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Understanding Liberalism and Conservatism

with Dr. David Tubbs | May 16, 2008

Are you a conservative or a liberal? Do you know? Do you care? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with author David Tubbs, an assistant professor of politics at King’s College, about the differences between liberalism and conservatism.

Are you a conservative or a liberal? Do you know? Do you care? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with author David Tubbs, an assistant professor of politics at King’s College, about the differences between liberalism and conservatism.

Understanding Liberalism and Conservatism

With Dr. David Tubbs
|
May 16, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

David:  The justification has been this is fundamental to the dignity of adults, and my view is when judges have been declaring these new rights, they have been ignoring the other social interests, including many important social interests relating to the welfare of children.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 16th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  How do we balance our personal liberties and freedoms with the need to care for the more helpless members of our society?  We'll talk about that with Professor David Tubbs today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I wonder how many of our listeners – you know, this is the era of polling.  I wonder how many of our listeners would say, "I'm a conservative," "I'm an independent," or "I'm a liberal."  I'm just curious how many folks who tune in regularly to FamilyLife Today, because we talk about issues related to building a stronger marriage, raising your children, these are not conservative or liberal issues, per se.  Everybody is concerned about their marriage and their family, right?

Dennis: They cut across life.  In fact, we've gone out of our way over the years to make sure we're not pigeonholed as a right-wing organization that's just known by what we're against.

Bob: Yeah, at the same time, we think the Bible teaches thing about how we are to interact in a social relationship, and that gets into politics a little bit.

Dennis: And, Bob, I want to say something at the beginning of the broadcast.  I really don't like all the labels that are thrown around today because I'm not even sure what a lot of them mean, but liberal, independent, conservative, you know, right-wing, left-wing, center-wing, I mean, all the wings we have got.

Bob: Chicken wing, that's my favorite.

[laughter]

Dennis: You know, I really do want to …

Bob: Hot wings, I like the hot wings.

Dennis: I know you like those.

[laughter]

As long as they have a little …

Bob: A little Cajun spice on them.

Dennis: Yeah, a little Cajun spice but also some chunky bleu cheese dressing, that's also tasty with those.

Anyway, I really am more concerned that our listeners think biblically, not necessarily around labels but that they know how to think, to reason from what the Bible teaches around issues of life.  That's why we're here every day and why we're trying to give singles courage to stand firm in a culture that is not friendly to them, husbands and wives making their marriage go the distance in a cultural of divorce, and parents are raising kids; help them think biblically to equip children and have character in place to withstand the temptations they're going to have to endure.

What I want our listeners to know is we're really trying to respect what they think and what they believe and equip them with the biblical tools to know how to make a wise choice.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: Okay?  And I want a minister on both sides or all three sides of the aisle, however many aisles you've got, however many parties there are, you with me?  You've not heard me identify myself as – okay?  And that's on purpose because I want to take Jesus Christ to every person across this nation, and that's really my desire, and I want them all to be able to listen as we thoughtfully and reasonably discuss issues that are tough, and talking about an ideology in this culture today is tough.

Bob: It is tough.

Dennis: But we brought in Dr. David Tubbs, who is the assistant professor of politics at the King's College in New York City to be able to help us to do that, and he has written a book called "Freedom's Orphans, Contemporary Liberalism and the Fate of American Children," and, David, I want to welcome you to the broadcast and now – let's just kick this off and move it right down to the nitty-gritty at the start, all right, shall we?

David: Yes, mm-hm.

Dennis: I said I don't like labels.

David: Yes.

Dennis: But we do have labels in this culture.  Would you do your best to define what it means to be a liberal and a conservative?

David: I would say today that a liberal, in my judgment, an American liberal in the contemporary sense of that word is somebody who is very strongly committed to individual rights, especially for adults.

Bob: So you're saying that a contemporary liberal, his highest value, the thing he cares about most, is the freedom – and I don't want to be pejorative here, but the freedom for self-indulgence; the freedom to do what I want to do?

David: Yes, and if I can make one further distinction here, and it's because it's useful for your audience, I think, to think about, "Well, what is the difference between a conservative and a liberal and what is a Libertarian?  Where does a Libertarian stand in relation to a conservative and a liberal?

A liberal is, in my judgment, largely concerned with adults having as many non-economic freedoms as possible, okay?  Liberals want to say that a whole host of what are sometimes called "lifestyle" freedoms are more important than any economic freedom, and that these lifestyle freedoms really deserve special protection in the United States today.

