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Guest Thinkers

Being Progressive?

1. The Tea Partiers–and many other conservatives–distinguish between the view of our Founders (good) and that of the Progressives (bad).  The Progressives (beginning around the turn of the 20th century) have undermined the intention of our Founders–which was to protect individual freedom by permanently limiting government through a written Constitution.

2. Our Founders, from this conservative view, took their bearings from HUMAN NATURE–what’s always true about members of our species.  The Progressives think that we–and so society–change for the better over time.  We are less products of nature than of HISTORY.  We live at a more advanced point in History than that of our Founders, and so our devotion to their great accomplishments doesn’t mean that it makes sense for us to uncritically follow their guidance.  For the most part, conditions and people have changed for the better.

3. That means that, for Progressives, the history of our country should be understood as EVOLUTION toward BIGGER and BETTER GOVERNMENT.  The New Deal was an improvement over what came before it; new social conditions made the welfare state necessary, possible, and beneficial.  The same is true of the various reforms of the Sixties–from the Civil Rights legislation to LBJ’s Great Society.  And the same is true of the various reforms of President Obama and his Democratic Congress–especially the reform that uses the power of government to guarantee affordable health care for everyone.

4. What the PROGRESSIVES call historical evolution, some conservatives call THE ROAD TO SERFDOM.  Americans have gradually surrendered their freedom to the SOFT DESPOTISM of a meddlesome nanny state.  ObamaCare really means government care at the expense of personal choice and responsibility.

5. It seems to me that the PROGRESSIVE and (conservative) ANTI-PROGRESSIVE narratives share common exaggerations.  As a “public philosophy,” Progressivism in America stalled out in America in about 1966, with public disenchantment with the obviously imprudent excesses of the Great Society.  Around then, the Supreme Court abandoned its flirtations with the idea that our Constitution somehow includes “wefare rights.”  And around then, it became perfectly clear that FDR’s 1944  allegedly new and improved list of security-based rights (guaranteed by government) was not going to catch on.

6. That doesn’t mean we still haven’t had plenty of Progressive intellectuals and all that since then.  But their view hasn’t dominated our political life.  LBJ (until Obama) was our last Progressive president.  Carter was just confused.  Clinton abandoned his early Progressivism after his party was swamped in the election of 1994 (which of course has obvious similarities with the 2010 Republican landslide).

7. So President Obama’s miscalculation, it would seem, was to think that he had a Progressive mandate.  His victory in 2008 was essentially a “negative landslide.”  So was FDR’s in 1932, you might say, but through Progressive reform he turned it into a hugely positive affirmation in 1936.  But at this point nobody thinks Obama is going to win in that way in 2012.  Even if he squeaks by (which is somewhere between possible and likely), the Republicans will retain control of Congress by a comfortable majority.  It’ll be no Progressive mandate.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ve tested your patience enough for one blog.


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