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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


progressives are conservatives

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
I was forwarded this by a reliably leftist progressive acquaintance.

Do you think that Barack Obama is going to fight for the common man, or will he - like every other candidate in the race - be beholden to corporate interests? Well, guess who is the number one recipient of campaign funds from the following industries: computer and Internet companies, commercial banks, health professionals, health services and HMOs, hospitals and nursing homes, lawyers and law firms, miscellaneous health care interests, pharmaceutical and health product producers, securities and investment interests (groups with serious cash), and television, movie, and music companies?

If you guessed Hillary Clinton, you're right! Guess who's in second place? A man by the name of Barack Obama.

If you think that BO is going to work for the common good of the common man, you may be a moron.

I assume the text above is excerpted from the counterpunch link appended, though I've no stomach to really click over.

I think that a lot of self-styled progressives in the mainstream left are really ordinary liberals. The attitude on display above, however, is representative of what the actual progressives today are on about. Given a choice between a term for my political philosophy like liberal, which has a century of honest and storied tradition and heritage, and an ever-moving target like "progressive" which is alwys pegged to the leading edge of the leftwarde wave, I choose liberal. The conservatives did their best to malign the term, but we can reclaim it.

I take the critique seriously that progressives at the turn of the century were who brought us so much liberal reform. But the progressives of that era have a tenuous connection at best to the Counterpunch types of today. We mainstream liberals are those original Progressives true intellectual heirs. Interestingly, Progressivism as a movement may actually have this in common with conservatism, which also is a victim of its own success, as Fareed Zakaria explains:

Conservatism grew powerful in the 1970s and 1980s because it proposed solutions appropriate to the problems of the age—a time when socialism was still a serious economic idea, when marginal tax rates reached 70 percent, and when the government regulated the price of oil and natural gas, interest rates on checking accounts and the number of television channels. The culture seemed under attack by a radical fringe. It was an age of stagflation and crime at home, as well as defeat and retreat abroad. Into this landscape came Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, bearing a set of ideas about how to fix the world. Over the next three decades, most of their policies were tried. Many worked. Others didn't, but in any event, time passed and the world changed profoundly. Today, as Frum writes, "after three decades of tax cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax." Inflation has been tamed, the economy does not seem overregulated to most, and crime is not at the forefront of people's consciousness. The culture has proved robust, and has in fact been enriched and broadened by its diversity. Abroad, the cold war is won and America sits atop an increasingly capitalist world. Whatever our problems, an even bigger military and more unilateralism are not seen as the solution.

Today's world has a different set of problems. A robust economy has not lifted the median wages of Americans by much. Most workers are insecure about health care, and most corporations are unnerved by its rising costs. Globalization is seen as a threat, bringing fierce competition from dozens of countries. The danger of Islamic militancy remains real and lasting, but few Americans believe they understand the phenomenon or know how best to combat it. They see our addiction to oil and the degradation of the environment as real dangers to a stable and successful future. Most crucially, Americans' views of the state are shifting. They don't want bigger government—a poll last year found that a majority (57 percent) still believe that government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life—but they do want a smarter government, one that can help them be safe, secure and well prepared for political and economic challenges. In this context, conservative slogans sound weirdly anachronistic, like watching an old TV show from ... well, from the 1970s.

I have the same anachronistic sense listening to the Counterpunch types, who seem forever stuck in the 60s. There's an inherent cynicism and pessimism prevalent among the Progressive mindset which strikes me as at odds with wanting to move things forward.

Fundamentally, a liberal must be an optimist about the power of government to effect change for the common good, and believe that a man can make a difference. Modern progressives believe that no one is good enough, ever, and that no matter how far we have come, it still fails miserably and falls short. Like conservatism, progressivism is cynical and pessimistic, a relic of an earlier time. The future belongs to us.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.