Too often, we use a version of shorthand to declare that Republicans are conservative, and Democrats are liberal. This seems to be totally at odds with our present day politics. Conservatives are bent on the preservation of the status quo, (See the Tories in Merry Olde England) and liberals are for the empowerment of the individual and human rights for all.
Using Social Security as an example, the Democrats seem bent on preserving the status quo even while they admit there is a problem with it in the future. Republicans are trying to change it to allow individuals to decide how to develop their own retirement plans. Therefore, using this example, Democrats are conservative and Republicans are liberal.
Other examples might be the War on Terrorism. Democrats seem to be saying that it was better for Saddam to keep on murdering his people, and for the Taliban to execute women who did not wear the Chador. Republicans, leading the fight for the removal of these atrociouls regimes are advocating democracy. Again, the Democrats appear to be conservative and the Republicans liberal.
In the article linked above, the author makes some really good points, although I think that she may be going overboard on some of them (the role and utility of fiminism for example). The real issue seems to be that the Left has hijacked the term liberal.
If the basic definition of being Left is to believe in a collectivist or statist solution to problems (health care, minimum wage, centralized government control of education, affirmative action etc.), does that not come into conflict with the liberal definition of empowering the individual? As an outside observer, the Left seems to be saying that the individual is basically corrupt, greedy and evil, and it is only the government that can rein in these evil impulses. Yet, isn't the government made up and run by individuals?
Maybe, what the real problem is, is that the current political debates have nothing to do with principles and everything to do with politics.
For instance, think that President Bush was wrong to go to war with Iraq because he did not have the approval of the U.N.? Then to be honest to one's principles, why weren't the Democrats upset by Haiti, Bosnia or Kosevo?
How about the Downing Street memo. Think that Bush lied about the presence of WMDs? In 1998, when Saddam ejected the inspectors, most of the Democratic leadership called on President Clinton to use force on Saddam to remove the weapons that they all thought were there. I suppose, if you are enough of a conspiracy theorist, Bush and his cronies were able to manipulate the intelligence to fool Clinton and the Democrats while he was the governor of Texas.
As the article mentions, "anti-isms" (race, sex, class, etc.), which lends itself to a highly personalized and moralistic version of politics" are used as the battering ram against anyone who is not Left.
So, what is the difference between Left and Right? The best way to test a theory is to take it to its logical extremes. The Left believes in a collectivist, state controlled, suboridination of the individual to the benefit of the whole. (Think Stalinist Russia) The Right believes in the same things (Think Nazi Germany).
It's time for Liberals and Libertarians to offer a real third path that empowers the individual while at the same time holding them responsible for their actions that affect others.
Probably will never happen, since both the Left and the Right rely on unthinking robots, and have enough power to overwhelm the individual who thinks, but it is nice to dream.