberal or conservative. Nevertheless, this difference in ideology arises from his belief system and self-identification. President Obama identifies himself with the liberals. He had won the election as a liberal candidate who was pro-reform. His policies decisions are based on such ground – first his deliberation over attacking Iraq and second his iconic immigration policy. Both demonstrate liberal ideologies and President Obama’s direct support to them ensures his lineage to the liberals. Why should a president take an ideological stand that infuriates the other? The reason lies in the fundamental belief of the politician. President Obama’s self-identification as a liberal steers his ideologies, which in turn helps him to shape the political decisions he takes.

Works Cited

Antle, W. James III. “Obama’s Dangerous Immigration Decree.” 2014. The National Interest. Web.

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Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. “Obama’s Immigration Action Has Precedents, but May Set a New One.” 2014. The New York Times. Web.

Friedman, Thomas L. “Why the U.S. can’t intervene to destroy ISIS — yet .” 2014. The New York Times. Web.

Malka, Ariel and Yphtach Lelkes. “More than Ideology: Conservative–Liberal Identity and Receptivity to Political Cues.” Social Justice Research 23.2-2 (2010): 156-188. Print.

McParland, Kelly. “Obama, at war, establishes himself as America’s most reluctant warrior.” 2014. Notional Post. Web.

Smith, Tom W. “Liberal and conservative trends in the United States since World War II.” Public Opinion Quarterly 54.4 (1990): 479-507. Print.

“The President’s War Plan.” 2014. The Wall Street Journal. Web.

Zschirnt, Simon. “The Origins & Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications Revisited.” Poltiical Behavior 33 (2011): 685-701. Print.

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