Conservatives and Liberals in American Politics


There are two basic philosophical tenets in American politics – conservatism and liberalism. These are comparable to the Republican and Democratic parties. Political parties tend to adhere to one of these two philosophical systems, reflected by the party platform. Third parties, like libertarianism, have yet to be viable competitors in modern times. Although the 2010 Congressional election was largely driven by a ‘right wing’ popular movement dubbed the “Tea Party.”


Liberalism is characterized by a more optimistic, innovative, and progressive set of values and attitudes. Extreme liberalism favors social reform, activist government, concern for human rights, and tolerance for a broad number of different viewpoints.

Liberalism (embraced by the current Democratic Party) is founded on Marx’s dialectical materialism. The party advocates personal rights such as free speech and freedom of association, but in the past few decades the democratic majority has voted against these freedoms.[1] The party embraces secularism. Liberals are for a separation of church and state. Liberals are also for redistributing wealth – heavily taxing the rich and giving to the poor. They want to expand government and social services. This ultimately means more taxation for all Americans. Liberals are not anti-business but they are inclined to impose regulations to control business practices. The broad sweep of liberalism places responsibility more in the hands of society (and hence under the control and guidance of government) than that of individuals. Criminals, therefore, need to be helped through education and counseling because “society” somehow failed them. Guns are viewed as evil, because they allow people to commit evil. Strict gun control and, even, confiscation are part of their social engineering program. Liberals are more inclined toward abortion. They are also more likely to favor homosexuality and same sex unions.


Conservatism is broadly defined as an attitude of resistance to change. A cautious and somewhat “hands off” approach is taken to traditional and conventional forms of institutions and social behavior. The extreme conservative includes religious dogmatism or fundamentalism, right-wing political stands, militarism, intolerance of minority groups, authoritarianism, hard punishment, anti-hedonism, conformity, conventionality, and suspicion of scientific progress.

Conservatives agree on individual responsibility; improper social behavior is, therefore, punishable without the state having to pay for the criminal’s rehabilitation. Conservatives support big business and individual wealth accumulation. They favor self-defense and gun issues. Most conservatives have a strong Christian heritage that protects fetal rights. The Republican Party is the conservative wing of our dual political system. They are bound by religion, capitalism, and militarism.

We might question why people prefer one party line to another. Do conservatives come from authoritarian households? Are liberals the product of tolerant and broadminded parents? Or are people genetically prone to one philosophy over another? Some researchers suggest that people who are anxiety prone, and who have feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and low self-esteem tend to be conservative. This would imply that conservatives would dislike and avoid novelty, spontaneity, risk, disorder, social chaos, and unnecessary experimentation. Whatever the answer may be, it is apparent that these two broad categories of thought exist in every nation and culture.

Another take on the differences between liberal and conservative thinkers involves personality traits and specific brain structures. A study done at the University College of London and published in Current Biology found that liberals have more gray matter in a part of the brain associated with understanding complexity, while conservatives have bigger brains in the section related to fear. Liberals typically have larger anterior cingulate cortexes associated with tolerance to uncertainty. Conservatives have more gray matter volume in the right amygdala, an area that governs sensitivity to fear. This finding helps to clarify why these two philosophical groups think and communicate in such different ways.

Liberals with larger anterior cingulate cortexes have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts than do conservatives; this leads to more progressiveness. Liberals are, therefore, more tolerant of new social behaviors and agendas, immigrants, and cultural differences. They are permissive in their approach to governing. Conservatives with a large amygdala are more sensitive to disgust and tend to respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals. Conservatives are, for instance, more sensitive to threatening facial expressions than liberals. This accounts for why they favor relatively safe and conventional policies, traditionalism, and more social conformity.

Brain makeup does not necessarily force a person to think a certain way. It rather predisposes one to do so because a person’s political views can change their physiological traits over time. In a nutshell, then, conservatives wish to avoid self-harm, while liberals want to avoid collective group harm. The conservative is individually minded and the liberal is collectively minded. The first values individual initiative and personal freedom. The second values group initiative and collective cohesion.

