Our New Regressivism
About fifteen years ago, many liberals began to self-identify as progressives—partly because of the implosion of the Great Society and the Reagan reaction that had tarnished the liberal brand and left it as something akin to “permissive” or “naïve,” partly because “progressive” was supposedly an ideological rather than a political identification, and had included some early twentieth-century Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.
But twenty-first century progressivism is not aimed at political reform. There is no new effort at racial unity. There is not much realization that we are in a globalized, rapidly changing, high-tech economy or that race and gender are not as they were fifty years ago. Instead, progressivism has become a reactionary return to the 1960s—or even well before. The new regressivism seeks to resurrect the machine ethos of Mayor Daley, the glory green days of the Whole Earth Catalog, the union era of George Meany, Jimmy Hoffa, and Walter Reuther, the racial polarization of the old Black Panther Party and the old Al Sharpton, and a Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, or Peter Jennings reading to us each evening three slightly different versions of the Truth.
The New Old Chicago
Barack Obama is trying to turn back the way of politics to the era of the pre-reform Chicago machine. He was the first presidential candidate to renounce campaign-financing funds since the law was enacted. He opposes any effort to clamp down on voting fraud. Even his compliant media worries that the president’s current jetting from one campaign stop to another in the key swing states is a poorly disguised way to politick on the federal government’s dime. Bundlers are, as was the ancient custom, given plum honorific posts abroad. Obama has held twice as many fundraisers as the much reviled George Bush had at a similar point in his administration. Obama supporters now target large Romney givers and post their names with negative bios on websites, as if we are back to Nixon’s enemies of the people. Websites sprout up that go after administration critics in Agnew style, but without the latter’s self-caricature. The 2008 criticism about ending the revolving door, lobbyists, and pay-for-play renting out of the Lincoln bedroom was, well…just examine the career of a Peter Orszag. An embarrassed media keeps silent about the new reactionary ethics, apparently on the premise that not to would endanger four more years of the “progressive” agenda. On matters of presidential style, we are likewise retro, as Obama sets records for playing golf, and in Marie Antoinette style the First Family bounces between Vail, Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, Vegas, and Costa del Sol, often in separate jets, as if we, the people, receive vicarious joy from catching glimpses of the Obama versions of Camelot. We have Kennedy wannabes without their own Kennedy money.
Earth Day Forever
On matters of energy, Obama has regressed to the Earth Day mindset of the 1970s, when we were reaching “peak” oil, and untried wind and solar were soon to be the new-age remedy for soon-to-be-exhausted fossil fuels. Add up the anti-empirical quotes from Obama himself, Energy Secretary Chu, and Interior Secretary Salazar (inflate your tires, “tune up” your car, look to U.S. algae reserves, let energy prices “skyrocket,” hope gas rises to European levels, don’t open federal lands even if gas reaches $10 a gallon, etc.) and, in reactionary fashion, we are time-machined back to the campus quad of the 1970s. In this la la world of Van Jones, evil oil companies supposedly connived to stifle green energy and hook us on fossil fuels, inferior energies that have nothing to recommend them. It is as if the revolutions in horizontal drilling, fracking, and discoveries of vast new reserves never occurred, as if Exxon and Chevron dodge taxes in a manner that Google and Amazon never would, as if efficient smaller gas engines, clean gas blends, and pollution devices have not made the American car both clean-burning and economical beyond our imagination forty years ago. The Obamians, frozen in amber, really believe oil is about to run out, “tuned up” internal combustion engines powering underinflated tires pollute as they did in the 1920s, and Teapot Dome U.S. oil companies need to be “crucified”—as regional EPA director and Obama appointee Al Armendariz, in fact, boasted. So we borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize money-losing solar and wind plants, while putting federal lands rich in oil and gas off-limits to companies eager to pay royalties, hire thousands, and supply the U.S. with its own energy—and all for a regressive ideology. Few see that Solyndra really is the new Teapot Dome.