Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Conservatives Understand Liberals. Liberals Don’t Understand Conservatives.

 

As a conservative living in San Francisco, I often struggle with a sense of alienation because while I know and understand the liberal mindset of my neighbors, acquaintances and friends, I don’t perceive them to understand how I think or to care why I hold the beliefs I do. I often encounter gross stereotypes of conservatives — we’re xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, judgmental racist bigots who want the rich to get richer and the sick and poor to go ahead and die already to reduce the surplus population. And that’s not even taking our foreign policy positions into consideration! That one could actually believe all those ugly things about a fellow American who votes for someone like John McCain instead of Barack Obama is mind boggling.

It turns out my perception of how liberals view conservatives isn’t too far off the mark. In his NYT op-ed today, Nicholas Kristof writes that conservatives seem to understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives.

One academic study asked 2,000 Americans to fill out questionnaires about moral questions. In some cases, they were asked to fill them out as they thought a “typical liberal” or a “typical conservative” would respond.

Moderates and conservatives were adept at guessing how liberals would answer questions. Liberals, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal,” were least able to put themselves in the minds of their adversaries and guess how conservatives would answer.

The 2009 UVA study linked above explains its findings by positing that liberals form their basis of morality by considering three values: caring for the weak, fairness, and liberty. Conservatives, on the other hand, have a much more complex system of morality. In addition to caring about all of the things liberals do—while of course understanding fairness and liberty in very different ways—conservatives factor in loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity into their conception of morality. It’s these added dimensions that seem to baffle the Left. From the study:

Liberals see conservatives as being motivated by an opposition to liberals’ core values of compassion and fairness, as well as being motivated by their own (non-moral) values of ingroup loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and spiritual purity. For instance,when conservatives express binding-foundation moral concerns about gay marriage—e.g., that it subverts traditional gender roles and family structures—liberals may have difficulty perceiving any moral value in such traditional arrangements and therefore conclude that conservatives are motivated by simple homophobia, untempered by concerns about fairness, equality, and rights.

This misperception is asymmetrical: conservatives did underestimate liberal moral concerns with the binding foundations, but they were no more likely to underestimate than liberals themselves.

Fascinating findings. But what are we to do with this information?

There are 57 comments.

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  1. Antiphon Inactive

    “Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons!?!”

    • #1
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:10 AM PDT
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  2. SMatthewStolte Member
    SMatthewStolte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I first heard of this here, on bloggingheads several years back. 

    • #2
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:14 AM PDT
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  3. Leslie Watkins Inactive
    Leslie Watkins Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Diane Ellis: My instinct was to see “respect for authority” listed and gag at the choice of words, but the description of this dimension used in the study (and in a new book by Jonathan Haidt, one of the study’s authors) includes things like a reverence toward God and a respect for the military and traditional institutions such as the family and the church. One needn’t be an authoritarian to respect and value authorities bigger than one’s self.

    Perhaps it would have better to use “respect for tradition”; that certainly would apply to me much better than “respect for authority.”

    • #3
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:19 AM PDT
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  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Leslie Watkins: Perhaps it would have better to use “respect for tradition”….

    Personally I love it when I see a liberal with a “Question Authority” bumper sticker. They’re usually the first to roll over for an authoritarian socialist government.

    • #4
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:30 AM PDT
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  5. edwarddentzel.com Inactive

    Having worked in entertainment since 1999, here is what I found to be the big difference between myself–a conservative, and your average, everyday liberals . . . 

    When I was bringing Atlas Shrugged to work to read in like 2002, they were bringing Harry Potter. When I was reading The Fountainhead in 2003, they were reading The DaVinci Code. When I was reading The True Believer by Eric Hoffer in 2004, they were reading Angels and Demons. When I was watching news in the breakroom–even if it was CNN, they were flipping channels to ESPN and Comedy Central. When I told them about studying business and economics at Grove City College, they’d tell me about not going to college but studying dance, art, music, etc.

    Now, generally, none of what they were doing was necessarily bad or stupid. But here’s the kicker . . .

    If anything concerning politics, news, business, philosophy, history came up in a conversation, you’d swear all of them had had theirs noses deep into those categories of books for years! They exposed themselves as being people who already thought they knew everything even though they didn’t take any overt interest in any of it.

