Glossary

Baseline Budgeting

A term for the way federal budgeting is done in Washington DC. In baseline budgeting, the budgets for federal entities are estimated each year, with adjustments for inflation and additional increases in program participation. Thus, there is almost always an increase projected for any given entity's upcoming budget. However, funding doesn't alway match agency budgets. When an entity's funding remains the same as last year, it is often said that the agency's budget has been cut. While this is not technically true (the funding level is equivalent with last year's funding), baseline budgeting allows politicians to claim that an entity's budget has been cut (with respect to the "baseline budget").

For example, let's say the FBI's budget for last year was $100 million and it was funded at $100 million. The FBI now budgets $120 million for this year. If it's funded at $100 million this year, its funding level hasn't changed. But politicians can claim there is a $20 million cut in its funding, since it is funded at $20 million less than its baseline budget. Thus, when politicians claim a cut to some federal entity's budget, it may or may not be true. They may be claiming the cut based on the baseline budget, which is typically inflated over the previous year.

Bork/Borking

To savage a nominee to a federal position, particularly a judicial one, based not on his competence, but on his political philosophy. The term arises from the treatment of Robert Bork, a 1987 Ronald Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Capitalism

Narrowly, capitalism describes an economic system where wealth and the means to produce it are privately owned. In practice, "captitalism" generally refers to free market capitalism, since a free market is generally considered necessary for the sustenance of capitalism.

When we say "wealth and the means to produce it are privately owned", this means that a person or corporation (treated as a person under law) may own the machinery, equipment and other assets necessary to produce products. An individual under this system "owns" his own labor, in the sense that he is not obligated to labor, and may choose to give his labor to any given entity in the market.

Markets figure prominently in capitalism. Under this system, goods and services are sold in a "free market", whose primary rules are those of supply and demand. Prices in a free market are not set by some external entity, but by the activity of the market itself. More of a product with a given demand will drive prices down. Less of a product will drive prices up. A lessening of demand will drive prices down, and an increase in demand will drive prices up.

Such a system requires various institutional underpinnings in order to survive. For example, there must be laws in place which protect property rights and the right to private property, and entities in place to protect these rights. There must be a laissez faire attitude in government, wherein the government does not interfere in the production and sales of goods in the market.

Civics

The study of citizenship and government, particularly as it pertains to the role of citizens on the oversight of government. Practically speaking, civics generally involves the education of the citizenry in the form and philosophy of their government, and their role in society with relation to it.

Communism

A socioeconomic system in which the means to production are owned by the state, where there are no classes or divisions in society, and where all decisions are arrived at by pure democracy. This is a narrow technical definition, since there are many varieties of communism. It is considered the end result of the progression of a society through various forms of socialism.

The ideal communist society would be one where the workers are all considered equal, and own an equal share in the wealth of the society, including the means to produce that wealth. All workers would participate in the decisions involving their state and their economy.

Democracy

A social system where all members (with certain limitations, such as age) may participate in the decision making process, where such decisions affect them. Democracy may be applied in any size group, for example a boy scout troop or corporate board of directors. However, as groups become larger, the direct participation of members in the decision-making of the group becomes more impractical. In the United States, with a population of hundreds of millions of people, democracy is usually only applied to the election of representatives in government. The general population does not directly vote on the issues taken up by the government. However, the government representatives may and do use democratic means to resolve issues of importance to those governed, as in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Democrat

Not to be confused with "democracy". The Democratic Party in the United States is the oldest existing political party, and was founded in the 1790s. Its positions on social, economic and politcal issues have changed over time. So it's difficult to give a single definition to what the democratic party represents. It's only possible to define their activities in terms of their "platform" and what activities they champion.

Democrats generally believe:

  • Gun control should be used to reduce the violence associated with guns.
  • The federal government should be involved in social welfare issues, as a way to aid the poor and disadvantaged.
  • Abortion should generally be allowed without most limitations.
  • The federal minimum wage should be used and regularly increased, as a way to improve the lot of those who only get paid minimum wage.
  • Business should be regulated by the government, because business is rarely a good steward with regard to worker rights, the environment, and the public's trust.
  • The federal government should be used as an agent for social change and social engineering.
  • The environment should be protected, often in a way which gives it an advantage over the rights of property owners and businesses.
  • Education, even sometimes to the college level, should be free, available to all, and subsidized and regulated by the federal government.
  • Health care should be nationalized so that the federal government can bring sanity and lower costs into this arena.

