CLASSICAL LIBERALISM BROUGHT US 1776; PROGRESSIVISM BRINGS TYRANNY

July 4, 2014

On July 4, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson spent most of his first Independence Day as President out of the golf range. The next year, some five days after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Wilson was golfing again; this time with five other lawmakers and his chief of staff. That assassination was the spark that brought most of Europe into the First World War.

Wilson played golf again on Independence Day in 1915, 1916 and again three months after the U.S. officially entered the World War in 1917.

This is only important because in this fourth of July we are not celebrating the golfing anniversaries of the first profoundly anti-Constitutional progressive President in history. We merely recall the antics and a man who cared less for the country's founding than anyone up until the man currently occupying the White House.

As of this writing (Wednesday afternoon), neither the media nor the White House press office has disclosed whether President Obama is golfing today. He probably will as the world lights up in war and pestilence - just like his forefather Woodrow Wilson did.

Monday of this week, I read an article by Charles Murray which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, that truly sparked my interest about progressivism. He spells out the difference between the terms "liberal" and "progressive" and goes on to point out that it is not liberalism that is bringing down the United States. It is progressivism.

Murray noted that a few weeks back, he "was thrown into a situation where I shared drinks and dinner with two men who have held high positions in Democratic administrations. Both men are lifelong liberals. There’s nothing “moderate” about their liberalism. But as the pleasant evening wore on (we knew that there was no point in trying to change anyone’s opinion on anything), I was struck by how little their politics have to do with other elements of the left.

"Their liberalism has nothing in common with the political mind-set that wants right-of-center speakers kept off college campuses, rationalizes the forced resignation of a CEO who opposes gay marriage, or thinks George F. Will should be fired for writing a column disagreeable to that mind-set. It has nothing to do with executive orders unilaterally disregarding large chunks of legislation signed into law or with using the IRS as a political weapon. My companions are on a different political plane from those on the left with that outlook—the progressive mind-set…

""…the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century had roots in German philosophy (Hegel and Nietzsche were big favorites) and German public administration (Woodrow Wilson’s open reverence for Bismarck was typical among progressives). To simplify, progressive intellectuals were passionate advocates of rule by disinterested experts led by a strong unifying leader. They were in favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective. They thought that individualism and the Constitution were both outmoded."

Like Murray, I hate to completely give up the term “liberal.” Liberal used to be such a good word. It stood for limited government and human freedom and thought unbridled. Then FDR had to come and screw things up. But that aside, and I haven’t completely given up the term liberal, Charles Murray puts his finger on an important political distinction on the “Left.” There is a big difference between “liberals” and “progressives.”

I remember as a kid growing up with liberal members of my family. I could tell even as a small child that I would grow up and probably not agree with them on many things. However their general advocacy for legitimate tolerance and a generally peaceniky disposition appealed to me on a basic level. Indeed these folks informed my political evolution in a large way and it is these relationships (with lefty family and friends) which gave me many of the insights I needed to come to my small government philosophy.

Sadly this breed of lefty has been overwhelmed by the progressive." I consider today's progressive as a small minded and potentially dangerous political animal.

It was Howard Dean who started using the word again as the head of the DNC after his ill fated presidential run. It was basically a spin tool used to jettison the term “liberal” which polling had shown the American people saw as another word for permissive, soft on crime, wimpiness. Jimmy Carter was a “liberal.” The Dems wanted to kill that perception. So they landed on the word “progressive.”

It was a smart move actually. Who doesn’t want “progress”? To oppose “progress” and “progressivism” one would have to be a backward thinking troll. It kind of worked for a bit, for some people.

The term came into (re)use just as there was a concurrent (what I perceive as) negative shift on the Left. The politically correct generation came on the scene. A brand of leftism associated with political conformity, with hard core statism, with an antipathy toward a Constitution written by a bunch of white, land owning, gun toting, in some cases slave holding, dead guys even though it was a flower of the enlightenment and a break from centuries of rule by monarch, took hold. The “progressives” were not interested in making a better America. They were interested in “fundamentally transforming” the United States as Barrack Obama said in the run up to the 2008 election. They were and are about power. They were and are about shutting off debate. They were and are about intolerance of any thing or person which challenges the statist worldview. They see the Constitution as an impediment to change. Something which should be marginalized and certainly not celebrated.

I speak very broadly here of course. Not every individual who calls himself or herself a progressive believes all these things or to the same extent.

But as an example, the general modern progressive mentality I think was expressed beautifully by Michelle Obama when she said that the first time she had been proud of the United States in her adult life was when the country elected her husband president.

Hey, this country has plenty of problems and we are certainly no cheerleaders for the state, but the first time in your adult life that you’ve been proud of the United States? That’s insane.

But she said it (publicly) like it was no big deal. She was soon to be the First Lady of the country she had never been proud of.

I don’t think Jimmy Carter would have said what Ms. Obama said. I don’t think Bill Moyers would have said it. I don’t think Jon Stewart would have said it. I don’t think Ralph Nader would have said it. I don’t think even think Howard Dean himself would have said it.

And I don’t mean to harp on some sort of “patriotism” which is often used for much evil, even in the good ole’ US of A as some sort of litmus test. But the above statement from Ms. Obama exposes a distinct psychology and one of the many cleavages on the American Left.

As Charles Murray points out below, it is vital that people on both the Left and the Right (whatever those terms mean these days) to understand these distinctions. The American political landscape is changing. The Left is not a monolith just as the Right is not. There are opportunities for good work across ideological differences so long as we can operate in something which closely resembles good faith. So long as we generally agree that this is supposed to be a free country I think this can be done in a limited way.

However, if we don’t agree on the fundamental dignity of the free individual we aren’t going to get anywhere. I think that most modern liberals believe that this country should be a “free” country. They might be misguided (in my opinion) on a whole host of things. They may not understand that liberty must extend in both the personal and economic spheres. But I think they value freedom. Progressives, and this is for another essay, perhaps also the neoconservatives, do not fundamentally. The goal with these folks is power.

Freedom for people versus power to the state. It is possible to be a liberal and not a progressive. But don't tell Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Nancy Pelosi and certainly not Barack Obama. Such a liberal would be branded at least an old "Blue Dog Democrat" but worse, "a patriot."

A good test to distinguish between a liberal and a progressive is for you to think back to when you were in college and see if whether you ever thought “speech codes” were a good idea. If you did you are pretty much a slam dunk “progressive.”


We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.