    • #5
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:35 AM PDT
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  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Antiphon: “Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons!?!” · 18 minutes ago

    But…prisons and workhouses were government projects. Liberals are in favor of government projects. Therefore, Ebenezer Scrooge was a liberal.

    Those fellows dunning Ebenezer for donations? Every study I’ve ever heard of has found that conservatives donate more than to charities than liberals. Those guys must have been conservatives, one and all.

    • #6
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:42 AM PDT
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  7. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hey now, I’ve ready Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code (the latter for a class at my church), so don’t knock ’em! Of course I’ve also read other things like Atlas Shrugged or The Republic and all that.

    Best summary I’ve ever read: “Conservatives believe they have better ideas; liberals believe they are better people.”

    Unfortunately, that’s why few liberals take time to look at Conservatism. It’s at best ignorant, at worst evil, at least in their view. So rather than discuss ideas, they dismiss motives.

    I’m not sure how to break that barrier. I have family and friends who truly believe I’m a racist merely for objecting to Pres. Obama’s policies. Some of the more open minded among them will at least admit they think I’m a decent guy who doesn’t have the evil prejudices the rest of my coservative cohorts clearly have.

    I haven’t the power or time to correct them on a case-by-case basis, as it is.

    • #7
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:55 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Diego Sun Devil Inactive
    Nathaniel Wright: Ah yes…the eternal Adorno inspired “respect for authority” factor. One can be plenty conservative and have very little respect for authority — let alone have an Authoritarian Mind — after all what is the intent of limited government other than a desire to limit authority?

    The findings on who understands who is interesting, the moral construct less so. · 1 hour ago

    I take “respect for authority” to mean respect of the rules that exist. Liberals tend to think the current set of rules to be wrong/unfair/unjust/etc and are constantly trying to change them to disproportionately help the ‘oppressed’. Conservatives tend to believe that the existing laws tend to be adequate if they are enforced correctly – think illegal immigration or the financial crisis; where lack of enforcement tends to be at the heart of the problem.People who complain about the clearly posted rules after the game has started tend to fall on the liberal side. They just don’t like the concept of losing. Everyone is entitled to a participation trophy, etc, etc,.
    • #8
    • March 23, 2012, at 1:59 AM PDT
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  9. Nyadnar17 Inactive

    Thank you Diane Ellis, Ed. for posting this. I just read the most bizarre Facebook post linking an essay purporting to tell its readers the true motivations that drive the religious right and I just could not believe the bizzarro/insane things that were being attributed as the motivation for social conservatives.It was so out there I began to wonder if my own view about how liberals see the world were similarly deranged. Thank you for the outside confirmation that I am sane.

    In answer to your question: First: Get more liberal friends. No, I am serious. The only way to change a liberal’s mind Conservatives as a whole is to make personal relationships with them. Show them you are a normal person not the weirdo hate-filled alien they are imagining.

    Second: Stop arguing First Principles with liberals. There is no common ground there. Instead explain the practical application of those principles. Thomas Sowell and Richard Epstein are superb at this. A liberal won’t accept that the government has no business giving money to companies like Solyndra, but they will listen to an explanation of how huge influxes of government cash destroys the venture capitalist process.

    • #9
    • March 23, 2012, at 2:00 AM PDT
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  10. Diane Ellis Contributor
    Diane Ellis
    Nyadnar17:

    Second: Stop arguing First Principles with liberals. There is no common ground there. Instead explain the practical application of those principles. Thomas Sowell and Richard Epstein are superb at this. A liberal won’t accept that the government has no business giving money to companies like Solyndra, but they will listen to an explanation of how huge influxes of government cash destroys the venture capitalist process. · 20 minutes ago

    This is a very good suggestion. You’re right that there’s little to no common ground when talking about first principles because we have different ideas of what justice and liberty are, and about how to help the downtrodden. But I’ve noticed that when talking about practical things like simplification of the tax code or an end to market distorting subsidies, liberals (except for the borderline Maoists) can be quite reasonable and open to discussion.