Martin Armstrong wrote a special report for Investment Cycles (January 1995) entitled, “Cycles in American Politics.” In his study he found that Americans prefer small government rather than big government. Thirty-one presidents were elected on a platform of smaller government, and/or lower taxation. This compares with only 21 that backed a bigger role for government. Most Americans do not want a socialized state, although the federal government has continued to grow substantially since the wartime victory by the Lincoln Republican Party over the Secessionist States of the Southern Confederacy. It has become somewhat hard to tell the difference between the two main parties since they so often follow a similar pattern of policies once their representatives are elected. Both parties have since the 1960’s allowed the federal government to grow larger, the national debt to bloat, and imposed more regulations on social conduct. Taxation and government oversight in many private matters continues to increase. In the past, as well as today with the War on Terrorism, war and national economic crises have been the triggers for a growth in government, and not an overt drive for socialism per se.

Distinct differences exist between the parties, but in the final analysis, certain fundamental policies have remained in place. This suggests that something (someone) is behind the broad political arena calling the shots. Corporate executives, wealthy entrepreneurs, and rich elites lead the list of influence makers in the United States. Behind the elected officials is a broad array of relatively permanent government employees that either carry out the orders of elected officials or have a vested interest in maintaining certain core policies – such as the military might, or NASA, the EPA and other agencies. Administrations change with their agendas but certain doctrines, believed to be vital to the welfare of the nation, persist in spite of the official party line. This suggests that there are powerful individuals behind the scenes helping or hindering candidates of their choice. Conspiracy is not the word for such a reality. It is, in fact, a product of our evolving democratic system.

The revolutionist spirit of individualism, however, is still alive and well today in most Americans, despite the fact that large social welfare programs exist. Americans dislike big government, but polls show overwhelming support for large entitlement programs that increase domestic spending. This, in turn, demands a larger bureaucracy to run the massive aid programs. By the mid 1990s 61% to 24% of Americans trusted state government to do a better job of running basic programs than the federal government.[2] In spite of this the Federal Register of national laws grew from 5,307 pages of rules and regulations in 1940 to 68,101 pages in 1995. The polls in 2010 reflect an even greater disgust and distrust of government by either party; hence, the rise of the “Tea Party Movement.” According to the Gallup poll, just 26% of Americans leading up the 2010-midterm elections are satisfied with the state of the nation. A Huffington Post poll states that 56% of citizens trust the government, while 43% trust corporations to run the show. The battle between the ideological parties remains the same, while the federal government grows increasingly larger and stronger. The 2010 election was a watershed moment that gave the Republicans control of the House. This stymied the Obama Democratic Party stampede that ushered in huge deficits with grand policies like the Affordable Healthcare Act (“Obamacare”) and a massive financial bailout of the banking, investment, and auto industries in the wake of the corrupt real-estate transactions that resulted in the Great Recession of 2007. The 2012 election is so divisive, vitriolic, and important that record turnout of voters is likely. Transiting Uranus crossed the western horizon, the Descendant, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence horoscope in 2010. This indicates rebellion, change, new ideas, freedom, and independence by people opposed to the status quo. This cycle will not return for another 84 years. This election season will be a spicy one of mixed and uncertain change.

Throughout American history it has been difficult at times to label emerging parties as either conservative or liberal. The table of the U.S. Congress was taken from data supplied by John B. Bradshaw in an article for Cycles Magazine (May/June 1994, Foundation for the Study of Cycles). Mr. Bradshaw carefully weighed difficult periods in history to determine if the parties involved were more conservative or liberal in their approach to issues. The political philosophies of parties tend to change over time. It is important, then, to determine the substance of the party in order to label it correctly. Doing so, Mr. Bradshaw labeled The Federalist Party conservative. The Democrat-Republican Party he labeled liberal. The Jacksonian Party he viewed as conservative. The Whigs and Unionist Parties were labeled conservative.

