Theodore Roosevelt, when asked what a Progressive was, once responded: “A Progressive is a conservative who resolutely sets his face towards the future.” Putting aside for a moment the issue of how conservatives moved away from the norm of limited government and began to stretch the meaning of the Constitution, let us ponder the issue of political labels and what they have come to mean.
Today’s would-be liberal Democrats are very anxious to have themselves defined as not only people who care, but as those who embody in their very being the notion of progress, based on an ever-expanding welfare state. In the ’40s and ’50s, they used the term “liberal” to describe themselves, even though they had hijacked the very meaning of liberal, which had arisen from the doctrine of classical liberalism associated with the defenders of laissez-faire ideology, as well as from the concept of the liberal culture of the West, which definitely did not have anything to do with an ever-growing state power.
Once our country passed through the volatile 1960s, with the emergence of both the counterculture and the New Left, most Americans came to identify liberals as those who identified with and supported all the excesses of both, including the use of violence, the disdain for authority and order, the calls for revolution, and the abandonment of moral values to hold the social order together. Quickly discovering that the term “liberal” and the idea of liberalism began to have a negative content, those who used to proudly assert that pedigree decided they had to come up with something else. That turned out to be the old term “progressive,” adopted from the old Progressive movement of the early 20th century.
Ironically, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, those “liberals” who were vigorously opposed to the totalitarianism of the Left as well as the far Right called themselves “anti-Communist liberals” who favored the Vital Center, to use Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s phrase. They sought to distinguish themselves from their old allies during the New Deal era who worked with the Communists and fellow-travelers, and who still wanted to keep that alliance alive when most Americans came to understand that there really was a Soviet threat. The so-called liberals, who still favored a Popular Front with the Communists, then began to call themselves “progressives.”
Of course, they were not progressive, in any sense of the word, just as today’s left-liberals who now also call themselves progressives are not. What they really are — and I strongly believe we should begin to regularly call them this — are reactionaries. I use that term because when they argue against any movement to curb entitlements, demand an answer to fiscal crisis by “taxing the rich” and implementing higher and higher taxes, and argue on behalf of more and more bailouts, as does Paul Krugman, or new social programs like national health insurance and universal, free, government-funded health care, they are looking backwards for “solutions” that would make things worse for everyone, and that would both quickly fail and leave the United States a society on the way to permanent collapse.
Writing in Time, Fareed Zakaria points out that Barack Obama’s response to the agenda set forth by Rep. Paul Ryan finds the president doing the opposite of acting like a grownup, and trying on his own to let the nation know how he intends to deal with what is a very real coming major economic crisis. Zakaria writes that the entire “liberal establishment is in full fury over Ryan’s plan,” instead of realizing that although they might argue the plan has flaws and needs fixing, they are seeking to yell bloody murder about how it will harm the elderly, the middle class, and the poor.
As Brad Schaffer writes at Frum Forum, Chris Matthews told his Hardball audience that Ryan’s bill “would kill half the people who watch this show.” Schaffer points out that in fact, those really hurt by Medicare and the proposals to extend it and enlarge it are the young, who will be paying through the nose. Matthews went on to say that “the federal government promised that back in the 1960s, that they would take care of people who have worked their whole life for their medical costs.” On this, Schaffer comments: “True enough. But that was nearly fifty years ago. It was a promise based upon faulty actuarials and bogus assumptions and now, after decades of kicking the can down the road, the bill has finally come due.”