While it might be tempting (based on democratic reaction to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) to say the democrats generally decry war, historically, democrats have been as much in favor of wars as any other group. The democratic party's stance on any given war appears to depend primarily on whether their party is in control of congress and the White House or not. The same is true about budget deficits, which are decried when republicans are in control and ignored when they are not.

If any generalities could be made about the democratic party, it might be said that the democratic party portrays itself as the champion of the poor, the discriminated against, the disadvantaged, and labor unions. In addition, the democratic party generally believes that government is the best solution to many or most of the problems of society.

Fascism

A political ideology where the society is ruled by a dictator, and whose government suppresses all dissent. Individuals in a fascist state are expected to suborn their own interests to those of the state. Fascist societies tend to war with others, on the theory that only the strong (fascist) societies deserve to survive.

Fellow Traveler

A person who, while not part of an organization, yet believes much of what that organization believes, and supports it in large or small ways. This term is generally a pejorative, and mostly refers to communist or socialist sympathizers, but could be applied to a sympathizer of any organization.

Great Society

A group of social programs enacted under president Lyndon B. Johnson, in the early 1960s, and later carried forward by presidents Nixon and Ford. The programs had numerous goals, two of the most important of which were the elimination of poverty and the racial injustice. Spending programs designed to deal with, among other things, education, medical care, urban problems and education were launched as part of this initiative. Some parts of this program, including Medicare, Medicaid and federal education funding are still present today.

Liberal

This is a term used to describe a person who believes in liberalism, or the philosophy itself. This philosophy has two major thrusts. One strives for and promotes individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech and religion, and attempts to limit the control of the government over the daily lives of people. This camp believes in the rule of law, government transparancy, and little or no regulation of the market. This camp is typically referred to as "classical liberalism".

The other school of liberalism is often called "social liberalism", and involves regulation of business, economic intervention and redistribution of wealth.

Considering the changes and schisms which have taken place in liberalism since its beginnings in the Enlightenment, it's hard to pin down exactly what currently constitutes liberalism for any given person or group. But in American politics, the term liberal often refers to the latter school of thought (social liberalism). This type of thinking generally describes the activities of the democratic party.

Marxism

A political and philosophical theory and movement founded on the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism decried and wished to overthrow capitalism, because it pitted the interests of a monied few (the capitalists or bourgeoisie) against those of the disadvantaged majority (the workers or proletariat). Thus, any political argument was framed in terms of the class of those involved, with the end result being a classless society. Under marxism, goods would be produced based on how useful they are, not on whether they could yield a profit. And goods would be distributed based on the needs of those who would consume them. Naturally such a philosophy begs a great many questions ("Who determines what a given person needs?"), which have been answered in various ways by various people over the years. Thus, marxism has grown and changed since its inception.

New Deal

A group of government programs forwarded and enacted by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. These programs were designed to stimulate the American economy, then in the throes of the Great Depression, aid workers and the unemployed, reform business and financial practices and to allow the government to more or less centrally plan the economy. Many of these programs were declared unconstitutional, and were shut down. Some (FDIC, SEC, Fannie Mae, and social security, among them) still exist today. Whether the New Deal programs prolonged or shortened the Great Depression is still a matter of wide debate.

Originalism

The belief among jurists that the Constitution (and other Founding Documents) should be interpreted as they were originally intended, and in the context in which they were written. This view is contrasted with what is often called "judicial activism", where jurists believe that, because society changes over time, judicial decisions must change with it, whether such changes are in concert with the Founding Documents or not.

Political Correctness

This term originated with Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong, long time leader of communist China) to describe speech which adhered to communist party doctrine. Over time, it has come to mean speech which is deemed inoffensive to any person or group. Groups which might be offended by someone's speech have multiplied greatly over the years, making any public utterance an exercise in dodging the ire of potentially aggrieved groups. Obviously, "politically incorrect" would describe speech which could be deemed offensive to a given group or person.