Bradshaw’s projections predict that the Democrat control in the House of Representatives is nearing an end. Indeed, his computer model suggests that the Democratic Party was dealt a deathblow with the Clinton administration. This projection proved incorrect since the Democrats dominated Congress in the first half of the Barack Obama Democrat presidency. It turned out correct in that 2010 was a break point in Democrat momentum when the House majority returned to the conservatives and many State legislatures and Senate seats also turned Republican. Bradshaw predicted that by 2020-2032 the Democratic Party might be none existent. Considering the rapid rise and wide appeal of the “Tea Party Movement” in 2010, this possibility remains very much on the table. The conservative backlash to President Obama’s progressive policies, bills, and directives is a strong indication that the 2012 elections will be critical to the stability of the Democratic Party. The ideology of the party, if not the party itself, will remain a part of politics because a significant number of people adhere to this line of thinking. But the 2010 and 2012 elections present a threat to the Democrats and Republicans alike in a third party movement that is leaning from America’s ‘center right’ to far right. Bradshaw projected that up to 20% of the House of Representatives may be independent or third party affiliated before the mid 2020’s.

Another indication of the mood of the nation can be found in young voters. Polls reveal that Generation X is highly conservative. They support, however, the goals of the Libertarian Party and not the Republicans. It appears, then, that a strong third party will soon emerge to bump the Democrats out of existence. This might also happen to the Republicans if this party fails to successfully guide the nation.

The more power the federal government commands, the more oppressive it will tend to be. The founding fathers understood that power in the hands of the few corrupts. Our government was established with this possibility in mind; hence, the role of the federal government was severely limited. Over the years a relative balance existed between the states and the federal government. The Civil War was a great turning in that state’s rights became increasingly subservient to federal authority.

Broadly speaking, the Republican Party stands for limited government, while the Democratic Party favors an expanded federal role. Throughout U.S. history, these two party lines have waxed and waned with one another. At times the Republicans held sway and at other times the Democrats controlled the majority of votes. The Democrats gained power from World War II until the Reagan Revolution. Although the Democrats held the most seats in Congress during the Reagan years, the Republicans started to gain on them from this time forward. President Clinton, although a popular and successful leader, was wanton and reckless in personal, as well as, presidential powers. This brought a shift to the right in American politics.

The Republicans had an opportunity to re-establish a new movement to reduce the size of government during the Bush administration. President Bush, unfortunately, did just the opposite under the guise of war. Federal laws increased, the national debt grew, the War on Terrorism spread, and lax over site of the financial and mortgage industries paved the way for the Great Recession (largely due to a congressional Democratic Party majority). Barack Obama’s extraordinary popularity propelled him into the presidency in 2008. His first two years in office produced one of the most active Congresses in history. The 111th Congress passed a mammoth economic stimulus package, financial sector reform, healthcare reform, and a host of lesser social and government improvement bills. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the progressive bills of the 111th Congress parallel those of the 89th Congress during 1965 and 1966 when the Vietnam War was waging. I have often referred to the ‘War on Terrorism’ as another Vietnam. There are also interesting similarities between the 1930’s depression and the economy during the Great Recession of 2007-?.

President Obama’s progressive agenda and rapid push for hugely expensive social programs caused a vibrant and vitriolic conservative backlash. A third party movement developed called the Tea Party that managed to get 33 candidates running in various state elections. Many of these candidates lacked political experience. But a grass roots movement suddenly emerged that had at its foundation a profound distrust and dissatisfaction with most career politicians. The 2010 election was historic for this reason. Based on the research cited before, I correctly expected strong Republican gains to be made in this critical mid-term election.

House of Representatives 1900-

The blue line indicates conservatives and the crimson line indicates liberals.

