Originally in American Thinker, January 12, 2010.
Blindness to physical reality, denial of human nature, and a consuming desire to use government force to impose fantasies on fellow human beings. Welcome to the mind of today’s American “progressive.”
Progressives veil sophomoric schemes in eloquent verbiage. Barack Obama’s mastery of the technique got him elected president. Sixty-nine and a half million Americans would not have voted for Obama had he failed to conceal the differences between his campaign spiel and the contents of his heart.
Convinced of the goodness of their intentions, ideologues like Obama mistake tyranny for noble action. And to achieve their noble objectives, today’s progressives bend the truth far more than did predecessors like John Dewey, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR. Yet Obama has increasingly adopted a more direct modus operandi since becoming president. The “centrist” disguise has disintegrated.
Progressivism initially appeared on the American scene in response to problems that cried for solutions. Peter Berkowitz describes the movement’s birth.
The original progressivism arose in the 1880s and 1890s and flourished during the first two decades of the 20th century. It is associated with, among others, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, scholars Fredrick Jackson Turner and Charles Beard, reformer Jane Addams, theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, philosopher and educator John Dewey, and journalist and New Republic founder Herbert Croly.
At their best, the original progressives responded to dramatic social and economic upheavals generated by the industrial revolution, opposed real Gilded Age abuses, and promoted salutary social and political reforms. They took the side of the exploited, the weak, and the wronged. They fought political corruption and sought to make political institutions more responsive to the will of the people. And they advanced programs and policies that, in a changing world, brought liberal democracy in America more in line with the Declaration of Independence’s and the Constitution’s original promise of freedom and equality for all.
So some original progressives had a positive influence on the country. But history shows that the ideas of zealots like Wilson, Croly, Dewey, and FDR had devastating effects. Government size and intrusion into business and private life have mushroomed. America’s education system has decayed into a vehicle for infecting young people with pie-in-the-sky misconceptions of human nature and twisted versions of the American story.
Decades since the progressive movement began, a clear picture has developed of rabid ideologues like Margaret Sanger, whose racism incited her to conceive the eugenic “Negro Project” to reduce the “inferior” black population. Progressive minds like Sanger’s, capable of spawning the depravity of Planned Parenthood, are dark places.
Today, the truth stares Americans in the face. While progressivism was born of an earnest desire to advance personal freedom, the ideology devolved into a collection of approaches that would lock people in the chains of a centrally planned society, with progressive elites withholding the keys to the locks. The elitists truly believe that legislative and regulatory shackles can remold human nature to conform to an impossibly perfect vision.
We need look no farther than our progressive-in-chief for the embodiment of the stubborn pseudo-intellectual who views himself as society’s infallible guiding hand. Barack Obama wants government to “spread the wealth” by taking wealth from high earners who spread it more broadly and deeply than government ever could. Our president thinks that Americans who are concerned about decaying values and explosive federal spending are too “scared” to trust cherry-picked “facts and science.” Obama believes that people are wasting valuable time “pushing away challenges, looking backwards” — presumably focusing on really dreadful stuff like wholesome values, common sense, and facts evidenced by history. Barack the magic driver says that Republicans critical of his magic bus “can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.”
A hundred years ago, Herbert Croly foretold the Obama mindset, declaring that “the average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to a serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat.”1 Peter Berkowitz suggests that today’s progressives probably find Croly’s declaration “mortifying.” I think Berkowitz misses the mark. Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Time’s Joe Klein, U.C. Berkley linguist George Lakoff, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank, and countless other progressives routinely make an exhibition of their insufferably arrogant elitism. Obama’s superior manner and California Representative Pete Stark’s outrageous impudence typify the demeanor of today’s enlightened ones.
With a smugness celebrated by soul mates in the media, Barack Obama inspires American progressives to flaunt their haughtiness. Describing the posturing that accompanies the haughtiness, Berkowitz observes that Obama’s techniques constitute an “effort to push dramatic transformation under the cover of moderation, pragmatism, and post-partisanship.”
My characterization is more straightforward. The media actively sell Obama’s phony “moderation, pragmatism, and post-partisanship” to “cover” actions that are immoderate, impractical, and entirely partisan. Obama purveys doublespeak to convince people of one thing while the illusionist-in-chief does another. Millions of Americans voted for a package of illusions in 2008.
Obamaesque deceit and conceit are easily summarized: progressives sanctify pretty theory as obviously true and condemn ugly reality as necessarily false. Progressives see themselves as incapable of error and believe that rejection of their high-mindedness could be undertaken only by commoners too dim to comprehend what’s best.
During the two years after Barack Obama moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Democrats increased their stranglehold on Congress, something became crystal-clear. A hideous infestation called progressivism has uglified the White House and the Democrat Party. The tyrannous legislative and regulatory rampages that Obama and the Democrats undertook made something else clear. Until progressivism is flushed from the party, Democrats must never again be entrusted with substantial influence in government.
1 Herbert David Croly, The Promise of American Life, 1909, p. 276.