Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Digging into politics: the political spectrum

One (U.S.) view of the political spectrum.
Politics is complicated, I'll grant, but the rampant misunderstanding of what the political spectrum actually looks like is often frustrating to me. First off, unlike the visual spectrum, it's not a line of various shades of color stretching from conservative to liberal, as many Americans seem to think. Instead, it's actually an incredibly complicated star with dozens of end-points. In this essay, I'm just going to touch on one aspect of it: how people view the function of government.

Imagine that you asked thousands of people to complete the sentence, "the government should exist to provide..." Like the old game show, we can imagine taking the top four answers to this question and laying them out in a grid. The most common  answers would probably be variations on, "benefit to society," "corporate liberty," "benefit to the individual," and "individual liberty." At their heart these describe who you think government should provide benefits to and who you think government should protect the rights of. As it turns out, while Democrats and Republicans would like to paint each other as enemies of individual liberty, both parties favor a balance between corporate and individual liberties. On the other hand, the traditional liberal position slides further out toward individual liberty.