I live in the United Kingdom, and after having studied American politics for the last two years, one of the many things I have noticed that underlines the polarised nature of the two systems, is the use of the word "liberal."
In this country, liberalism is generally seen as a good thing, and even those more conservative among the population do not scorn or "bash" people for being liberal. It's just, for want of a better term, a "word" to British people. Hell, even Margaret Thatcher (one of the most right-wing Prime Ministers we have ever had) equated herself with "neo-liberalism" - not exactly liberalism, but she wasn't afraid to use the word.
However, in America, it seems that this "word" is more of an insult than a description of someone's political persuasion. It is, to all intents and purposes, a bad word, and if you're liberal, you're clearly different from everyone else.
This obvious difference in definition between the UK and USA is probably down to the very nature of politics within both the countries. American politics, in general, is quite a bit further to the right than British politics. Our Conservative Party would probably be seen as more left-wing than your average Democrat. You may say, "hang on, British politics isn't particularly left-wing." This is certainly true, and the last decade or so has seen a world-wide move to the right, but still, everything is relative - and the US is typically more conservative than the UK, and most other European countries.
But "liberal" and "liberalism" are terms that get thrown around far too much. It makes me laugh when people refer to Kerry as "the liberal from Massachusetts." By my definition, Kerry is far from being a liberal. In my book, he's pretty far to the right, maybe not as far as Bush, but a kind of "Bush lite" if you will.
I don't think much can be done to change the perception people have of "liberals" in the USA, but it's self evident that word has been taken completely out of context, and is so far removed from its proper definition that it's probably not even worth trying to get people to understand the true meaning of the word. And even if that did happen, most of the world's narrow-minded citizens would still see it as a "bad thing," as in our Western, capitalist culture, the majority of people aren't open to change.
It's ashame really, as right now, the whole world's going to hell, and conservatives are at the centre of it all...