From time to time, I’m criticized by some as being opposed to things conservative and of being a “flaming liberal.” Of course, the intent is to say conservative is good, liberal is bad and, thus, I’m a bad guy.

Then comes the complaint that I’m a “left wing nut” who can’t see anything good in more “moderate” or “conservative” views.

Well, let’s take a look in the old Webster’s Ninth Collegiate for an impartial definition of these oft-used terms.

My desk copy says conservative means “traditional, careful, economical, thrifty, temperate, conventional and moderate.” Yes, Virginia, moderate. And I really do think my overall outlook could be accurately be described by just those adjectives.

The problem is we have stricken the word “moderate” from the definition of conservative. “Conservative” now is most often used with only hard-edged descriptions and in political applications we have struck nearly everything else from the meaning.

If, for example, I believe government has no business inserting itself into the private family issue of abortion, I am immediately cast as anti-conservative, not moderate. But I think of my view as pro family. Now that’s supposed to be moderate, even conservative.

If I say we should use tax dollars to assure some form of basic medical care for all, I’m that liberal nut again. But the proven fact is more people being taken care of before they get really sick means spending a lot fewer tax dollars in the long run. That seems to me to be “economical,” “thrifty,” even reasonable. Words which also define a conservative.

If I criticize a “conservative” politician for saying something wrong, divisive or even stupid, I’m called anti-conservative. But if my criticism is because I expect more careful and rational thought from someone in a position of leadership, rather than flash and an over-simplified answer, that seems to me to be “traditional,” “reasonable,” “prudent” and, yes, even “moderate.”

As a nation of mostly moderate folk, we have allowed ourselves to be shoved into a dangerous corner by loud minorities from both ends that have created the divisive political philosophy of “you’re either with us or against us.”

Nothing defines that clearer than those ideologues on the right who have made issues of personal choice and private family matters into politics and something unacceptable if someone else’s response to those issues differs from their moral standards.

That’s not conservatism. That’s political bigotry, which also is found in your dictionary. “Bigot: one obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own prejudices.”

But, in my love of language, I find that word “bigot” also can be used to define the other end of the political scale: the strident liberal. Just tell one of them that there’s such a thing as a good conservative approach to one of their heartfelt issues and they’ll brand you as a right wing nut case.

The answer to how we look at ourselves politically should, I think, be described in the way ice skating and some other athletic events are judged at the Olympics. Take out the high and low ends of the scoring and average the middle.

Because that is, after all, where most of us are.

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