With the much over-hyped Iowa caucuses upon us, I fear that something very important has gone unnoticed by our friends in the traditional media, cable news networks included.
Every candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and his or her grandmother cannot stop speaking about how conservative they are. The term itself is used as a simple buzzword; the race's dialogue has devolved to the extent that somebody could be explaining how to make a tuna fish sandwich, throw in "conservative" a few times, and be met with thunderous applause. Whether or not there is any substance behind what is said has been rendered so irrelevant that certain contenders, such as Texas Governor Rick Perry, have supporters congratulating them for successfully stringing a coherent sentence together.
However, stepping away from the three-ring circus for a moment, one must wonder just exactly what the definition of "conservative" is. Since it has been used to meet all candidates' purposes on any given subject, either most are lying, or it carries very little meaning. Though most are probably not aware of this, the latter is true. According to the dictionary, conservatism is simply "tending to oppose change", having a "traditional or restrained style", or being "moderate" and "cautious". On certain topics, regardless of our respective political philosophies, each one of us is partial to the conservative view. Obviously, since all American voters do not hold the same opinions, conservatism and liberalism alike serve only as ineffective, abstract descriptions for one's sociopolitical opinions.
As I wrote last year, this sort of rampant labeling does serious long-term damage. Instead of having a real discussion about the most dire issues facing our country, those on the left and right alike are merely espousing platitudes and harboring immense ill will towards those on the "other side". Though the political process has never at any time or in any place been a proverbial walk along the beach, a great many activists, pundits, and public officeholders are making what were once strictly professional disagreements personal ones, which has delivered a near-fatal blow to the concept of civil discourse. The "us vs. them" mentality which labelism has bred is infecting every facet of United States politics; from kitchen table exchanges to zealous congressmen, such as former Florida Representative Alan Grayson, baselessly accusing his opponents of pseudo-genocide.
I do not believe that the abysmally low intellectual quality of this year's Iowa caucuses is a statement about Hawkeye Republicans. I think it is just a symptom of a gargantuan problem; one that does not seem to have a remedy developing on the horizon.
Oh well. Let the circus roll on.