The graphs representing the number of conservative and liberal congressmen are informative in several ways. They illustrate psychological paradigm shifts in the mood and general policy directions throughout our history. It first appears that the American public desires conservative representation during times of national duress. There has been a disparity between the House and the Senate in times of crisis, like during World War II when the House was predominately Republican until near the end of the war, and the Senate was decisively Democrat. Mostly, however, the public favors a conservative attitude when the nation is threatened. Conservatives controlled the House between 1775 and 1801 – during the Revolution. They also held a lead between 1825-29, 1839-43 (the era of reform from 1829-50 witnessed the rise of the common man and white male suffrage), 1849 (gold rush and massive settlers to California and other territories complicating the divisive slavery issue), 1859-75 (Civil War and Reconstruction), 1895-1911 (Spanish American War), 1917-31 (World War I and its aftermath), 1947-49 and 1953 (before and after the Korean War), 2002-2006 (9/11 War on Terrorism), and 2010-2016 (upheaval over the Great Recession and President Obama’s massive federal bailout program and healthcare bill, the situation in the Middle East, the war with Jihad terrorists, joblessness and a slow economy took a toll on the Democratic party line). A further reason for the continued erosion of Democratic power in 2016 is the perceived failure of presidential leadership and liberal policies by middle class whites. Hillary Clinton’s transgressions, cover-ups, and corruption – plus the fact that her win would cement Obama’s progressive liberalism across the nation and into the Supreme Court – was simply too much for the working class to swallow.


Blue line represents conservatives and the crimson line liberals

Distribution among Senators is rather different. Conservatives led the government after the Revolution during the nation’s infancy. They led again between 1827-29, and 1841-45. Then there was a wild swap from party to party during the tumultuous War Between the States. After the war, presumably because the Republican Party of Lincoln had won, a long period of conservatism ruled the land. It lasted in the Senate from 1865 until 1879. Conservatives took the Senate again in 1881-1893, but the 1893 recession dethroned them until 1895-1913. They held sway a long time after World War I, during the Roaring Twenties of Prohibition and gangsters – 1919-1931. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s immense influence during one of the most momentous times in American history has allowed the Democratic Party to run the Senate almost universally since.

The fact that the party of the liberals has controlled Congress since the Great Depression is an amazing footnote in history. But conservatives have been gaining in both sections of the Congress since 2000. Ronald Reagan arguably initiated this shift in the early 1980s. But it took twenty years for the Republicans to par with the Democrats. The 2004 election was, therefore, an important one. It allowed the Republicans to gain a substantial lead in both houses of Congress. Barack Obama’s unique campaign and rapid rise to power, however, turned the table on conservatives. The table abruptly turned again in 2014 when Republicans gained a majority during the protracted terrorist war, the rise of ISIS in Syria and their establishment of a caliphate in Iraq; added to this was a stagnant economy, and according to the conservative viewpoint, the failed policies and leadership of Barrack Obama. Two more years did not make the situation any better. The Democrats lost the election to Donald Trump in 2016 in a stunning and shocking manner. Not only did the Republicans win the White House, they also strengthened their hold in the Senate and took control of the House – and the majority of governorships! No party has controlled all three wings of government since 1928 when the Democrats reigned supreme. Now it is the Republicans – and conservatism – that will rule the land.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump and a Republican majority in both the House and Senate is a truly transitional moment in history. The “cycle of crisis” once again flipped the political scale in favor of the party deemed by the electorate (the people) to best serve the pressing needs of the nation.

[1] The McCain-Feinstein Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2004 for example.

[2] Princeton Survey Associates, December 1995 poll of 1,514 Americans.

3 Responses so far.

  1. Thanks for the excellent article Bill! I especially liked seeing the graphs of the US House and Senate over time, and how the country has continually cycled between liberals and conservatives throughout our history. After eight years of a liberal Obama administration, we are now swinging the other way to the conservative Trump administration. But certainly some time soon, we will swing back the other way toward liberalism, it’s just a question of time.

  2. Missy says:

    One thing to think about too is that people become conservative as they get older and after they have children. By the time people hit midlife many of their liberal visions of what they wanted the world to be were struck down by how the world really works. This is probably how a conservative is born for a large swath of the population.

    • Bill Hansen says:

      Thank you for your interest in my work and your insightful comments. I agree that people tend to conservatism as they get older – reality sets in along with wisdom and carefulness. I am not to familiar with Vedic but I do use the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th harmonic aspects so I am familiar with harmonic charts like those used in Vedic astrology. Are you a wise young soul or in your conservative older years? Ha.