Let me preface this by saying that, no, this isn’t a political rant in support of the Democrats. In fact, this isn’t really a political issue at all, it’s a definition-based one. American political terminology is hugely misleading in who and is not considered a ‘Liberal’. Almost every American politician is a Liberal and if you are American, you are probably one too.
There are three main political ideologies in the world today; Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism. Within these ideologies, there are many major divisions, here’s an overview. Basically, the main split in America today is between Classical (Republican) and Modern (Democrat) Liberalism, with many Republicans also being influenced by some elements of Conservatism.
Voltaire, Montesquieu, American Founding Fathers. Classical Liberalism forms the bedrock of American political thought. Classical Liberalism developed in the 17-18th Centuries due to events such as the French Revolution and the theories of John Locke. Classical Liberals saw the state as a necessary evil; it has to be there for Rule of Law to exist but must be extensively muzzled to avoid threatening personal freedoms. Thus, they strongly advocated for Negative Freedom, where people (particularly the state) should not stop people from being free. Neo-Liberaliam is, in essence, a return of Classical Liberalism.
A line of political thought that mainly developed in the late 19th Century and is now espoused often incorporated in Democratic policy in America as well as being the ideological basis for the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Modern Liberals see people as being unfree when they cannot achieve their potential within society. Inequality of opportunity, where the child of a bin-man can never hope to have the same chances as the child of a CEO, is the enemy in this scenario. Thus, Modern Liberals believe in positive freedom, where the state can be a force for good. Modern Liberals tend to support Keynsian economic theory; where public spending in bust periods can control the harmful boom-and-bust phenomena of capitalism.
Demand absolute subservience to the state and authority, with traditional hierarchy and values at forefront. Monarchism in Europe and other parts of the world espoused this for a long time.
This, from my perspective, is quite an unfamiliar concept to Americans. Essentially, it is a belief system that sees the state and ruling elite as father figures to an incompetent citizenry. Generally speaking, it emphases social hierarchy and tradition along with a sense that those in power have an obligation to help the needy.
Libertarian Conservatism (Hybrid with Classical Liberalism)
The New Right, Thatcherism, Reaganism, Tea Party. Libertarian Conservatives are, roughly speaking, Classical Liberals in terms of the economy and state intervention in society whilst being Conservatives in areas such as a support for family values and tough law and order. It’s worth noting that, in the UK at least, Libertarian Conservatism is relatively young, only really coming into being in the 1980s.