Progressive

A political movement started in the late 19th century and carrying forward, having much in common with modern day liberalism. Typically, progressivism tends to advocate state control of the economy, a living wage, universal health care, redistribution of wealth, heavy regulation of business, and pro-environmental action. Significantly, so-called progressives tend to feel disenfranchised by the current two-party system, and vote for third party candidates.

As the terms "liberalism" and "liberal" have become more pejorative over time, liberals have now begun using the term "progressive" to describe themselves.

Republican

A member of the republican party of the United States, or the party itself. Abraham Lincoln was the first republican president. The republican party (and republicans in general) tend to believe:

  • Government should stay out of the way of business, and let the market decide how businesses conduct their affairs.
  • Abortion is immoral and should not be legal
  • Affirmative action is not a system for promoting equality among groups, but for promoting the advantage of some groups over others.
  • Capital punishment is a reasonable method for discouraging crime and punishing the guilty.
  • The federal government should be smaller in size and intrude less upon the lives of its citizens, leaving many matters to the individual states to deal with.
  • Gun violence arises primarily from criminals who do not obey laws; thus, gun control is a waste of effort and infringes on the rights of legal gun owners.
  • The federal government should rarely or never be used as a tool for social change.
  • Environmental protection is subordinate to private property rights, and the rights of business to operate relatively unencumbered by onerous regulations.
  • Health care and education are individual or state matters.

The republican party generally favors a strong national defense, where the democratic party is less enthusiastic on the matter. However, the republican party may or may not favor foreign intervention at any given time, depending on the circumstances and which party is in power.

By contrast with the democratic party, it could be said that the republican party generally favors business interests over those of the individual, believing that a strong and healthy (and unencumbered) business environment benefits workers and citizens alike.

Socialism

A socio-economic theory which advocates state ownership of the means to production and an egalitarian distribution of wealth. This puts it at odds with capitalism, but not much more can be definitively said about it. There are almost as many schools of socialism as there are socialists, and they variously agree or disgree about the means and methods necessary to attain the ideal socialist society.

States' Rights

A doctrine, enshrined originally in the Constitution, wherein the individual states have all the powers not expressly given to the federal government or the people. There were two schools of thought at the founding of the United States: the federalists, who believed in a strong national government, and the anti-federalists, who believed in a weak national government. The U.S. Constitution was a compromise between the two opposing forces. The Constitution describes a government whose primary interests are with national defense, the promotion of interstate commerce, and the protection of the rights of the individual. The ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution devolve all rights and powers not explicitly granted to the federal government, to the individual states and to the people.

Strict Constructionism

The belief among jurists that the Constitution (and other Founding Documents) should be interpreted as they were originally intended, and in the context in which they were written. This view is contrasted with what is often called "judicial activism", where jurists believe that, because society changes over time, judicial decisions must change with it, whether such changes are in concert with the Founding Documents or not. Synonymous with "originalism" (q.v.).

Totalitarianism

A socio-economic system where the state controls nearly every aspect of life for its citizens. In order for such a system to persist, the central government (or dictator) must regulate the press and public and private speech, so as to ensure dissent is quickly dealt with. By the same token, a propaganda apparatus must exist in order to promote the government's views and ostracize those who might disagree. This generally leads also to some sort of secret police organization which can physically remove and punish dissidents. Totalitarianism is often an intermediate step on the way to full socialism or communism. Fascism could be considered a form of totalitarianism. It's also worth noting that totalitarianism does not necessarily assume a dictator, but could instead feature an elite body as the primarly rulers.

Useful Idiot

Term generally ascribed to Vladimir Lenin to describe those in the West who promoted the Soviet Union or its philosophy, but who still lived in and enjoyed the comforts of the West. In a sense, these people were also fellow travelers, but Lenin looked upon them mainly with contempt because of their lack of full commitment to the soviet system.

In keeping with its original meaning, the term now tends to be applied to people who naively, and without full contemplation, support one or more causes thought to be silly, illogical or fringe in nature.