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Column: Today's Political Labels Need To Be Redefined

This story was written by Shane Nassiri, Daily Toreador

Congress approved the $700 billion bailout package for Wall Street last week by getting conservatives and liberals to cross the aisle and come together in America's hour of need.

But in reality there was nothing "conservative" or "liberal" about the bill or its implications about the nation. Nothing much of anything Washington does these days falls under those categories.

Some definitions of these terms may be in order. Indeed, they are flexible terms that change with the age, but in terms of philosophy and principle, an argument can be made that many of those who masquerade as "liberals" or "conservatives" today are anything but.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines liberalism as "a political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority."

This is the philosophy that this nation was founded upon. Enshrined in the Bill of Rights are provisions designed to protect individuals from "arbitrary authority." The Declaration of Independence states that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

The core idea of liberalism is liberty, where it derives its namesake. This nation was founded on principles of liberty to provide equal rights and privileges to its citizens while protecting them from abuses of government power and authority, as was happening under British rule.

The founders believed the people had the right of self-determination, that the states and their citizens had the freedom to govern themselves. The authority that the central government had was only that which was voluntarily given to it by the states and inscribed in the Constitution.

But liberalism came to mean a whole new thing under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The meaning of "liberal" came to be one who supported New Deal policies. But there was nothing "liberal" about the powers of intervention the government gained. It also set the precedent for increasingly powerful executives.

Since that era we have seen the federal government grow in size and scope, overshadowing the sovereignty of the states, and in turn the sovereignty of the people. Now the federal government permeates nearly every aspect of our lives - in education, the economy, welfare programs, and social and moral issues.

Enter conservatism.

As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, conservatism is "The inclination, especially in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order." American conservatism arose as a reaction to the New Deal policies that swelled the size of government.

Here is where the "small government, low taxes" breed of conservative was born. Liberalism had been hijacked by New Dealers, and so what they were trying to conserve were the liberal principles that this country was founded on.

That shaped the debate for the rest of the century. There were "liberals" who sought to use the powers of government to eliminate every social ill (whether or not their philosophy is right or not is not the question, but rather whether the use of the term liberal is an appropriate descriptor).

On the other side were the conservatives, who did not believe in the virtue of the federal government and supported the sovereignty of the states, relying on the wisdom of Thomas Paine: "That government is best which governs least."

Ronald Reagan, the conservative hero of the later 20th century, said in his inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem; govenment is the problem."

How true does that statement still ring today?

Yet the "conservative" leadership of these past eight years has been anything but conservative. Under the Bush administration, the national debt ballooned from $5.7 trillion to more than $10 trillion.

There is nothing "conservative" about that kind of spending.

Conservatives used to deride Pres. Clinton for his policies of intervening in the affairs of sovereign foreign nations, and yet under this administration we have used the full force of our military to conduct preemptive warfare.

Just as liberalism changed meaning so many years ago, now being conservative means something wholly different as well.

And so here in this election cycle we are presented with two candidates who will do much to continue this path of government expansion, whether it be the expansion of war into other nations or prolonging the conflicts we are in (Iraq for McCain, Afghanistan for Obama), or through new spending created by new programs. They will take up their respective sides on social issues and try to persuade Congress to legislate morality for the whole nation.

We can hope that, as the government continues to grow, that our freedoms will be preserved and that government is virtuous and will provide us with new opportunities for a better future, but history is not on the side of that argument.

The ballooning debt may not seem much of an issue to you, at least until you break it down. It now stands at over $30,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation. The more the government grows, the more it will spend and the larger the burden it will put on the economy as its debt mounts.

To me, this is creating shackles for the American people, binding us and our future generations, imposing on our financial wellbeing as our money is devalued and our savings diminished by inflation.

The only way to ensure for ourselves a future of freedom and prosperity is to turn around from the course we are on, a course enabling an ever-increasingly authoritarian government.

We need to return to the principles of liberalism that birthed this nation, principles that are worth conserving.