What’s in a Name?

Glenn Reynolds is a self-described libertarian but is apparently usually called a “conservative” in the press.

If you support gay marriage, drug legalization, and legal abortion — but you also support the war — then you’re a “conservative,” I guess.

Paul Boutin chimes in

Actually, Glenn, just being pro-business will do. Especially in San Francisco, as Gavin Newsom can attest.

I’m not sure what Love Boat has to do with anything, but fine.

Kevin Drum argues,

On the other hand, he has loud and extremely strident conservative positions on the war and on gun control, and these get far more attention on his blog than anything else.


On the actual issues, then, his views are mixed. But on the evidence of what he actually spends his time blogging about, he’s conservative. Does that make it fair to label him a conservative?

I’m not sure, but I think I’d argue that it does. Politics is all about emphasis, and even if you have ten liberal views and ten conservative ones, if you spend 90% of your time talking about the conservative issues it’s reasonable to conclude that the conservative stuff is also 90% of what you really care about. So until we get better labels — not likely anytime in the near future — he’s a conservative whether he likes it or not. A bit unfair, perhaps, but part of the normal sloppiness of public life.

As I joke in Kevin’s comment section, Of course, by that logic, Andrew Sullivan is a lefty since 90% of his writing is on the virtues of gay marriage.*

The fact of the matter, though, is that we’ve been conditioned–by the press, the politicians, and pretty much everywhere politics are talked about in the U.S.–to divide all views into “conservative” or “liberal,” regardless of the incredible scope of views people with both those labels possess. Fighting against that oversimplification strikes me as reasonable enough, if likely ultimately futile.

An interesting analogue to this is brought up in the comments section, too: race. Pretty much everyone in the media refers to Tiger Woods as “black” or “African American” even though he is entirely Asian on his mother’s side and decidedly mixed on his father’s. If he’s any one thing, it’s Asian-American. But no one outside of Asia thinks of him that way, because we’ve been trained to think of race mainly as “black” and “white.”

*And, yes, I exaggerate by orders of magnitude the actual percentage. It amuses me to do so.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    I think Tiger called himself Caublanasian.

  2. Ian S. says:

    I don’t even think you exaggerate that much. One of the reasons I don’t frequently read Andrew Sullivan anymore (in spite of his undisputed status as a top-notch thinker and writer) is that he aggressively applies “the gay angle” to every single thing he writes about. I understand, seek out, and appreciate that perspective on things it applies to but seeing almost everything through that lens eventually gets tiresome. Before she went batshit, Camille Paglia did a terrific job writing about social issues as a lesbian without letting that fact overwhelm things.