Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rejecting Stagnation: Why a Progressive Ideology is Really What America's All About

by Nomad

In a world impatient for change and for development, what's so wrong about a progressive superpower?

Candidate JEB expressed a complaint commonly heard among the conservatives about the progressive mentality.
The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington, D.C. solution.
Unlike a lot of rubbish endelessly repeated in the Republican ranks, JEB's remark is not entirely untrue. Too often too much faith is put in government to resolve all problems and immediately.
But is the alternative- of doing nothing and ignoring a problem- really any better? 

The Cancer that Ate America?
It strange to hear conservatives use the idea of progress as a kind of insult. Easily outraged Glenn Beck, back when he still had his gig at Fox News, once called JEB's brother and former President George W. Bush a progressive. (The nerve!) 
And yet, George Bush thought of himself as a “compassionate conservative." So perhaps the label is based more on one's perspective.

In the twisted mind of Glenn Beck, progressive ideology is a "cancer that's eating at America" and anybody who might think differently is "evil." Progressives are little better than Nazis, These are things he has actually claimed, at least.

The term progressive is often associated with change of a "radical" kind. As we all know, a radical is a dangerous person. Radicals blow up buildings and call for the overthrow of governments. A radical ideology is one that cannot be argued with. Compromise is not possible with radicals because a radical is not willing to respect anybody with a different opinion.

Of course, what could be more radical a policy than cutting health care for millions of Americans, eliminating environmental regulations that ensure clean air and clean water? What could be more radical than privatizing or cutting Social Security for seniors who depend on this assistance for their survival?
Shutting down the government solely on the basis of a ideological principle seems pretty radical to me. 

Beck wouldn't be the first person on the Right to use the term progressive in such a way. For quite some time now, according to conservative media, a progressive has been a very very bad thing to be.
Yet that view seems to run counter to so many ideas that America was actually built upon.

True, at one time, the crusade of progress was the launching pad for an American exceptionalism. America was the nation that brought democratic progress to the far-flung corners of the world (and with it, a hefty dose of American-style imperialism that made many Americans very rich.)  
Although it might have provided a cover for exploitation, it was nevertheless an idea most Americans firmly believed in. Progress, fashioned through hard work, thoughtful government policy, and cooperation.

Republican Teddy Roosevelt once said:
“A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy.”
If America wishes to have some greater influence in the world, then that must include embracing change.

How can a nation that once (and not so long ago) proclaimed itself to be the leader of the free world not be firmly committed to progress? A superpower that is not firmly committed to progress is not leading anybody.
Look at the abysmal conservative attitude to climate change.  While the rest of the world is citing science and research, the Right wing is reading passages of the Bible. While the rest of the world is sounding a warning that the world may soon become uninhabitable unless action is taken now, American conservatives are shrugging and calling it a conspiracy, "claptrap" and "bogus." Is that world leadership?

The definition of progress is something "taking place gradually or step by step" and it is associated with words like "growth" and "increase" and "development."
How can any these ideas be considered as evil as conservatives suggest? 

The Opposite of Progress
According to the dictionary, the opposite of progress is stagnation, deterioration, retreat, failure and hindrance. Those are hardly the kinds of ideas that a political party can successfully promote.

Yet, in example after example, for the last 30 years or so, the Republican party has appeared to be against the very idea of progress, viewing it as some kind of leftist conspiracy.
In fact, this isn't a new feature of the Grand Old Party. Many in the Democratic Party have interpreted the conservative mantra of "Take America Back" to mean taking the nation back to a time before the 1960s, (or even further back).

The Republican Party, they say, dreams about turning back the clock to a time before the Civil Rights Era, before Roe v. Wade and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social reforms. Back to an era when the rich weren't taxed, and wealth trickled down, when workers would work for slave wages and unions never existed and when Government knew its place as a friend or co-conspirator to Big Business. 

Taking America to the past is the very essence of retreat and deterioration and stagnant.

The Accomplishments of Another Generation
I am drawn back to a speech made by John Kennedy at a May 1962 rally in New York. The president spoke in support of this program for the medical care for seniors and in that speech, he expressed an attitude about progress very different than we seem to have today.  

Social programs should never be expected to solve all of our society's problems, but, as he said, it will be a place to begin.
We aren't able overnight to solve all the problems that this country faces, but is that any good reason why we should say, "Let's not even try"?
The complaints Kennedy heard about social programs for medical care for seniors were remarkably similar to the ones we have heard about affordable health care.

That didn't stop the president was making some kind of attempt to right the wrong, instead of doing nothing at all. Once upon a time in the US, an American citizen believed that if we have the power to do something but choose not to, it was as good as ignoring your responsibility. 

