How do you define equality?  Most people have a clear definition of equality.  Most people also assume that their definition is the same definition as everyone else.

In fact conservatives and liberals have quite different definitions of equality.


Conservatives define equality as everyone having equal opportunities.  In this definition everyone has the same basic opportunities ahead of them.  What each individual does with those opportunities determines their results.  Therefore there is an expectation of vastly different outcomes due to the relative differences of effort, innate ability, decision making, prioritizing, etc.  This process rewards individuals based on merit.

An example of this is the difference between Michael Jordan and an Average Joe who plays recreational basketball at the local gym.  Michael Jordan was blessed with a substantial amount of innate skill and athletic ability along with a work ethic and ferocious drive that eventually brought him to the peak of his profession.  He started out though just another skinny kid with a dream.  The recreational player may have started out as a skinny kid with a dream too but may not have had the athletic ability, the drive, or made basketball his priority and therefore did not become an NBA star.  Both skinny kids had the same opportunity to become an NBA star.  Lucky for us that we get to watch professional basketball with players like Michael Jordan rather than Average Joe’s.


Liberals define equality as everyone having equal outcomes.  In this definition everyone ends up with the same results.  No matter what an individual’s abilities, drive, effort, etc. the results will be the same as everyone else in that group.  Therefore there is an expectation that the results for each individual will be very similar to those of every other person in that group.  This process rewards collective groups.

An example of this are modern day unions and their rules for regulating members.  Once a union member passes their trial or introductory period they are all subject to the same rules and conditions for work.  Work hours are clearly defined and adhered to by most members.  Pay is the same for highly productive members and marginally productive members.  Benefits are the same regardless of ability or effort.  Special treatment, individual rewards, and individual punishments from management are regarded as taboo by unions.  All members of a union have their pay, benefits, work conditions, etc. negotiated for collectively by the union and no one has the option to make a separate deal with an employer.  Loyalty to the union and longevity of service with a union are the virtues recognized and rewarded by unions.


As is clearly shown above there are two different definitions of equality.  What may not be so clear is the fact that these two outcomes are polar opposites and play a major role in the differences between conservatives and liberals.  This is why conservatives think liberals are dangerous to society and liberals think conservatives are mean spirited and hateful toward various groups.  It is virtually impossible to trust someone’s judgment who has a basic definition of fairness and equality different than your own.

Conservative View

Conservatives see the role of government as providing equal opportunities for success.

Conservatives see the world as having three sets of people:

  1. Those who yearn for freedom.
  2. Those who yearn for security.
  3. Those who yearn for control and power.

Conservative ideology as practiced by Ronald Reagan puts great trust in individuals.  He believed that the average person will make good decisions for themselves most of the time.  His policies reflected this approach and personal freedom grew.  Taxes were cut because he thought that people could spend their money better than government.  He sought to reduce the regulatory burden on companies and individuals to increase competition and innovation.  Successful companies increased service and lowered costs.  Productivity boomed and tax revenue increased as a result of economic growth.  Millions of middle class Americans saw their wealth increase.

This freedom comes with the burden of personal responsibility. The freedom to create a better life for yourself also means that you have the freedom and opportunity to fail.  Some businesses and some individuals are going to make bad choices and decisions, give too little effort, fail to capitalize on opportunities, etc. Conservatives hope that failure becomes a learning experience and that past failures can lead to future successes. This tolerance for failure is what leads liberals to believe that conservatives are mean spirited. Liberals believe that conservatives are hateful because conservatives are not willing to provide cradle-to-grave benefits to those who yearn for security.

Liberal View

Liberals see the role of government as preventing disparities between the “have more” and the “have less” groups.  Liberal ideology as practiced by Barack Obama puts great trust in government.  He believes that America is full of victims that require government intervention.  Government is seen as the ultimate instrument to achieve equal outcomes for groups.  To achieve equal outcomes requires that disparities between groups be eliminated.

Liberals see the world as having three sets of people:

  1. Victims
  2. Victim sympathizers
  3. Oppressors

As conservatives don’t identify themselves as victims or victim sympathizers they are considered oppressors by liberals.  The primary groups that liberals identify as victims are:

  • Blacks
  • Hispanics
  • Women
  • Homosexuals
  • the Poor

If you are not a member of these groups or someone with deep sympathies for these groups you are considered an oppressor.  Liberals believe that people in their select group of victims cannot elevate themselves because they are oppressed by conservatives.  Without liberal guidance and intervention these victim groups are considered to be unable to achieve success.   Conservatives see this preferential treatment of victim groups as dangerous because the preferential treatment erodes self-sufficiency by the victim groups and increases dependency on the government.


