I think the main concern with the "Were the Liberals Right" argument is presenting it in a way that isn't tautological.
One thing; in this discussion I'll treat Successful (ultimately accepted) reforms as equal to Correct reforms, and Unsuccessful reforms as Incorrect ones even though that's often not the case.
Of course if we're looking at successful moral reforms they'll only come from non-conservatives because part of being a conservative is keeping things the way they are. At least in most cases; I'd agree that Prohibition was arguably moral reform coming from the conservative side. I'd be hard-pressed to see many other reforms as conservative ones; the roll-back in affirmative action programs lately might count but ten years from now they'll likely be seen as liberal reforms that failed.
To do a proper evaluation we'd need to look at all the attempted reforms and see how many wound up being successful versus how many we later came to think of as failures. Unfortunately, we're absolutely horrible at keeping track of our failures. That's why astrology is so unreasonably popular. Jeane Dixon lived for decades off of getting one guess right and many of us are all too ready to remember that one premonition we had that came true and ignore the 100 premonitions that were crocks.
So, in order to seriously look at this issue I think we'd need a catalogue of a long list of attempted liberal reforms that didn't hold. I'll try listing some here but I know I'll be leaving a lot out.
Affirmative Action - in place for a while, seems to be dying in the last couple years.
Euphemistic names for minority groups - the anti political correctness movement has grown so widespread that it's become a cliché.
Communism - Certainly this was a part of the agenda for a lot of liberals; one could argue that liberals are somewhere between the center and the ultra-left and thus not the group that promoted Communism but I think that weakens the overall point of the argument.
Public Healthcare - we never really had it in the U.S. but other countries have and many of them are rolling back their benefits. Maybe this is a wash.
Opposition to WWII - A number of liberals opposed this.
Illegalizing Pornography - Pornography provokes violence against women and the liberal side of the aisle has tried to limit it on those grounds. Canada was very progressive on this front then found out it led to unpleasant results when conservatives made use of the laws crafted by the liberals.
Public support for the arts - Liberals tried to press for fewer restrictions on the funding and wound up with less funding.
Minutia - I also don't know what the status should be for all the flaky stuff that barely makes a blip on the public radar: movements to eliminate "In God We Trust" from the currency; attempts to legislate an expansion of the vacation time employees get each year; pretty much everything you find in a Peter Singer book; and so on.
Frankly, I'd expect the liberal track record to be poor. We have a whole bunch of people pushing a whole bunch of different reforms. Our natural inertia regarding even mild changes means that only the ones we've grown most certain of make it through. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of changes that we ought to make don't go through either.
—Steven Palmer Peterson
other responses to "Liberals"
Gay Pride Parade, Seattle, 2003
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