What Does It Mean?

In this column are brief explanations of some basics of present-day American politics.

What do the donkey and the elephant represent?

They are respectively the traditional symbols of the Democratic Party and Republican Party.

And, of course, the hippo is the symbol of The Hipplomats™.

What do liberal and conservative mean?

While minor political parties in the US and major parties in other countries bear these names, in American politics the terms liberal and conservative are more generally applied to political attitudes.

Liberals generally favor larger government and less traditional views, so they are generally more predisposed to change established policies.

Conservatives in general favor smaller government and more traditional views, so they are generally more predisposed to maintain established policies.

Of America's two dominant parties, the Democratic Party is generally considered more liberal while the Republican Party is generally considered more conservative.

What are the left and the right?

These terms originated in France, where court etiquette required liberal supporters of revolution to sit on the king's left while his conservative supporters sat on his right. Over time, the left came to refer to groups supporting more liberal causes, and the right to groups supporting more conservative causes. As adjectives describing these respective groups, the terms left-wing and right-wing are used.

It is interesting and perhaps fitting that the US Senate and House of Representatives both honor this left-right convention in their seating plans. In both chambers, Democrats and Republicans sit to the left and the right respectively.

What are blue states and red states?

Since the early 1900's, newspapers have been using color-coded maps to indicate how states voted, or were likely to vote, for elected officials or on a particular issue. While different color schemes have existed, the various segments of the media have adopted a generally consistent system since the year 2000. Blue depicts a Democratic leaning or victory, while red depicts a Republican leaning or victory. Most often this system is used to show what is believed to be the states' preferences for President, however for many states it is an unreliable indicator.

The following political thoughts are a bit on the more serious side.

(Okay, we snuck in some stuff here that might be deemed "educational". No apologies.)


"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

- Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Creighton

"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

- attributed to Edmund Burke (though no definitive source)

"A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular."

- Adlai Stevenson

"The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same."

- Marie-Henri Beyle (pen name: Stendahl)

"A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."

- Edward R. Murrow

"It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."

- David Hume

"History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

- Plato

"Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties."

- Abraham Lincoln

"We, and all others who believe in freedom as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees."

- Franklin D Roosevelt (similar quote by Emiliano Zapata)

"Let every nation know … that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

- John F. Kennedy

"Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."

- Ronald Reagan

"Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press (media)."

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

- George Santayana

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

- Abraham Lincoln

"While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others,... "

- George Washington

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

- George Orwell

"The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next."

- Abraham Lincoln

"In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant."

- Charles de Galle

"The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse."

- James Madison

"Let no man think we can deny civil liberty to others and retain it for ourselves."

- Robert Marion La Follette, Sr.

"The worst thing in the world, next to anarchy, is government."

- Henry Ward Beecher

"The object and practice of liberty lies in the limitation of government power."

- Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army

"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."

- Voltaire

"The enemy isn't conservatism. The enemy isn't liberalism. The enemy is bull- - - -."

- Lars-Erik Nelson

"Uncompromising thought is the luxury of the closeted recluse."

- Woodrow Wilson

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

"To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy."

- Aung San Suu Kyi

"There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour."

- Benjamin Disraeli

"There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties . . . This . . . is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

- John Adams

"These are the times that try men's souls."

- Thomas Paine, in "Common Sense"

". . . give me liberty, or give me death!"

- Patrick Henry

". . . it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal (right) to achieve that."

- the Dalai Lama

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

- Thomas Jefferson, in the "Declaration of Independence"

". . . this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

- Abraham Lincoln, in the "Gettysburg Address"


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Direct access to the three main branches of our federal government:

Legislative Branch:

U.S. Senate

U.S. House of Representatives

Executive Branch:

The White House

Judicial Branch:

U.S. Supreme Court

The links below to the National Archive give you access to the documents that have lain the foundations of America's freedoms.

Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States

Bill of Rights

Emancipation Proclamation

Here are links to more of America's most respected documents.

Gettysburg Address

The Federalist Papers

100 Milestone Documents

Did You Know?

Here are a few little known political facts, some suggesting how much—for better or worse—attitudes have changed over the years.

Of our 44 Presidents, 8 never went to college—among them George Washington and Abraham Lincoln! The others were Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland.

Only two Presidents signed the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson (its author) and John Adams.

Three Presidents died on the 4th of July: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and James Monroe in 1831.

Quite often, some say every day that he was President, John Quincy Adams swam nude in the Potomac.

Our eighth President, Martin Van Buren, was raised in a Dutch village in New York. As English was his "second" language, at home he and his wife generally conversed in Dutch.

Of all our Presidents, only our first, George Washington, was elected without being officially endorsed by any political party.

Previously a Democrat, in 1962 Ronald Reagan switched parties to become a Republican.

There was once a party called the "Democratic-Republican Party."