    • #10
    • March 23, 2012, at 2:26 AM PDT
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  11. DutchTex Inactive

    After reading Liberal Fascism for the second time, I’m going to go with the theory that this is actually a serious case of projection:

    “we’re xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, judgmental racist bigots who want the rich to get richer and the sick and poor to go ahead and die already to reduce the surplus population.”

    • #11
    • March 23, 2012, at 2:55 AM PDT
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  12. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Nathaniel Wright: 

    The findings on who understands who is interesting, the moral construct less so. 

    I agree with this. Diane, thanks for posting this; I was planning on doing so myself, but you beat me to it. I first saw this on my college alumnae list serve, which is packed full of liberals, with a few isolated conservatives. I’m going to write and ask them whether they find the conclusion surprising. It seems to me that all of us conservatives know, intuitively, that we understand liberals but they don’t understand us. I wonder whether they feel the same way, and whether they consider it a problem. 

    • #12
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:00 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    Nyadnar17:

    Second: Stop arguing First Principles with liberals. There is no common ground there. Instead explain the practical application of those principles. Thomas Sowell and Richard Epstein are superb at this. A liberal won’t accept that the government has no business giving money to companies like Solyndra, but they will listen to an explanation of how huge influxes of government cash destroys the venture capitalist process. 

    This is averygood suggestion. You’re right that there’s little to no common ground when talking about first principles because we have different ideas of what justice and liberty are, and about how to help the downtrodden. But I’ve noticed that when talking about practical things like simplification of the tax code or an end to market distorting subsidies, liberals (except for the borderline Maoists) can be quite reasonable and open to discussion. 

    I am not convinced that this will work. I’ve had conversations with liberals who were going on and on about how dreadful lobbyists and the USCIS and all kinds of government programs were; their solution was more and better regulation. 

    • #13
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:02 AM PDT
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  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ve found that the best response to liberals is to repeat their views back to them in the simplest possible terms. Make them face the blatant absurdity of their own claims.

    “Yes, I hate poor people. If only we could send them all to jail so we could forget about them!”

    “Do I support the war? Yes, I love a good slaughter, especially of brown people! And think of all that oil!”

    From Steyn’s latest on Santorum:

    Seeking respite from the disappointments of the Republican-primary season, I have been in Australia — where, upon every TV or radio appearance, I get asked about the Republican-primary season. News does not travel well; it gets winnowed to its essence. Rick Santorum is a crazed, stern-faced theocrat who wishes to impose a Christian version of sharia law on America and round up gays and single mothers. “That’s certainly why I’m supporting him,” I say.

    Answers are easily dismissed. Leave them with questions instead.

    • #14
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:24 AM PDT
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  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    DutchTex: After reading Liberal Fascism for the second time, I’m going to go with the theory that this is actually a serious case of projection

    Agreed. Liberals are guilty of everything they accuse conservatives of being.

    • #15
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:26 AM PDT
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  16. Nathaniel Wright Member
    Nathaniel Wright Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Personally, I think that First Principles is the only way to address these arguments. We too often talk about moral ends and not enough about how we construct the moral judgments by which we come to our moral conclusions.

    Plato was genius at this. Arguing the abortion issue from first principles is to look at the issues at hand and not at policy outcomes, or even social outcomes. The same with food stamps, medicare, social security, the Affordable Care Act.

    If one thinks First Principles are saying, “economic incentives promote a better and freer society than government largesse” one is wrong. 

    First Principles address what Justice “is” and that is a question too rarely discussed. Not “what is just” in the particular, rather “what is Justice” in the general.

    We too rarely talk in big ideas, and too often get caught in the granular particulars. They are important particulars, to be sure, but we must also question underlying assumptions.

    • #16
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:41 AM PDT
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  17. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    Nyadnar17:

    Second: Stop arguing First Principles with liberals. There is no common ground there. Instead explain the practical application of those principles. Thomas Sowell and Richard Epstein are superb at this. A liberal won’t accept that the government has no business giving money to companies like Solyndra, but they will listen to an explanation of how huge influxes of government cash destroys the venture capitalist process. · 20 minutes ago

    This is a verygood suggestion. You’re right that there’s little to no common ground when talking about first principles because we have different ideas of what justice and liberty are, and about how to help the downtrodden. But I’ve noticed that when talking about practical things like simplification of the tax code or an end to market distorting subsidies, liberals (except for the borderline Maoists) can be quite reasonable and open to discussion. · 1 hour ago

    I’m actually in agreement here. With some of my liberal friends, they’ll post some latest annoyance from the government, and I’ll chime in about government in our lives and get agreement. I don’t use party affiliation or First Principles, just common sense.

