I've been an independent much of my life. When I registered with either party, it was generally to support an insurgent candidate (McGovern in 72, McCain in 2000--both quixotic campaigns in many ways). I have endured slings and arrows from the purists on all sides, and so I can speak from experience when I try to compare them. Actually, the difference is simple.
When I advocate something which goes against liberal orthodoxy, my liberal friends react with indignation or consternation. But they try to reason or debate me to their point of view.
When I advocate something which goes against conservative orthodoxy, my conservative "friends" accuse me of being unpatriotic or worse. They rarely grant that there might actually be a legitimate debate. That is why I have fewer and fewer conservative friends.
More to the point: When these discussions occur in public forums, liberals react with everything from discussion to derision or dismissal. Conservatives react by saying I deserve to die.
Maybe I don't have a sense of humor, but to me that is a big difference. The very premise of this country was pluralism. Liberals appear still to embrace this idea. The essence of today's brand of conservatism is exclusion, to the point of wishing death on many of their fellow Americans. As members of a liberal board, most of you will probably have taken this for granted, but it deserves to be pointed out.
In their original incarnations, liberalism and conservatism were not about the things that divide us in 2014 America (gender issues, government programs, labor rights, etc.). They were about openness to change vs. resistance to change. Ironically, even though today's debate (including on this board) is couched in terms of things like women's rights, labor rights, social programs etc., it is really about resistance to change. And those who are resisting are so fearful that they believe the rest of us deserve to die.
THAT is the heart of the difference. And there is no longer any way to deny it.