People who don't follow politics tend to believe that conservatives and liberals are just flip sides of the same coin. In other words, conservatives are pro-life, pro-gun, and fiscally conservative while liberals are pro-choice, anti-gun, and want to tax and spend, but otherwise, there are no real differences.
However, if you follow politics closely, you'll find that there's a gulf as wide as the ocean between the average politically active conservative and the average politically active liberal. We don't just have political differences; we view the world through very different eyes.
Of course, I don't want to oversell this because as Americans, conservatives and liberals are more alike than different. There also tend to be differences between people who are heavily politically involved and those who aren't. This column focuses on those of us who are more politically active, as opposed to people who don’t pay much attention to politics.
I'd also add that in every category, you'll find exceptions that prove the rule. Moreover, sometimes you'll find both conservatives and liberals engaging in the same behavior, although one side tends to do it much more than the other. All that being said, after spending a decade blogging, here are just a few of the genuine differences that have become apparent over the years.
1) Conservatives are more patriotic than liberals: Conservatives tend to focus on the positive things about America, while liberals focus on the negative. If the first thoughts that came to your mind when you thought of America were “slavery,” "imperialism," and "unfairly using too much of the world's resources," you probably wouldn't like America very much either. Conservatives, on the other hand, look at the fact that we saved the world in WWI, WWII, and the Cold War, take pride in the fact that we have contributed so much to the planet, and believe America has had a tremendous positive impact on history. The conservative view produces love of country. The other view produces a deep seated dislike of our nation.
2) It's socially acceptable for liberals to lie about conservatives: Whether you're talking about theNew York Times, The Washington Post, or the Daily Kos, it's considered to be perfectly acceptable to lie about conservatives. That's because, as Charles Krauthammer once said, To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
If you think your opponents are evil, you tend to be okay with using tactics that you would describe as "evil" under other circumstances to fight them. If you're up people you compare to Nazis, it’s easy to tell yourself that lying to beat them isn’t so bad. If you're in a dispute with people who you believe are just too stupid to understand what's going on, you feel compelled to try to explain yourself a little better.
3) Conservatives are results-oriented. Liberals are not: If you understand one thing about liberals, understand this: Liberalism is nothing more than "childlike emotionalism applied to adult issues." That's why they don't care very much about whether the programs they advocate work or not. Proposing programs isn't really about what will help the most people to liberals; it's about making them feel good about themselves. On the other hand, conservatives are results-oriented, which is why they tend to be so down on the government, which is inevitably slower, more expensive, and less effective than the private sector at pretty much everything.
4) Conservatives care about the Constitution. Liberals don't: Conservatives believe that we need to try to interpret the Constitution in the way that the Founders intended it to be read and if we want to change it, then we need to pass a Constitutional Amendment. Liberals believe in a "living Constitution," which is functionally no different than believing in no Constitution at all. If you believe in a "living Constitution," you think it is okay to do whatever you want for political reasons and then come up with a legal justification afterwards, which you'll then call "constitutional law."
5) Liberals are much more misogynistic than conservatives: If you're a prominent conservative woman, you will be deluged with rape threats, death threats, attacks on your family, attacks on your looks, and offers to give you a good screwing as a public service. In other words, what you've seen with Sarah Palin is actually the same thing that happens to most prominent conservative women, but on a larger scale. That's not to say that liberal women don't get some of the same treatment, but it's several orders of magnitude worse for women on the Right.
That's largely because liberals claim the "feminist" mantle and so, if they're feminists, then obviously they can't be "anti-woman" no matter what they actually say, right? Even worse, most of the actual feminist women on the Left tend to either participate in the abuse or, alternately, turn a blind eye to it as long as it's aimed at conservative women.
6) Conservatives are happier people than liberals: Despite all the claims you hear that conservatives are angry, cruel, and mean, conservatives are much happier people than liberals. This is something that has been consistently proven in studies and, let's face it -- anyone who knows a lot of liberals and conservatives will tell you that it's not a surprise. Conservatives love the country they live in, they're more likely to be Christian, and they take responsibility for their own lives instead of griping that the world is terribly unfair. If you want to be a happy person, you're more likely to be a happy conservative than a happy liberal.
7) Conservatives are better Christians than liberals: Certainly there are debates about social conservatism and Christianity on the conservative side of the fence, but Christian conservatism is considered to be a honorable and important part of the Republican base. People are going to hate to hear this, despite the fact it's absolutely true, but Christianity and liberalism have become largely incompatible. That's because there are so many liberals who are implacably hostile to Christianity that liberal Christians are left with one of two unpalatable choices. Either they can water their Christian beliefs down into thin gruel so as to be compatible with liberalism or liberal Christians can choose to be cringing dogs and keep their mouths shut while their beliefs are regularly insulted, demeaned, and attacked by their fellow liberals. Neither option should be acceptable to someone who has a strong Christian faith.