Death of the Progressive Ideal

A friend of mine used to joke every time I pointed out an irritating feature of modern living, “Can’t the government do something?”

“Doing something” has been the battle cry of the liberal for decades now and the theme that unites much of the Democratic Party. In fact, the idea that the American people are quite capable of doing plenty for themselves and by themselves has gone by the wayside for the anointed. Witness this apoplectic reaction to Rick Perry’s candidacy by Jeff Greenfield.

I have grave reservations about Rick Perry, as noted in a previous blog. However, he does seem to capture the sentiments of limited-government advocates when he states his desire to “make Washington inconsequential” to the lives of Americans. Wow. Can you even imagine a statement like that a few years ago?

Neither can Greenfield, who descends instantly to the lowest rung of the logic ladder offering this: “It took federal force to bring civil and voting rights to the black citizens of the South some half-century ago.” Greenfield, in fairness, “hopes” Perry does not believe this is not a legitimate use of federal force, but that did not stop Politico from using a picture of the National Guard escorting black students to school with his article. Let’s see…limited government leads to lynching and other really bad stuff.

The Left has become so insulated from the idea that government’s primary purpose is to protect individual rights that it simply does not have cognitive space for it anymore, if it ever did. Of the items on his list of things government has been doing (read “should continue to do”) are overwhelmingly the very programs that have brought us to the brink of financial catastrophe.

Geoffrey P. Hunt of American Thinker puts it well:

How absurd to suggest that by rejecting job killing global warming taxes and denouncing EPA regulations crippling business expansion and economic growth, Perry would also have opposed the Homestead Act and desegregation.

Add to that an embarrassing (to Progressives) fact. They really have not had to defend their view of government in decades. Sure, there have been occasional weak forays into libertarian territory, but for the most part, liberals have had free reign to expand, expand, and expand some more the reach, size, and scope of the Leviathan. Republicans, even ones calling themselves conservative, have also done little to staunch the green flow of blood–they just spend it elsewhere.

Now the American public is seriously engaged in a reconsideration of whether government improves their lives by and large or just manages to screw them up. This has liberals at a loss for words, as no one has ever asked them to justify their ideology in any meaningful way since FDR. Is it time to sound the death knell for Progressivism? Maybe not yet, but if the movement embarrasses itself anymore it may be time to start shopping for a casket.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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