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What is a Conservative?

And What is Conservative Bias?


The dictionary definition of conservative is "resistant to change." In any given society, then, the conservative view is one that is based on historical norms.

Dictionary.com defines conservative as:

  • Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

Conservatives in the United State political scene are like any other group: they come in all varieties and they don't think uniformly.

Guest writer Justin Quinn has provided a great overview of political conservatism. In this article he points out that conservative find the following issues most important:

  • Traditional family values and the sanctity of marriage
  • A small, non-invasive government
  • A strong national defense focused on protection and the fight against terrorism
  • A commitment to faith and religion
  • The right to life for every human being
As you may know, the most familiar and influential national party for conservatives in the US is the Republican party.

Reading for Conservative Bias

Using the list of values stated above as a guideline, we can examine how some people might find political bias in a given article or report.

Traditional Family Values and the Sanctity of Marriage

Conservatives put great value in the traditional family unit, and they sanction programs that promote moral behavior. Many who consider themselves to be socially conservative believe that marriage should take place between a man and a woman.

A more liberal thinker would see a conservative bias in a news report that talks about marriage between a man and a woman as the only proper type of union. An opinion piece or magazine article that suggests gay unions are harmful and corrosive to our culture and standing in contrast to traditional family values could be considered conservative in nature.

A Limited Role for the Government

Conservatives generally value individual accomplishment and resent too much government intervention. They do not believe that it is the job of the government to solve the problems of society by imposing intrusive or costly policies, such as affirmative action or mandatory health care programs.

A progressive (liberal) leaning person would consider a piece biased if it suggested that the government unfairly implements social policies as a counter-balance for perceived social injustice.

Fiscal conservatives favor a limited role for government, so they also favor a small budget for the government. They believe that individuals should retain more of their own earnings and pay less to the government. These beliefs have led critics to suggest that fiscal conservatives are selfish and uncaring.

Progressive thinkers believe that taxes are a costly but necessary evil, and they would find bias in an article that is overly critical of taxation.

Strong National Defense

Conservatives advocate a large role for the military in providing security for society. They tend to believe that a large military presence is an essential tool for safeguarding society against acts of terrorism.

Progressives take a different stance: they tend to focus on communication and understanding as a means of safeguarding society. They believe that war is to be avoided as much as possible, and prefer negotiation for safeguarding society, in lieu of amassing armaments and soldiers.

Therefore, a progressive thinker would find a piece of writing or a news report to be leaning conservative if it boasted (excessively) about the strength of the US military and extolled the wartime accomplishments of the military.

Commitment to Faith and Religion

Christian conservatives support laws that promote ethics and morality, based on values founded in a strong Judeo-Christian heritage.

Progressives do not believe that moral and ethical behavior is necessarily derived from Judeo-Christian beliefs, but instead can be determined and discovered by each individual through self-reflection. A progressive thinker would find bias in a report or article that finds things indecent or immoral if that judgment reflected Christian beliefs. Progressives tend to believe that all religions are equal.

A real-life example of this difference in viewpoints exists in the debate about euthanasia, or assisted suicide. Christian conservatives believe that "Thou shalt not kill" is a pretty straightforward statement, and that it is immoral to kill a person to end his or her suffering. A more liberal view, and one that is accepted by some religions (Buddhism, for example), is that people should be able to end their own life or the life of a loved one under some circumstances, especially under extreme conditions of suffering.

Right to Life

Many conservatives, and especially Christian conservatives, express strong feelings about the sanctity of life. They cherish human life and tend to believe that abortion should be illegal because they believe that life begins at conception.

Progressives may take the stance that they also cherish human life, but they hold a different view. Many do not think that life begins at conception, and they would consider a piece of writing to be conservative if it was openly critical of abortion rights or if it stated outright that life begins at conception. They generally support a woman's right to control her body and her destiny.

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