“What?” you ask. Ah, the slipperiness of the English language.
In a practical sense, love is when you deeply care what happens to a person or a thing in a positive or constructive sense. Hate is when you deeply care what happens to a person or a thing in a negative or destructive sense, which is love turned inside out. The real opposite of love is apathy, where you do not care what happens, positively or negatively, to a person or thing.
The same is true of selfishness and altruism. Selfishness is when you place your needs ahead of everyone else's. Altruism is when you place everyone else's needs ahead of your own; in other words, altruism is selfishness turned inside out. The true opposite of selfishness is fairness, where you desire to see that everyone's needs are met, at least to some extent.
Thus, the essential moral sociological difference between conservatives and liberals is this: conservatives believe that all human beings are primarily motivated by selfishness; liberals believe that with the slightest encouragement, fairness is most of humankind's primary motivation.
In the electoral process, this difference manifests itself in the following manner:
Liberals want to win, fairly.
Conservatives want to win, period.
This explains why conservatives, when electoral irregularities either in Florida in 2000, or in Ohio in 2004, are mentioned, have as their reaction, “Get over it.” In other words, we won, it doesn't matter whether we cheated or not, and there is nothing you can do about it anyway, so get over it.
This also explains the real moral assumptions behind former Senator Phil Gramm's comment about the American people being whiners. The proper translation of his statement is as follows: “The conservative campaign to destroy the middle class—a middle class which was so carefully created and nurtured by that class traitor FDR and his successors, and scared the crap out of the ruling class in the 1960's—has succeeded. We even got you idiots in the middle class to help with that destruction, by appealing to your greed and your sense of fairness at the same time. So quit complaining, you bunch of whining losers, learn your place, and don't sass your betters, you f*cking bunch of peasants.”
I think Gramm is wrong. The plutocrats and their right wing allies may have beaten down the middle class: they have not yet destroyed it. Rebuilding will take time, but it will be worth it in the long term, both financially and morally.
The ultimate expression of selfishness is greed, or more generally covetousness. The greed of the plutocrats and their lapdogs in both the Republican and Democratic Parties has left the United States teetering on the edge of the worst economic abyss since the Great Depression. The social safety net established—but never fully realized—under Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson has been shredded by the greed driven administrations of Reagan and the two Bushes. Our nation currently faces its greatest challenge since the Great Depression, possibly since the Civil War.
We have been told all of our lives that life isn't fair. And the examples of mothers dying of cancer, and children dying in accidents—among others—seem to give ample credence to this statement. However, just because life is not fair, does not mean that we as human beings shouldn't be doing something to make it less unfair.
In my experience, the people who most vociferously say that life isn't fair are usually the ones who go furthest out of their way to make it unfair. This is the reason conservatives want as few rules and regulations as possible, especially in business. Rules inhibit the conservatives' ability to 1) game the system (cheat), 2) try and satisfy their personal desires for wealth and power, and 3) achieve their ultimate desire, winning at life, a nebulous and transient concept.
This desire to win explains the conservatives' intransigence on leaving Iraq, just as they fought so hard against leaving Vietnam. It is a direct assault on their self image to admit that they were wrong in their desires, and undertook a plan they could not complete. They try to dress up their intransigence as patriotism or fear of some enemy, and throw billions of good dollars after bad, all the while making certain their cronies wring every penny of profit they can from the war, so they can win economically at home.
I finished reading Thomas Frank's new book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule; just before I sat down to write the last eight paragraphs of this article. Mr. Frank lays out in detail the evolution of conservative politics from Barry Goldwater to Karl Rove. The modern conservative movement relies much more on the destructive political strategies and morals of Stalin, Brezhnev, and Mao then it does on those of Edmund Burke, John Adams, Benjamin Disraeli, and Robert Taft. The modern conservative does not care who or what they destroy, as long as they win. His last chapter says much the same thing as this article, although we arrived at our conclusions independently from different directions. I recommend the book highly.
It is time that we force the plutocratic conservatives and their Republican lap dogs to play fair once again. First and foremost, the Republicans must be turned out in November, and any and all reports of election fraud thoroughly investigated. Bush and Cheney must be impeached and prosecuted, stringent ethics laws must be instituted, the election season shortened, and mandatory public finance of elections made the law of the land.