Al Swift 2¢ Worth

A Look at that Tricky Political Spectrum

Whether you are ideologically a conservative or liberal there are two things that are probably true about you: 1) You think you are a moderate, 2) Your ability to accurately place others on the famous “political spectrum” is very limited.

As a Liberal (of course, I’m really a moderate) I have been amazed, astonished and astounded by how my Conservative friends (all of whom think they are moderates as well) evaluate prominent Democrats. For example, they see Hilary Clinton as a Far Left activist, even though the liberals in her party are currently grumbling about her siding with the “moderate” DFL. And liberals see anyone to the right of Lincoln Chafee as a conservative extremist.

Yet, we all think we can accurately place other folks on the political/ideological spectrum. The truth is we can’t. The reasons are location and depth perception.

For each of us, our vantage point is not that of an objective observer, standing away from the spectrum as it runs across our horizon from left to right. Instead, we are on the spectrum, looking up and down it. The farther another person is from us on that spectrum the worse our depth perception becomes; the harder is it to distinguish distances (read: differences) between folks.

Being left of center I am near enough to my liberal colleagues to see pretty accurately the places held by Senators Tom Harkin and Tom Carper, for example. But if I think I can accurately distinguish between Senators John Ensign and John Sununu, I’m nuts. They are so far down that spectrum from me that my depth perception fails me.

The point of all this? Positioning others on the spectrum is an inaccurate and idle exercise – even if it is fun – and it interferes with important stuff. For example, it might help us do the business of solving problems for the American people if we stopped trying to categorize our opponents and sought the common ground we may have.

Liberals that cannot distinguish between a Conservative and a Fascist and Conservatives who cannot distinguish between a Liberal and a Communist – should simply stop trying.

By the way, a footnote: there are such things as moderates. But liberals see them as conservatives and conservatives see them as liberals. No wonder their numbers are small. The middle these days is, alas, a lonely place.

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011
By: csh
Posted in: 2005
Colling Swift & Hynes 10486 Armstrong St. Fairfax, VA 22030 P. (202) 347-8000 F. (202) 315-2598