I spent time with a committed liberal recently, and it was a real eye-opener. Like you, I have heard and read about the differences between how liberals and conservatives think, but here before me like a freshly opened oyster was liberalism in all its glory... or misery, depending on your point of view.
For context, we spent time together while the tragic events unfolded in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. My liberal comrade was deeply offended that the media referred to those people who sought refuge from the storm and its aftermath as "refugees". He actually believes that the apparent slowness of the aid response is because most of the people who live in New Orleans are black.
On a broader level, he believes that everything printed in the New York Times is gospel truth, and everything broadcast on Fox News is a lie. He is, at 25 years old, still in college studying to be a social worker. A social worker. No doubt a noble pursuit, but one that will forever place him under the control of, and in support of a growing Welfare State. I know his heart is in the right place, and he doesn't qualify (yet) as a classic "angry liberal", but he isn't yet old enough to become angry and bitter.
His choice of career, however, compared with another 20-something acquaintance of mine who is more conservative is stark. Here he is, still in college, with no plans for his future other than doing social work. He doesn't own a car, or a computer, or a TV, or really anything except, of course, his Ipod. He does have very good musical talent, but doesn't have the drive to succeed at music. He is irresponsible about many things, and completely lacks a sense of urgency in just about anything he does.
My more conservative friend, however, is also in his twenties, is a college graduate, has a good job with a high five-figure salary, owns a house, two cars, has a family, and pays lots of taxes. In fact, if it weren't for my more conservative friend who earns money and pays taxes (and the millions like him), my liberal friend (and the millions like him) wouldn't have the grant money to go to college, perform social work, or generally be the lazy and irresponsible guy he is.
It seems clear to me that my liberal friend is very typical of many liberals. It is also very clear why so many liberals go into journalism, academia, government and the public sector, and why so many conservatives prefer to go into business and private sector. Liberals, to their credit, seem to understand that by controlling the news media, academia, and government, that their collectivist goals can be reached. Whether by design or by accident, liberals have for a very long time been working to institutionalize their agenda through control of these three areas, with average Americans unaware of this creeping revolution.
Conservatives, on the other hand, generally tend go into business and the private sector because they believe that by helping themselves, they can best help society. Conservatives, while working to build success in their own lives and the lives of their fellow Americans, haven't and still don't seem to understand that liberals have a seven-decade head start on controlling government, academia, and the news media. Fortunately, however, the conservative counterrevolution is underway, with control of the government now in Republican hands.
One other interesting illustration of how conservatives and liberals think is their respective reactions to hurricane Katrina. Liberals, who prefer strong central control over local control, were aghast at the response of the federal government. Conservatives, on the other hand, were aghast at the response of the state and local authorities to the hurricane, as conservatives prefer control by state and local authorities through the concept of federalism.
It seems to me that to be a liberal, you must first react emotionally to a situation. You must also be able to overlook reality if you find it offensive. Like referring to those seeking refuge as "refugees"; even though that is what they are, it is 'mean-spirited' to call them that. And you must believe that the best way to solve problems is by a consolidation of power in fewer hands.