Dennis: Such as?

David: What might be called, according to many liberals, the freedom of intimate association, okay, now this is an idea that a lot of liberals have taken from the Supreme Court, and that is consenting adults should be pretty much free to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes.  I mean, we're all familiar with this idea, it's the basis, in part, for other ideas such as the right that some people are asserting for homosexuals to marry, okay?  Sometimes called the "freedom of intimate association."  There is actually a famous article written by a scholar published in the Yale Law Journal in 1980 with that title.  Liberals today are concerned especially with those non-economic freedoms often called "lifestyle freedoms."

The conservative is somebody who wants to say, "freedoms are important but the most important freedoms are those that we find listed in the Constitution, and judges should not be trying to, by themselves, invent new freedoms, new rights.  That's proper for legislatures to do.  If a legislator or legislature, collectively, wants to create an immunity against some government policy saying, for instance, there will be privacy with respect to certain financial information of citizens or, say, medical records of citizens, well, that's legitimate for a legislature to do that.  It's not ordinarily something that judges should be doing.

Bob: Now, in the case of something like abortion, where someone might say, "Well, then, if a legislature legislates the right to an abortion, a conservative would say, "Well, that's okay."  Not necessarily, because abortion deals with another fundamental right that's on the table at the same time, right?

David: Excellent question, Bob.  The conservative here is going to say, "You have to distinguish the Constitutional question from the policy question.  So the conservative would say, "There are a whole bunch of matters that should not be decided by judges; that, as a Constitutional matter should be left to legislatures to decide," and then the conservative would say, "It's an open question on many of these matters what the correct policy should be."

So, for instance, the conservative would say, "Massachusetts state supreme court was wrong in declaring a right to same-sex marriage in that state."  The conservative would say, "This was properly something that the legislature should have decided."  The conservative is not then obliged to say, "Well, I favor same-sex marriage."  The conservative would say, "I, as an individual conservative, have my views, and this is what democracy is all about – people with different views debate, discuss, analyze, and then they vote."  That's what the conservative would say.  "Let's leave it to democratic assemblies where we have a full airing of the views among representatives.

Bob: You brought up Libertarians, do you want to throw them into the mix and say where they are on all of this, too?

David:  Yes, Libertarians, I think, are broadly interested in personal freedom.  They go beyond the liberals in saying they want to protect both lifestyle freedoms and economic freedoms.  The liberal today says it's okay for government to take a percentage of a person's income and redistribute it.  The Libertarian wants to minimize that as much as possible.

I see, unsurprisingly, some similarities between liberals and Libertarians about – I see some agreement about the issues that concern me most in my book; that is, liberals and Libertarians are quite likely to say, "Yes, adult rights are very important, especially lifestyle freedoms."  I can imagine Libertarians saying, "I'm just as much for lifestyle freedoms as liberals are."

Dennis: And so you've written this book called "Freedom's Orphans," which you are saying that as a result of ideology today and contemporary thought, that children are being taken advantage of on the basis of adult rights.

David: Yes, the justification that has been offered for many of the most controversial rights in the last 40 or 50 years, the justification has been this is fundamental to the dignity of adults.  Adults really deserve these freedoms as a constitutional matter.  And my view is when judges have been declaring these new rights, they have been ignoring the other social interests including many important social interest relating to the welfare of children.

So, for instance, parents today often ask themselves, "Why is it that children see so much violence on television, why is it they see so much violence in the cinema?"  Well, the answer is, in large part, because of this preoccupation with adult rights.  Now, there have not been a lot of Supreme Court decisions involving the constitutional right to make violent movies or violent television, but there was one very important decision in the 1940s, and you could say this blazed a trail, and now parents have to contend with this, and it's regrettable because when that Supreme Court decision was reached in the late 1940s, there was some very strong dissenting opinion saying this is going to create all kinds of problems.  It's making violence look seductive.

Bob: So as you address your concerns about contemporary liberalism, especially in this book, your primary concern is with how that is being expressed through the judicial system in America.  You want contemporary liberals to be on the political landscape with everybody else on an equal footing, but you're saying the judicial system has stepped beyond that?

