Most Progressives were actually interested in governing.

24 09 2009

Via Firedoglake, I notice that David Broder seems to agree with a lot of right-wing crazies that the (historical) Progressive Movement was somehow wrong-headed. To do this, he quotes and paraphrases someone from the right-wing Hudson Institute in his Washington Post column:

[William Schambra] traces the roots of this approach to the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when rapid social and economic change created a politics dominated by interest-group struggles. The progressives believed that the cure lay in applying the new wisdom of the social sciences to the art of government, an approach in which facts would heal the clash of ideologies and narrow constituencies.

Really? What about the Prohibitionists? The white slave fear mongers? Heck, I don’t think Jane Addams even fits that description. More:

“In one policy area after another,” Schambra writes, “from transportation to science, urban policy to auto policy, Obama’s formulation is virtually identical: Selfishness or ideological rigidity has led us to look at the problem in isolated pieces . . . we must put aside parochialism to take the long systemic view; and when we finally formulate a uniform national policy supported by empirical and objective data rather than shallow, insular opinion, we will arrive at solutions that are not only more effective but less costly as well. This is the mantra of the policy presidency.”

Historically, that approach has not worked. The progressives failed to gain more than brief ascendancy, and the Carter and Clinton presidencies were marked by striking policy failures.

Thinking ahead is Un-American? Boy are we in trouble then. Besides, look at the history here: seven years of TR and eight years Wilson makes 15 years. That’s an awful lot of time to control the presidency and that figuring doesn’t count the influence of Progressives on the state level. And on what planet can Carter or Clinton ever be considered progressive?

It’s Broder’s criteria for success, however, that I think is most telling. If a movement isn’t ascendant, he thinks it’s somehow failed. Progressivism wasn’t about gaining control; it was about actually making government work for people. What does David Broder have against the Pure Food and Drug Act? The Clayton Antitrust Act? The direct election of senators? The income tax? [I’m sure the Hudson Institute would love to kill that last one, but responsible people would have to come up with an alternative way to make up the revenue and there is none.]

Unsuccessful in their efforts to roll back the New Deal into nothing, the right wing crazies have decided to start attacking the Progressive Movement in order to undermine the case that government can do anything right. Progressives were interested in legislative achievement, not power. They’re being demonized now because they are the original regulators, and when they were around America needed regulation badly. Turn that around and an awful lot of people are going to suffer needlessly.

But just you wait, the more Obama tries to change things for the better, the further back they’ll go trying to undercut the reputation of past reforms. I look forward to the day when Glenn Beck discovers the Articles of the Confederation.



One response

30 09 2009
Next up: The Pure Food and Drug Act? « More or Less Bunk

[…] one thing to attack the Progressive Era in general, especially if you want to take cheap shots at Margaret Sanger (or anyone else who’s still […]

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