When words fail us

I am a commoner. I choose that label for two reasons. First, I am the son of dairy farmers. I don’t know what else a farm boy could be but a commoner. It’s who I am. The second reason has to do with what I want. I want more common sense in government. I want more searching for common ground, and less dividing and conquering people who could and should be united. And I want concern for the common good to become far less uncommon.

Still there are many who can’t shake their dependence on the old labels. They ask again and again if I am liberal or conservative, left or right. Never mind that those terms no longer mean what they once meant. They don’t even mean what today’s dictionaries say they mean. The word liberal comes from the same root as liberty. It means freedom. People who call themselves conservative think they are the pro-liberty ones, and consider modern-day liberals to be anti-freedom. The word conservative shares the same root as conserve and conservation. People who consider themselves liberals think they are pro-conservation and can’t see how today’s conservatives are for conserving anything. These labels would be comical if they weren’t so politically debilitating.

Labels like liberal and conservative are code, a shorthand that helps us make sense of the political world. That code is garbled.

Still people can’t kick the habit. They demand to know . . . are you conservative or liberal, right or left?

My honest answer to that question is that I am a mutt. Like most all normal people. Only in the political world do people claim to be purebreds . . . 100% liberal or 100% conservative. Normal people are mutts, conservative about some things, liberal about some, and middle of the road about the rest.

Given how messed up politics is at the moment, not too many among us can feel good about calling ourselves Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. We deserve better and need something new. We can start by coming up with a political vocabulary suitable to our times.