David: Yes, I want to say that in different cases, the judicial system, the Supreme Court of the United States, some state supreme courts have expanded adult rights unjustifiably, and this is not an easy thing to do to look at some of these decisions and to say, "Where did this court go wrong?  Where did these judges or these Supreme Court justices go wrong?  That's what the book is largely about in the second half.  I am trying to look closely at some of the leading decisions in which adult rights were expanded to demonstrate to my readers that there were other important things here that the Court ignored, and many of those important things have to do with the welfare of children, of protecting children from harmful influences.

It's one thing to say, "Well, I just think adults should have that kind of freedom," but in our system of government, historically, these matters were decided by democratic assemblies because, traditionally, people realized that it wasn't just a matter of adult freedom, and this refrain we hear so often, "In the privacy of one's own home."  Well, first half of the 20th century, 19th century, people knew that this wasn't an entirely persuasive justification for extending these freedoms; that things that were going on in the home, quite likely, would sooner or later have consequences outside the home.

Bob: They seep out into the atmosphere, don't they?

David: That's right, that's right.

Dennis: Well, let's talk about one of those consequences that has seeped out.  It's one of my favorite quotes by the author of "The Divorce Culture", Barbara Defoe Whitehead, I think you are familiar with her.  I want to read this quote, because I think it takes us to the core of what you're talking about here.  Whitehead writes, "Americans once believed that responsible adults could manage their marital problems more easily than vulnerable kids could manage the problems raised by life after divorce.  Nowadays," she writes, "we are so eager to embrace adult rights and their freedom to choose, that we pretend it's the adults that are the ones who are emotionally fragile in need of divorce."

She goes on and says, "And the children are portrayed as emotionally resilient.  They'll get over it.  Experts are now encouraging children to be more patient and understanding of their parents."

David: That's right, and then there's a related problem here, Dennis, and that is look at the problem of single-parent family homes – 36 percent, 37 percent of the children being born in the United States today are being born into single-parent family homes.  Now, why is this an issue that concerns American citizens?  Quite simply, at this point, there is just no debate that children growing up in single-parent family homes have diminished life prospects.  You compare those children, as a group, with children growing up in stable, two-parent family homes, the kids in the stable two-parent family homes, while not all of them are perfect, they have a lot more advantages going through life.  They have a lot more advantages while they're growing up, and there is even evidence that says they're going to have a lot more advantages into adulthood.

Bob: Now, what you just said is hard for a single-parent mom who is listening right now to here, you know that?

David: That's fair enough and, look, I don't, in any sense – just the opposite – I want to encourage single parents to do the best that they can.  My point here in the book is it's quite likely that many single parents today are victims of developments that they're not even aware about. 

Let me elaborate just a little bit.  This isn't really well known – a lot of people know about Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court's controversial right to privacy, which created this unlisted right to abortion.  It's an unlisted right because there is simply no mention of abortion in the Constitution.  That's the main reason why Roe versus Wade is so controversial.  They call it the right to privacy.  The right actually originated in a case decided eight years before Roe versus Wade called Griswold versus Connecticut.  Griswold versus Connecticut involved the states' authority to regulate contraceptives.  One year before Roe versus Wade, there was another case involving states' authority to regulate contraceptives and then the right to privacy came back to life only about five years ago in this case from Texas, Lawrence versus Texas, in which the Supreme Court said that homosexuals also have a right to privacy to engage in consenting intimate relations at home.

How does this legal doctrine, this very questionable legal doctrine, right to privacy, relate to the problem of single-parent families in the United States?  The answer is if you read these cases from start to finish, you will see the Supreme Court essentially created a new right, no textual foundation in the Constitution, a new right for adults to engage in whatever intimacies they wanted, whether they're married or not, unmarried or not, but there was no discussion whatsoever about the corresponding responsibilities – none whatsoever.  It's just you, the American people, you have this new right, go ahead, use it, exercise it.

Bob: And whatever happens happens.

David: Yes, that's right.  No anticipation of the possible or likely social consequences.  Not even a hint of "Well, this right might have to be circumscribed by some discussion of responsibility," such that, for instance, if a child resulted from intimate relations of two people who weren't married that then there really was an important responsibility that needed to be affirmed by the Supreme Court – nothing like that, nothing like that.

Dennis: And the redefinition of marriage, bring that into the picture at this point …

David: Yes.

Dennis: … and they're not talking about what the consequences are of that.  We're about to enter into an election.  What advice do you have to an individual citizen here in America about voting and, as they go to the poll, to cast their vote this fall?

