Judging by the tone of some political commentators, one might get an impression that the division between conservatives and liberals (sometimes also called progressives) is an essential ideological division within the nation. Nothing more wrong. The split into conservatives and liberals is a rift within the political establishment, which more confuses the public than helps Americans to make educated political decisions.
Before elaborating more on the merit of this thesis, let me focus on a mere technicality. If conservatives versus liberals were a meaningful division, it would mean that the truth is somewhere between these two options; the right solutions would be always on hand from one side or another of the political spectrum. And, if brought to light, in most instances it would prevail. This is not what has been going on in Washington for the last twenty years or so.
In science or in business, every time two opposite points of view come across there is a way to sort out the facts, and apply the available knowledge in order to reach a constructive conclusion. This does not happen when conservatives and liberals need to do something together. Regardless if someone is a conservative or liberal, one needs to acknowledge that approaching our problems in the conservative versus liberal dimensions is unproductive; it does not work. I believe that it is infertile because of etheric and often deceptive meaning of these terms. In science and in business it is impossible to reach any useful conclusion if reference points are not clearly defined. It is the same in politics because meanings of terms "conservative" and "liberal" or "progressive" are vague. When it comes down to the details of political debates and decisions there are not solid reference points; hence, disagreements become emotional and personal. With the lack of clarity, particular interests prevail in political decision to the point that, with every day passing, Americans' distrust of the political establishment goes even deeper.
The meaningful improvement can happen if we all agree on the unproductivity of conservatives versus liberals division and express our political orientation in relation to other reference points. In other words if we find other terms, assumingly more precise, that will replace terms "conservative" and "liberal". I propose that we abandon using the term "conservative" and replace it with the term "capitalist" in the meaning of a supporter of capitalism. Similarly, I suggest that we abandon using the term "liberal" or "progressive" and replace it with "socialist" as a supporter of socialism.
For capitalists, everyone should have the freedom to run his or her life, and bear consequences of decisions made. Not everyone makes wise decisions, often not at his or her faults, for example due to poor upbringing. Some are struck by disasters beyond their control, such as a major sickness. Socialists are compelled to assign government a role of assisting the misfortunate among us. Capitalists are for leaving this to private charities. Socialists see this as humiliating; they believe that the progressive industrial society can afford more dignified support for the misfortunate. Unfortunately, they ignore that it is in the human nature that dignity, similar to satisfaction and happiness in life - cannot be given; they have to be earned. Self-esteem does not come from the handouts or from the hollow compliments but from the gratification from one's own accomplishments. The easiest way to get satisfaction in life is from the job well done; happiness comes from the paycheck earned even if it is not much higher than the check handed out.
The free market is perceived by many Americans as pejorative, as extreme and as not practical. The free market, when taken consequently, could be seen as a cruel political concept. However, it is a cruelty of an accountant telling us that two plus two is always four, regardless of how we feel about it. As we all became richer, thanks to the free market, many Americans achieved the level of economic comfort that allowed them to focus on the feelings, and influence policy accordingly. And this is where things turned bad for capitalism. Since then socialistic ideas have gained much more ground in the U.S. For the meaningful segments of both the public and the political establishments they are what America is all about.
As one might expect, today's liberals openly advocate socialistic policies, but what might surprise many, a close look at today's conservatives shows that they have been soaked with socialistic thinking as well. This is the reason that they have been losing influence in recent years, and this is the reason, that I advocate for abandonment of terms "conservative" and "liberal", and replacing them with "capitalist" and "socialist".