February 26, 2014
AP US History
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is commonly thought of as a liberal and President Herbert C. Hoover as a conservative. To what extent are these characterizations valid?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is commonly identified as a liberal and President Herbert C. Hoover as a conservative. The validity of these characterizations, however, is conditional upon the definition of these labels. If one adopts the most conventional contemporary definitions of the terms “liberal” and “conversative,” then the characterizations of Roosevelt as a liberal and Hoover as a conservative are valid, but the definitions of liberal and conservative vary and change over time and place.
At the beginning of the Great Depression, the meaning of the term “liberal” was contested. The conventional meaning of “liberal” was articulated by President Hoover, who argued for "political equality, free speech, free assembly, free press, and equality of opportunity." For Hoover, "liberty" was associated foremost with individual freedom and self-determination.By the end of the Great Depression, the content of the term “liberal” included different properties. President Franklin Roosevelt defined liberty as consisting of “Four Freedoms”: the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.
Today, the definition of the term “liberal” is relatively uncontested, and its content is relatively well defined. A liberal today is someone who advocates for governmental solutions to various problems, not for unaided individual freedom. Liberals today trust and call for governmental action, not for the type of self-determination supported by Hoover. Contemporary liberals believe in individual freedom, but they typically advocate for the necessity ofgovernment programs designed to assist individuals who are not as well off as others within the society. To fund these programs, which liberals contend will make individual recipients and the whole country better off, liberals support raising tax revenues from individuals with the most wealth. Whereas liberalssee government as a positive force in the daily lives of people, conservatives today generallyare portrayed as believing in the opposite.Like liberals, contemporary conservatives believe in individual freedom, but they believe it can best be achieved through the free enterprise system and private ownership. Rather than governmental identification of social problems and their solutions, conservations rely upon the market mechanics of supply and demand and the individual incentive of profit. Because government is exponentially larger today than it was before the Great Depression, conservatives today often critique the status quo and are resistant to further governmental expansion.
Because of the different meanings associated with the terms liberal and conservative, neither President Hoover nor President Roosevelt can strictly be characterized...