And that was as true of every citizen as it was for politicians. You might not succeed, there might be unforeseen problems and things might not go as planned but at least, you didn't sit back and allow things to get worse.
That's what we are going to do today, we are trying. We are trying. And what we're talking about here is true in a variety of other ways. All the great revolutionary movements of the Franklin Roosevelt administration in the thirties we now take for granted. But I refuse to see us live on the accomplishments of another generation. I refuse to see this country, and all of us, shrink from these struggles which are our responsibility in our time. Because what we are now talking about, in our children's day will seem to be the ordinary business of government.
In that passage, President Kennedy mentioned FDR. Franklin Roosevelt was in fact thwarted initially with his National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) when the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional. It was seen at the time as a crushing blow for the president. And yet, the people gave their own verdict on his efforts when FDR was re-elected in 1936 in a historic landslide victory.
That election was one of the most decisive in US history and in terms of the. In terms of the popular vote, it was the second-biggest victory for the winner since the election of 1820.

The opposition had been well-financed by the super wealthy and yet when faced with public support for progress, it went down in flames.

There was a reason for that result.
Many voters said that the president, successful or not, was, at least, trying and that counted for a lot. Roosevelt's opinion of the conservatives was clear when he waggishly said:
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.
The Business of the People
Like FDR before him, President Kennedy also appealed to the citizens to use their voice to support social progress. Kennedy asked them to petition the government- appealing to their representatives directly.
It was the responsibility of every citizen to demand progress. That means, of course, taking an active interest in government and putting pressure on your members of Congress.

The business of Government, President Kennedy said, was "the business of the people" and without that consideration, there's no reason for a government to exist at all. Sometimes Congress needs to be reminded who they work for and what they are supposed to be doing. 
This is the only way we can secure action to keep this country moving ahead, to have places to educate our children, to have decent housing, to do something about the millions of young children who leave our schools before they graduate.
In 1962, the Republican Party was just as obstructionist as it was back in Kennedy's time. In his 14 years in the Congress, Kennedy said, he had "yet to hear  hear of one single original piece of new, progressive legislation of benefit to the people, suggested and put into a fact by the Republican Party."
Social Security, unemployment compensation, housing legislation, care for the aged -- all of these programs -- civil rights, -- in 1953 and 1954 the Republican Party controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House. Not one single civil rights bill saw the light of day in either body.
Similarly, when Obamacare came along,  the GOP seemed to have nothing constructive to contribute to the discussion. The party refuses to offer a sensible alternative and refuses to compromise or yield to any attempt at a solution to America's expensive, unbalanced and inadequate health care system.

Two years after Kennedy's speech, Bob Dylan asked "Senators and Congressmen" to please heed the call and stop obstructing progress. He was referring to Republicans in Washington and those Democrats who might agree with them. And despite the conservation determination to block such things as Voter Rights and Civil Rights legislation, the tide turned against them.  

Unwilling and Unable
We see today a perfect example of history repeating itself.

Even as the Republican Party has done all it can to make progress into an evil idea and equating progressives to promoters of cancer, progress is still picking up momentum.

Gallup recently gave  a real shock for conservatives when surveys showed that the country is evenly split between those who identify as liberals versus conservatives.

Why is that such a shock? Because it is a major decline from 1999 when conservatives outnumbered liberals two-to-one. The growing number of people who consider themselves neither conservative nor liberal hasn't come not from the liberal ranks. These are former conservatives that have become disenchanted.

And when you take into consideration the fortunes spent and the 24/7 barrage of Fox News propaganda, all that manipulation and PR and lying and even with that the conservatives are still losing support.
Progress may not be such a dirty word after all.

Even more surprising is the fact that the Republicans are unable to face facts. 
For instance, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed the Gallup figures as a sign of the dumbing down of the average citizen whom he called "simpletons" who are "unwilling and unable to discipline themselves into formulating a philosophy of life.” That raises the bar on unintentionally ironic statements, I think. 

Choosing stagnation and decline over progress and development really don't require all much discipline or formulation.  

The Shift is Happening Now
Meanwhile, as conservatives scramble to hold their position, the rest of the country appears to be moving on, plodding step by step against the sludge.
,,,supported for a host of progressive policies that has driven this change — with support rising across the country for same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, abolishing the death penalty, and gun control. Though it wasn’t included in this particular poll, support for other progressive policies has also increased, including raising the minimum wage, offering all workers paid sick days, and renewable energy sources.
As Kennedy said in the era just before seismic changes of the 1960s. 
This cooperation between an alert and progressive citizenry and a progressive Government is what has made this country great.
So, conservatives are having to learn the hard way- once again- that progress is an American crowd pleaser and it is also an American tradition that cannot be villainized.