We need a new understanding of what "liberal" means in the 21st century. Media-influenced social pressures combined with a misdirected reliance on government to establish justice and equality have left the meaning of liberal unclear, and have left liberals philosophically conflicted. It's obvious by now that statism isn't working and that too much liberty is being sacrificed in the name of theoretical justice based on an anti-capitalist prejudice promoted by progressive ideology.
There's a large portion of society who've followed the lead of philosophical statists who are a mixture of ideology and plain old power-hunger. These statists represent two camps which we've learned to identify as left and right, with progressives on the left and a form of conservatism on the right. Liberals have aligned themselves with progressive statism, while conservatives have aligned themselves, until lately, with moderate right-of-center statism. For awhile social conservatives depended on the moderate, right-of-center, establishment Republicans as the route to government power and establishment of laws protecting traditional moral objectives, protecting a way of life social conservatives saw threatened by liberal values related to homosexuality, pornography, feminism, atheism, drug use, and all sorts of alternative life-styles. This push from the right pushed liberals further left, as liberals wanted to avoid government intervention in life-style choices, minority advancements and civil liberty.
Before the conservative right's push to protect traditional values, liberals had already moved toward reliance on government intervention, beginning with the New Deal, to establish social justice, but in the late 20th century, the division was deepened and battle lines were clearly drawn -- two forms of statism were battling one another, and still are, as liberty and the free market suffered. What we have today is a slowly forming realization that this battle has damaged America and empowered the statists who've encouraged the battle all along in order to establish State power and control.
The principles of classical liberalism were lost in the battle over social issues. The social issues have been resolved for the most part, but the division created by left/right mindsets is still deep. Most people accept the gay reality, encourage women to compete and succeed in all endeavors, show tolerance for both secular and spiritual beliefs, question the Drug War, especially with marijuana, and accept alternative lifestyles as the way things are. You hardly hear anything mentioned about the "Moral Majority" -- there are no more Falwells with political power. This should be a relief to the moderate, right-of-center, establishment Republicans, who barely tolerated the soial conservatives but needed them -- and the moderates would be relieved if they had won in the change, but something unexpected happened -- an anti-statist movement developed which threatens the moderates' control of the Republican Party. What does this have to do with liberals? Well, it creates a new dynamic and it puts pressure on liberals, and moderates for that matter, to make some very important choices.
The moderate, right-of-center, establishment Republicans foresaw the problem with social conservativism years ago and moved toward modern liberalism as a way to garner the support of independents -- independents being people who are a mixture of tolerance and common sense. Independents are mostly people who've been busy working and concerning themselves with family and community, never becoming politically active to fight for any particular causes -- most independents think politics is a game, but they've been tolerant of certain government interventions because they thought the interventions were probably necessary, but never really paid much attention, until lately.
Now that independents are paying more attention, several things have happened -- they realize that government has gained too much power and that government spending is killing the economy. When independents listen to the political class discuss our problems, it doesn't make sense. Independents haven't invested themselves in partisan battles, so they can be more objective. When independents hear the left talk about the anti-statist movement as racist, ignorant and out-of-touch with reality, they see this as hyperbole. The independents have witnessed all the social changes of the past few decades, and they don't see anything threatening coming from the right, especially as portrayed by the left. Yes, there are still fundamentalists who rant and rave against the immorality of our society, but they don't see these people as having political power to force this brand of morality on society.
What the independents do witness are progressive attempts to force their brand of morality on society, and they see liberals as supporters of the progressive agenda. It appears to me that conservatives had to make adjustments to their worldview and become more tolerant of alternative lifestyles in the name of liberty, but liberals haven't made that same adjustment by rejecting progressivism in the name of liberty. In many ways, limited-government conservatives, independents and true liberals should have a lot in common. When you get past the extremes, which on the right are becoming more and more marginalized and politically dis-empowered, the great majority of Americans should, generally, want the same things -- a consitutionally limited government, a vibrant economy with low unemployment, conservative government spending, a State that doesn't interfere in our private lives, a strong national defense, peace, charity, unrestricted competition (no corporate welfare) in a free market and a strong court system which punishes all forms of fraud and rights violations. These are not right or left values, they are traditional, American, liberal values.
Liberals must re-evaluate their beliefs, and if they agree with the progressive agenda, then go for it, but if they uphold classical liberal values, then they need to get past the progressive pressure to demonize anti-statists as rightwing extremists. Liberals should embrace anti-statism. As independents become more involved in political matters, liberal resistance to an anti-statist movement will be seen as a complete acceptance of progressivism and an American-style socialism patterned after European socialism -- liberals will be on the wrong side of history. "Liberal" will no longer have any meaning, and the majority of the American people, transcending right/left, will move forward, concerned less wih labels than with outcomes. This also applies to moderates, Republican-establish types, waiting to see who gains power -- moderates need to committ soon or be seen as base opportunists.