David: I would say something like the following – and this is taken from my book, and it's a view that I talk openly with my students about.  The problems that describe in my book largely are related to the kinds of people that become judges in the United States.  That is, what kind of people do we want on the judiciary, in the judicial branch of government?  What kind of people do we want on the Supreme Court?  What kind of people do we want in the federal judiciary, state judiciary?  And I'm going to say, without, of course, taking a partisan position, I'm going to say all citizens need to be mindful of the importance of these issues.  There are certain kinds of judges who, I think, are committed to the further expansion of adult rights, lifestyle freedoms, as I've been calling them, and those judges are, at least based on all the research I've done, those judges, for the most part, they're just not interested in competing interest that relate to children's welfare.

So those citizens who are listening and who are thinking about, "Well, what should I be looking for when it comes to voting this November," this is one issue that I think deserves a lot of attention.  The elected official that we're going to be choosing, if that person has the responsibility to nominate people for the judiciary, what kind of person is going to be nominated?  And do we know anything about the candidates' views on a whole host of matters relating to this conflict that I describe in my book – adult rights versus children's welfare?  Can we imagine a particular candidate who is running for office now saying, "Maybe, just maybe, some adult rights should be curtailed in the interest of promoting other important social values including the well being of children?"

Those are questions that I think we should be asking ourselves.

Dennis: And including promoting the well being of the most basic fundamental unit of our nation – marriage.

David: Yes, that's right.

Dennis: I mean, when it really comes down to it, we have to protect and preserve this, and I think the Christian community ought to be those who hold the banner high of what marriage is and what we believe about it, and I think enter into the public discourse and dialog and debate with graciousness, not mean-spirited …

David: Agreed.

Dennis: … not trying to bash one group of people or another but be able to, I think, uphold what the Bible teaches, and I want to thank you, Dr. Tubbs, for your ministry at the King's College.  Thank you for your teaching, for your writings here in this book, and we just appreciate you being with us.

David: My pleasure, Bob, Dennis, thank you very much for having me.

Bob: And there's a guy outside who is saying that your rental for the soap box is up, and he is here to pick it up, but he needs to take it back.

Dennis: Are you kidding?  I didn't even pull it out.

Bob: I don't know, we'll let our listeners decide whether you got up on your soapbox or not.  It's obvious this is something that we feel pretty passionate about, and our listeners may feel passionate as well.  I want to encourage them to get a copy of Dr. Tubbs' book, which we've got on our website at FamilyLife.com.  If you go to our home page, on the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click inside that box, it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about the book.  You can order it online, if you'd like.

There is also a link on our website to a blog that we've created that is called the FamilyLife Culture Watch blog, and it keeps listeners kind of up to date with what's going on related to marriage and family all through the culture.  It helps stimulate biblical thinking on subjects like we've talked about today.  So, again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the box on the right side of the home page that says "Today's Broadcast," get more information about the Culture Watch blog, and order a copy of Dr. Tubbs' book.  You can order that online, if you'd like, at FamilyLife.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have a copy of that book sent to you.

I want to say a quick word of thanks here at the end of the week to those of you who have already contacted us here at FamilyLife this month and made a donation to support our ministry.  Most of you knew, although some of you didn't, when you made your donation, that your donation was going to be doubled on a dollar-for-dollar basis thanks to a special matching gift opportunity that was made available to us earlier this month.  And so it's been exciting to see how, as you've made a $50 or $100 donation, or we've even had some $500 and $1,000 donations this month – it's been exciting to see those donations doubled thanks to the generosity of these folks who gave us this matching gift opportunity.

Now, we are hoping, between now and the end of the month, that we will raise enough funds to take full advantage of this matching gift, and if we're going to get there, we need as many folks as possible to do as much as you can possibly do – go online or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation to FamilyLife Today.  When you donate any amount, that donation is doubled, dollar-for-dollar, and you make it possible for FamilyLife to continue on this station and on other stations all across the country with practical biblical help for your marriage and for your family. 

We don't want to do anything that would encourage you to take money away from giving to your local church.  That needs to be your first priority when it comes to giving, but if you are able to help this month with a donation of any amount, we do hope you'll get in touch with us, again, either online at FamilyLife.com or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. And please pray with us that we will be able to take full advantage of this unique matching gift opportunity.  We appreciate your financial support and your prayer support.

Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we're going to hear from Dr. John McArthur about what the Bible says about our responsibility as parents.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow

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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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