The US Constitution is a document designed to ensure freedom.   Our Constitution performs this function by protecting citizens from government.  The framers knew full well the temptation of governments and politicians to use legislative or physical force to favor one group over another.  Sections of our country have participated in this practice in the past with Jim Crow laws.  The purpose of these types of laws were to give whites an advantage and to put blacks at a disadvantage.  Current laws reverse this practice and give blacks and other victim groups the advantage and place other groups such as whites or Asians at a disadvantage.

This may seem fair at first blush but it is does not produce equality.  Equal opportunity is the absence of discrimination and preferential treatment.  Equal outcome cannot be achieved without discrimination and preferential treatment.  Equal outcome is reliant upon methods identical to Jim Crow laws only the victim groups are reversed.  Trading Jim Crow laws for preferential treatment did not eliminate discrimination – it merely moved it.  Is this the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream?  The freedom Dr. King yearned for requires an absence of discrimination and the enforcement of equal opportunity.


Providing Equal Opportunity

Providing equal opportunity is a relatively straight forward and objective process.  Picture the finals of a swim event in the Olympics.  All the swimmers in this final swam the same event in the preliminary and semifinal heats and had the top eight times.  They all have to follow the same rules for being drug free and wear an approved swim suit design.  They all had to follow the designated rules for whatever stroke (or strokes) they are swimming.  They all line up on the blocks, await the starter’s commands, and start together at the starting signal.  They all swim the same stroke(s), the same race length, and finish with the same time stopping mechanism.  They are awarded medals based on their order of finish.  Since all swimmers are not created equal there is a disparity among the swimmers at the end of the race.  Equal opportunity yields disparate results.

Preventing Disparity

Preventing disparity is a convoluted and subjective process.  Picture the finals of a swim event in the liberal Olympics.  The eight swimmers in the finals would not have the eight fastest times from the semifinal round.  Perhaps only three would have had one of the top eight times.  The other five spots would be filled by someone from a victim group.  There might be one black, one Hispanic, one homosexual, one welfare recipient, and a gay-black-Hispanic-welfare recipient.  Of course being in the finals against faster swimmers would still put the “victim” swimmers at a disadvantage so something would have to be done about that.  The faster swimmers might have to swim a longer distance, wear a sponge and fur suit, swim a different stroke, start later, carry a weight belt, or any number of alternate punishments for being more successful.  Preventing disparity cannot be achieved by bringing victim groups up, successful groups must also be brought down.  Preventing disparity yields unequal opportunity.


As is obvious from the swim events described above the eight swimmers with the fastest times were not busy oppressing other swimmers or victim groups to get to the finals.  They were there on their own merit.  Had any of them got there through false pretenses like cheating or using performance enhancing drugs they would be stripped of their recognition and reviled by fans.

Things aren’t all that different away from the Olympic finals.  The majority of Americans want people to earn their way through life without having to rely on a leg up from the government.  There are far too many successful people from the victim groups to honestly and logically believe that the rest are being held back by any external force.  America has a black president and before that multiple black cabinet members, and powerful national legislators.  Blacks are dominating in several sports where they were once banned.  America has many Hispanic governors, judges, mayors, business leaders, baseball players, and boxers.  Women have also ran for president and vice-president, they have become governors, senators, legislators, captains of industry, and sport legends.  Homosexuals have had huge successes in the arts and entertainment and many have become revered figures in American households.

Many of our presidents and heroes have come from among financially struggling families.  Reagan was the son of a modest Montana rancher, Obama was raised by his grandmother, Tiger Wood’s father was a career soldier in the Army, Condoleeza Rice was the daughter of a share-cropper, and on and on.  Being born into a wealthy family does not guarantee success nor does being born into a poor family automatically result in failure.

Final Thoughts

Everybody in America can take advantage of education or waste the opportunity, everyone can work hard or be a slacker, everyone can take advantage of their physical skills or let them lie dormant, everyone can be happy or miserable.  Government intervention wont make you a good student, a motivated worker, an athlete, or a happy person.  In fact government intervention is far more likely to have the opposite effect.  The government cannot make you happy and successful – that is strictly up to each and every individual.  And that is why Ronald Reagan put his faith in people rather than government.