    • #17
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:47 AM PDT
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  18. Diane Ellis Contributor
    Diane Ellis
    Nathaniel Wright: Personally, I think that First Principles is the only way to address these arguments. We too often talk about moral ends and not enough about how we construct the moral judgments by which we come to our moral conclusions.

    The latest Gallup poll from Jan, 2012 has 40% of Americans describing themselves as conservative, 21% as liberal, and the rest are moderates or unsure. I think you can use first principles to address arguments with most of the 79% who aren’t liberal, but in my experience, talking about the origin of rights or the sanctity of life is a very foreign concept to many liberals.

    • #18
    • March 23, 2012, at 3:54 AM PDT
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  19. Daniel Perez Inactive
    DutchTex: After reading Liberal Fascism for the second time, I’m going to go with the theory that this is actually a serious case of projection.

    Thank you for saying this! It is just what I was thinking.

    This is the root of the problem in my opinion.

    Maybe I am not saying anything new but.. In this mentality, one does not understand that someone else can think differently. The only option to understand a disagreement with another person would be to project one’s own faults and behavior onto that particular person..

    • #19
    • March 23, 2012, at 4:06 AM PDT
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  20. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    One of the people on my list serve pointed me to the website of the man whose work is mentioned in the article, Jonathan Haidt. You can go to his and take lots of quizzes and tests about your morals and values. Should we all go and flood it with lots of intelligent conservative responses? 

    • #20
    • March 23, 2012, at 4:10 AM PDT
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  21. Daniel Perez Inactive

    Actually, now that I think about it… Bill Whittle was on right on the money about this topic, where, actually, we kinda suck. It’s somewhat of a very condensed version of Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions.

    It really defines the issue here, and really hits home on why liberals don’t like us.

    • #21
    • March 23, 2012, at 4:23 AM PDT
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  22. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    So I polled my alumnae listserve about their reactions to the idea that conservatives understand them but they don’t understand us. Any guesses as to how they felt about the statement?

    The reaction was flat disbelief. They needed to examine the study methodology. Surely the conclusions were more nuanced than that. It would certainly depend on who was polled. It might be true in general, but it didn’t apply to them personally, because of who their friends were, or because they had lived in the South, etc. Not one taker.

    Anyone surprised?

    • #22
    • March 23, 2012, at 5:26 AM PDT
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  23. Daniel Perez Inactive
    Don Tillman
    Aaron Miller
    DutchTex: After reading Liberal Fascism for the second time, I’m going to go with the theory that this is actually a serious case of projection

    Agreed. Liberals are guilty of everything they accuse conservatives of being. · 8 hours ago

    I’ll claim it’s “Strategic Projection”.

    Ie., intentional. And a remarkably effective offensive strategy.

    Yes, remarkable it is.. Even when they lose, they win.

    I´m not so sure if it is intentional though. I find it to be more of a reflex, something you would expect from a teenager or a child for example.

    Although, I may be wrong.

    • #23
    • March 23, 2012, at 5:38 AM PDT
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  24. Daniel Perez Inactive
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    Daniel Perez: Actually, now that I think about it… Bill Whittle was on right on the money about this topic, where, actually, we kinda suck. It’s somewhat of a very condensed version of Sowell’sA Conflict of Visions.

    It really defines the issue here, and really hits home on why liberals don’t like us. · 2 hours ago

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing. · 11 hours ago

    It was my pleasure.

    • #24
    • March 23, 2012, at 5:40 AM PDT
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  25. Profile Photo Member
    EJHill
    Leslie Watkins: Perhaps it would have better to use “respect for tradition”….

