First, I think that the American definition of liberal is bizarre. I consider myself a liberal in the classical sense, but have very little in common with actual "liberals". I think, however, that you have to draw a distinction between "Democrats" and "Liberals" and do something similar for "Republicans" and "Conservatives". There are coherent differences between the two ideologies. However, Ralph Nader is right about one thing (and ONLY one thing): The differences between the two parties are paper-thin, at best. To flip one of Nader's lines, the Democrats get an F, and the Republicans are a D-. Further, this election offers Americans the compelling choice between total incompetence and severe incompetence. And... *ahem, back on topic*.
But generalities in today's political climate (not absolutes, obviously):
In general, I'd say these are the most important parts of each ideology. Note that none of these are absolute, and many of the people on this board have ideologies all over the map. Please don't take offense at any of this. I'm somewhat conservative, but I'm doing my best to be even handed here:
Conservatives favor small government and a balanced budget. Liberals tend to favor social programs.
Conservatives favor proportionate tax cuts (i.e., if your bracket pays 40% of the burden, it's going to get a large chunk of the tax cut; also called Reaganomics, supply side economics or trickle-down). Liberals favor giving tax cuts to the lower brackets, to encourage consumer spending.
Conservatives favor free market solutions. Liberals favor government solutions.
Conservatives oppose abortion, except in extreme circumstances (rape, incest, etc.). Liberals generally support abortion, except in extreme circumstances (partial birth abortion).
Conservatives generally favor the death penalty. Liberals don't. [And both sides say the other is inconsistent due to the coupling of these two positions; "How can you protect the life of an unborn fetus and condemn people who are actually born to death?" and "How can you allow an innocent fetus to be destroyed while protecting the life of a serial killer?" are quite common arguments.]
Conservatives favor reading the 2nd amendment as an individual right; i.e., allowing gun ownership to a great degree. Most support banning assault weapons (the real ones, not the ones in the misnamed AWB). Liberals don't read it that way, and prefer tighter controls over gun control, although very few want to ban all guns.
Conservatives favor states rights, and tend to be skeptical of a strong central government. Liberals tend to be skeptical of states rights, and favor a strong central government.
Conservatives oppose race-based affirmative action; often, they read it as a violation of the 14th amendment or basic fairness. Liberals favor race-based affirmative action, saying it doesn't violate equal protection.
Conservatives tend to be less concerned with rights of the accused than liberals, while liberals tend to be much more concerned. I'm trying to come up with an example, but it's just not gelling. If anybody's confused, I can try to think one up.
Liberals admire Europe. Conservatives see Europe as a society in decay.
Conservatives think the media is liberal. Liberals think the media is conservative, but say "corporate" instead.
That's about all I can think of for now...
EDIT: Actually, the issue of smoking in public places is a really good example of an important distinction between liberals and conservatives.
Liberals: We need to protect the public health and the employees of restaurants. A public smoking ban will do that.
Conservatives: Then don't GO to a smoking restaurant. If the market opportunity for a non-smoking restaurant exists, then the market will provide one. There's nothing compelling the employees to work there either.
It's a minor issue, but I think it's one that's pretty telling......
Edited by Hotspur Rovinski, 20 October 2004 - 06:19 PM.
St. Louis must be destroyed!
Me: "I have a job and five credit cards and am looking into signing a two year lease. THAT MAKES ME OLD."
Josh: "I don't have a job, I have ONE credit card, I'm stuck in a lease and I'm 28! My mom's basement IS ONE BAD DECISION AWAY!"
~~ Josh, winning the argument.
"Congress . . . shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis[.]" ~1 U.S.C. § 1, selectively quoted for accuracy.