Misapplied labels muddy the waters of debate

To avoid misunderstanding, we should recall what swordsman Inigo Montoya uttered in the 1987 movie, “The Princess Bride.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The word was “inconceivable.” But the same goes for “liberal,” “conservative” or any political label tossed around today like wedding confetti. These words don’t mean what many people think they mean.

Consequently, it’s exceedingly difficult to discuss politics. “Safe spaces,” “trigger words” and other politically correct impediments shut down the supersensitive, who refuse to even listen. But there’s the additional problem of labels for everyone else. You may protest that labels only divide. Guess what? We’re divided, whether we label the divisions or not.

Labels are useful shorthand for “You are this, and I am that, now let’s talk.” But we must know what we’re talking about.

A subset of the body politic calls itself “liberal.” This isn’t to be confused with the classical liberalism of our founders, or even the type espoused by a Frenchman, who famously proclaimed: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Lest anyone doubt that contemporary liberalism isn’t what it used to be, check out the arsenal of hate-speech laws intended to shoot down discourse. “Over the course of the 20th century in America, [liberal] flip-flopped into a term for those who would gladly trade liberty for a mess of pottage from the State,” the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Lawrence W. Reed wrote.

Then there are those who brand themselves “conservative.” Donald Trump claims this label, although anyone with a passing familiarity with Burke, Goldwater or Buckley can quickly demolish The Donald’s credentials.

The resulting failure to communicate inevitably leads to head-scratching confusion when a progressive claims to be a liberal or a populist…

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