    Personally I love it when I see a liberal with a “Question Authority” bumper sticker. They’re usually the first to roll over for an authoritarian socialist government. · 4 hours ago

    Edited 4 hours ago

    I always wish I could engage that person and say, “I don’t think you have the right to put that on your bumper. I question your authority.” As Rush would say, illustrating absurdity by being absurd.
    • #25
    • March 23, 2012, at 5:41 AM PDT
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  26. Profile Photo Member

    Practical application from my own experience: At one point I, a conservative, Christian, White, male (aka “scum of the earth”) worked at the University of California for a liberal, Black, woman. (We developed a wonderful working relationship and she literally protected me.) One of my tasks was reporting analyses of comparative admission and performance by ethnicity. You can imagine the potential for stress and disagreement.

    At one point she made a comment to the effect that, “Conservatives want to see Black males fail in order to prove they are unworthy.” I politely told her that most of the people I knew and associated with were conservative, and that I didn’t know anyone how wanted to see Black males — or anyone else — fail. That conservatives wanted the same thing she wanted: To see minority students succeed and prosper, but that we thought there was a better way to accomplish that. I pointed out that the only thing a person can really take pride in is that which they accomplish on their own merits. It opened the door to a long-term, lasting conversation. And it was the beginning point in a more accurate assessment of conservatives on her part.

    • #26
    • March 23, 2012, at 5:53 AM PDT
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  27. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    This is averygood suggestion. You’re right that there’s little to no common ground when talking about first principles because we have different ideas of what justice and liberty are, and about how to help the downtrodden. But I’ve noticed that when talking about practical things like simplification of the tax code or an end to market distorting subsidies, liberals (except for the borderline Maoists) can be quite reasonable and open to discussion. ·

    I was listening to the last conservative Swedish employment minister last week, and he was asked what his personal definition of fairness was, as he had said Sweden had a lot of it. He said the best example was the lack of a minimum wage, so the government didn’t force anyone out of a job, no matter how low their productivity. There are wonderful lines like that that simply don’t make sense to enough people.

    • #27
    • March 23, 2012, at 6:02 AM PDT
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  28. Profile Photo Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    Nathaniel Wright: Personally, I think that First Principles is the only way to address these arguments. We too often talk about moral ends and not enough about how we construct the moral judgments by which we come to our moral conclusions.

    The latest Gallup poll from Jan, 2012 has 40% of Americans describing themselves as conservative, 21% as liberal, and the rest are moderates or unsure. I think you can use first principles to address arguments with most of the 79% who aren’t liberal, but in my experience, talking about the origin of rights or the sanctity of life is a very foreign concept to many liberals. · 2 hours ago

    One need only go here to see that even on Ricochet there is an immense gulf between people’s ability to understand the origins of moral concepts. I’m not sure it is a “liberal” thing; I think it may be a “relativistic” thing. 

    All liberals are relativists, but not all relativists are liberals.

    • #28
    • March 23, 2012, at 6:07 AM PDT
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  29. Diane Ellis Contributor
    Diane Ellis
    Daniel Perez: Actually, now that I think about it… Bill Whittle was on right on the money about this topic, where, actually, we kinda suck. It’s somewhat of a very condensed version of Sowell’sA Conflict of Visions.

    It really defines the issue here, and really hits home on why liberals don’t like us. · 2 hours ago

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.

    • #29
    • March 23, 2012, at 6:37 AM PDT
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  30. Profile Photo Member

    Please correct me if I incorrectly paraphrase a part of “Road to Serfdom”, but it seems to me that Hayek might re-phrase this debate: The original “Liberal” of the 19th Century, who believed in individual liberty as the highest value and ended Slavery in the British empire and then in the US, may be a subset of the modern “Conservative.”

    Unfortunately as he described it, in the 20th Century, the Socialist movement “invaded” the Liberal movement, then dropped the “Socialist” moniker (perhaps because of coincidental association with certain German, Soviet, and Chinese movements from that era.)

    So… instead of comparing “Liberals” to “Conservatives”, we should call today’s “Liberals” by what they really are: “Socialists.”

    Nancy Pelosi isn’t a “Liberal Democrat”: she’s a “Socialist Democrat”. Let’s start calling her that!

    If the West continues to lose its way, historians may find the apogee of the original, worldwide Liberal movement to have been the period between the US Civil War and WWI / Lenin’s Revolution. With a few notable exceptions, the general worldwide trend over the last 100 years has been away from individual liberty and responsibility and a return to state-led serfdom.

    • #30
    • March 23, 2012, at 6:55 AM PDT
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