In the early to mid-20th century, Herbert Hoover and FDR implemented progressive-inspired legislation that aimed left and more left, justified on the basis of “helping the Nation recover.” The result was the longest, deepest Depression in American history. By contrast, in response to the sharp, deflationary recession of the early 1920s, Warren Harding and Congress (ignoring Commerce Secretary Hoover’s advice) took almost no action, apart from cutting the federal budget in half. As a result, that severe contraction is barely remembered today because it was so short.
Later, progressive ideas gave birth to the Great Society legislation in the mid-60s, justified on the basis of “helping those most in need.” Among its other legacies, the U.S. is now saddled with a politically armor-plated $468 billion dollar public health care system — Medicare — that’s a major driver of our current economic woes and future anxiety. (Medicaid and CHIP account for an additional $285 billion.)
None of this — and examples could be multiplied manyfold — fazes progressives in the least. It doesn’t cause them to question the truth of their views. It doesn’t move them even to consider alternatives that might better explain the world around them or lead to better outcomes. They don’t, because their philosophy isn’t built on logical analyses of observable evidence; it’s built on a moral falsehood and an arbitrary moral imperative.
Progressivism, boiled down and applied to society, amounts to this: “There exists a large-scale social problem — a national need for growth, widespread poverty, many who lack medical care. When some people suffer, others have a collective moral obligation to help, no matter how those people got where they are. The government is the only one who can do something about large-scale suffering, and it has a duty to act.”
No evidence to the contrary, no moral argument about the values of thrift, prudence, and self-reliance, no legal discussion about constitutional limits, no contrary economic history or theory sways them in the least. Witness Paul Krugman’s columns. Or Eugene Robinson’s, or Ezra Klein’s, or dozens more. This is not reasonable disagreement around the edges. This, in more honest circles, is what’s known as devotion to dogma.
Barack Obama swallowed that dogma decades ago. It’s all he knows, all he lets himself know. So it should be no surprise that whenever there’s any big public issue Obama takes the progressive position. And, since progressivism is, at bottom, an alien philosophy opposed to all the core American values, it’s also no surprise that he winds up making trouble for himself so often.
Obama has to keep saying dumb things. The progressive playbook is the only one he reads.
(Cartoon by Michael Ramirez of Investor’s Business Daily.)