As a typical wishy-washy progressive I have a lot of sympathy for the "can't we all just get along," "we're all on the same team," kind of thinking. I get the appeal of "middle-way," "moderate," some might call it "fence-sitting" rhetoric. Even more, I appreciate attempts to forge a third path through the wilderness that is not on this tired spectrum. At times I actually genuinely hold a strong opinion that would be difficult to classify as Liberal or Conservative, but then no one is a complete caricature.
Furthermore, I reject the truth of binary generalizations and question the utility of labels so historically flexible as to mean exactly the opposite thing in different times and places. You can't put me in a box! Dammit!
But isn't the very fact that I feel the need to put so many qualifiers at the start of this post sufficient evidence of which box I belong in? (Hint: it isn't the one with the Nazi.) One thing that really annoys me is the apparent need of many liberals to disavow their liberalism. So this post is about one very good reason, among many, to be proud of being a liberal. It's about track records.
In current debates framed in binary liberal vs. conservative terms there are strong arguments and even more passion on both sides. If an impartial observer wanted to determine which side was right, one reasonable strategy would be to analyze similar debates through history and see which side had more often been vindicated.
Here are some examples:
Slavery - Liberals win. Slavery is bad.
Suffrage - Liberals win. Women can vote.
Civil Rights - Liberals win. Segregation ends.
Who would want to defend the historical conservative position on any of these issues now? Contemporary conservatives certainly don't, because they have conceded that liberals were right in those instances. What makes them so certain that liberals are now wrong?
Not every battle has a clear cut conclusion, but can anyone name a major social issue that conservatives have won - by which I mean their moral vision has been vindicated as the correct one by society in retrospect?
The track record of liberalism certainly isn't without blemish. Liberals have started wars and profited at the expense of the poor. I am just as cynical of liberal politicians as any other, but if we're evaluating the quality of an idea in comparison to its competitors liberalism comes out looking pretty good. There are many thoughtful, wise, good conservatives, but that doesn't change the fact that as an ideology it is also a refuge for racists, mysoginists, and fascists.
What I will never understand is how being a "liberal" has come to be something to be ashamed of, whereas belonging to the same ideological milieux as Machiavelli, Rasputin and Cheney, is a source of pride.