An old friend, who considers herself a liberal, asked why I classified W as one. It really seemed batty to her although she could see that the “big spender” label would apply. My reply (somewhat edited):
He’s a liberal because he thinks he’s called on to reconstruct things to bring about a universal order in which the basic public standards are satisfaction of people’s preferences and equality of some sort, and the public ideals are therefore freedom, democracy, security, nondiscrimination, general prosperity, and economic opportunity, to be attained through some combination of world markets and regulatory bureaucracies.
I think people count him as a non-liberal because:
- He thinks of the ultimate world ideal as a sort of America writ large rather than UN or EU writ large.
- He emphasizes force over agreement and judicial and scientific expertise in creating and securing the universal order of things that is to be constructed.
- He seems to allow some sort of public role for religion although it’s pretty vague and seems to be mostly sentimental, rhetorical and opportunistic.
- He emphasizes economic opportunities and freedoms—the freedom to make money by trying to make money—more than cultural and lifestyle freedoms or equality of result. Also, he likes business more than various government institutions in creating prosperity and opportunity even though he is after all a big government guy.
All in all, I think what distinguishes him from people called liberals is that he has a more forcible, concrete and crude way of thinking than at least an ideal liberal would have. Also, people think he’s personally attached to big business and so on instead of say big unions like the teachers union. It’s not such a big difference of ultimate theory though. He’s certainly not the kind of guy who’s going to have a general theory of things that’s different from the general theory people accept in the world around him.