Left, Right, Whatever

Still no computer monitor. Typing on this laptop is hurting my wrists.

Nonetheless, I was startled to read this article on a study that shows many Americans don’t know their left from their right:

The Harris polling agency last week released the results of an interesting study. In a survey of 2,209 adults, they discovered that most Americans only have the vaguest idea of the meaning of two important pairs of words that play crucial roles in the national political discourse: conservative and liberal, and left and right.

Some of the numbers are surprising. According to the survey, 37 percent of Americans think liberals oppose gun control, or else they are not sure if liberals oppose gun control. Likewise, 27 percent of respondents thought a right-winger was someone who supported affirmative action. Furthermore, the survey showed that respondents generally viewed the paired concepts liberals and left-wingers and conservatives and right-wingers as possessing, respectively, generally similar political beliefs – with one caveat. In both cases, respondents were roughly 10 percent more clueless about left-wingers and right-wingers than they were about liberals and conservatives.

But this segment is far more telling of the spin machine:

Respondents were asked to define the labels according to what their positions were on seven “political issues”: abortion rights, gun control, cutting taxes, gay rights, same-sex marriage, affirmative action and moral values. This list of issues is preposterous in itself as a symbolic reflection of the political landscape, but that’s a discussion for another time. To me the most instructive category was “moral values.” According to the survey, 78 percent of respondents believe conservatives support moral values, while only 40 percent said the same about left-wingers. In fact, 29 percent said they believed left-wingers actually opposed moral values.

Our mission to change the social meanings of these political terms is necessary unless we want “moral values” to by synonymous with “torture” and “war.”

Onward leftist soldiers.


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3 comments for “Left, Right, Whatever

  1. March 1, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    A related grumble of mine that is more a reflection of the political realities of the United States than anything else: As someone who came of political age in a different political culture but has observed and now lives in the U.S., I have to say that the tendency of most people in this country, including, much of the time, many liberals to use “liberal” and “left” as synonymous is a bit frustrating to me. In most of the world, I think, it is more obvious that these two terms stand for overlapping but definitely distinct clusters of political analysis. I understand that the language here just reflects the reality, i.e. the fact that the left (in all its social democratic, socialist, communist, and anarchist diversity) is so marginal here that insisting on this distinction can come across as semantic quibbling that has no practical importance. But though I have nothing against folks who identify as “liberal” and have in the past and will in the future be enthusiastic about political collaboration with them, I still can’t quite suppress my irritation when someone uses that word to label me.

  2. jam
    March 2, 2005 at 7:57 am

    putting aside the difficulties of figuring out precisely who “the left” is

    i think more people might regard leftists as having moral values if they weren’t constantly selling each other out, compromising their positions to ameliorate mythical reactionary schlubs from the heartland, & allowing corporate-sponsored rich-white-boy clubs like the Democratic Party to serve as their voice.

    dig it: Howard Dean is not our friend. John Kerry is not our ally. Bill Clinton was not fighting for us…. once the left figures that out they’ll be in a position to offer people in this country a real alternative. y’know, the whole peace-&-justice-for-all thang.

    leftist soldiers, stand your ground!

    (actually the whole “leftist soldiers” thing leaves an uncomfortable maoist aftertaste in my mouth… though i know that’s not whatcha meant)

  3. March 2, 2005 at 11:13 am

    All the researchers need to do is sit-in on some of my sociology classes and listen to the students speak about politics. They have no idea what’s going on, or on what side of the fence they acutally sit.

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