Conservative vs Liberal Views of Social Change: Who’s Right?

The Doctor Weighs In
9 min readNov 3, 2020

By: Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD

Can conservative vs. liberal views be married in order to come up with social policies that benefit society as a whole?

Photo source: iStock

As in other periods in our history, ours is a battleground between two basic views of statecraft: 1) the liberal view of social change for the good of the people and 2) the conservative belief that any “social engineering” is doomed to failure at best and is tyrannical at worst.

Our present-day heated, even venomous arguments, are nothing new. Abraham Lincoln, not a rabid Socialist, had to contend with the reactionary Democratic Party of his time. It was called the “know nothing” party. It was true to its name.

A bit of history

Teddy Roosevelt (TR) fought the big money interests of his time. He also planted the seeds of the progressive movement. His fifth cousin Franklin Delano (FDR) gave us the “New Deal”, a social experiment of profound dimensions. And Lyndon Johnson completed the work of Lincoln, TR, and FDR with his much underappreciated “War on Poverty”.

This seemingly inexorable process of progressivism was punctuated with conservative backlash. The most profound was initiated by Ronald Reagan whose worldview could be summed up by his own pithy phrase from his 1981 Inaugural address:

“Government is the problem, not the solution.”

This conservative trend continued during George Bush’s two terms and assumed its most extreme form in the Libertarian ideology of Ron Paul. A stance that is perpetuated by his son, Senator Rand Paul.

More recently

This was followed by two terms of the progressive, Barack Obama. In addition to digging us out of the economic mess left by the preceding president, he also was able to get the Affordable Care Act signed into law. Although it fell short of the universal coverage that many progressives hoped for, it did significantly increase coverage, particularly in the left-leaning states that expanded Medicaid.

And, then came Republican Donald Trump who has spent his first term trying to undo everything that Obama had put into place. True to his promise, he slashed taxes primarily…

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