American Progressivism

I.  Who were the Progressives, and why are they important? 

II.  The Progressives and their Attack on America’s Founding

III.  How the Progressives Originated the Modern Presidency

IV. Progressivism and Socialism

V. Progressivism and the Current Crisis




I.  Who were the Progressives, and why are they important? 

R.J. Pestritto

Shipley Professor of the American Constitution at Hillsdale College 


 

American Progressivism

by Ronald J. Pestritto

Glenn has asked me to expand a bit on our discussion of America’s Progressives from Friday’s television show, which I’ll do in this and four subsequent pieces for the newsletter.  In today’s piece, I’ll explain who the Progressives were and why they were important.   

Many on the left today call themselves “progressive,” and they do so not just because it’s a nicer way of saying “liberal,” but also because they very much intend to revive the political principles of America’s original Progressives, from the Progressive Era of the 1880s through World War I.  Why would leftist politicians, like Mrs. Clinton, purposely identify themselves with this Progressive movement? 

The reason is that America’s original Progressives were also its original, big-government liberals.  Most people point to the New Deal era as the source of big government and the welfare state that we have today.  While this is perfectly accurate, it is important to understand that the principles of the New Deal did not originate in the New Deal; rather, they came from the Progressives, who had dominated American politics and intellectual cultural a generation prior to the New Deal. 

We have no less an authority on this connection than Franklin Roosevelt himself.  When FDR campaigned in 1932, he pointed to the Progressives – and in particular to Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – as the source of his ideas about government.   

In terms of the personalities who made up the Progressive movement, some are familiar to us and others are less so.  The movement was comprised of well known politicians like Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt; but it was also comprised of intellectuals and writers who are less well known but who have been very influential in America.  There were folks like John Dewey, who was America’s public philosopher for much of the early 20th century.  Even less well known was Herbert Croly, but Croly was highly influential, since he founded and was the first editor of The New Republic – which became the main organ of Progressive opinion in the United States, and is still one of the most important journals on the Left today.  I should add here that Woodrow Wilson actually fell into both of these categories – he was both a well known politician and president, but also was, for decades prior to his entry into politics, a prominent intellectual (a college professor and president of Princeton) who wrote many books and influential articles. 

As I’ll explain in my next piece, these Progressives wanted a thorough transformation in America’s principles of government, from a government permanently dedicated to securing individual liberty to one whose ends and scope would change to take on any and all social and economic ills.  Here’s the order of the points we’ll consider in the pieces to follow: 

    1) What did Progressives think about the American founding, and why did they want to eradicate its principles? 

    2) How did we get today’s excessively powerful presidency from the Progressives? 

    3) What was the connection between Progressivism and Socialism?  Were the Progressives actually Socialists? 

    4) What are some of the critical connections between Progressivism and what’s going on in our country today? 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




II.  The Progressives and their Attack on America’s Founding


 

As I mentioned in my last piece, America’s Progressives aimed for a thorough transformation in America’s principles of government.  While our founders understood that our national government must have the capacity to be strong and vigorous (this is why the Articles of Confederation were failing), they also were very clear that this strength must always be confined to very limited ends or areas of responsibility; government, in other words, while not weak or tiny, was to be strictly limited.   

The Progressive conception of government, on the other hand, was quite the opposite; Progressives had an “evolving” or a “living” notion of government (yes, we get the term “living constitution” from the Progressives), and thus wanted government to take on whatever role and scope the times demanded.  The Progressives reasoned that people of the founding era may have wanted a limited government, given their particular experience with George III, but they argued that people of their own time wanted a much more activist government, and that we should adjust accordingly. 

Quite simply, the Progressives detested the bedrock principles of American government.  They detested the Declaration of Independence, which enshrines the protection of individual natural rights (like property) as the unchangeable purpose of government; and they detested the Constitution, which places permanent limits on the scope of government and is structured in a way that makes the extension of national power beyond its original purpose very difficult.  “Progressivism” was, for them, all about progressing, or moving beyond, the principles of our founders.   

This is why the Progressives were the first generation of Americans to denounce openly our founding documents.  Woodrow Wilson, for example, once warned that “if you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface” – i.e. that part of the Declaration which talks about securing individual natural rights as the only legitimate purpose of government.  And Theodore Roosevelt, when using the federal government to take over private businesses during the 1902 coal strike, is reported to have remarked, “To hell with the Constitution when people want coal!”  This remark may be apocryphal, but it is a fair representation of how TR viewed these matters.   

In the next piece, we’ll consider how the presidency was transformed under men like Wilson and TR. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




III.  How the Progressives Originated the Modern Presidency 

As I explained in my last piece, the Progressives wanted to disregard the Constitution in order to enlarge vastly the scope of government.  As a practical matter, how was this to be done?  It happened in a variety of ways, but principal among them was a fundamental change in the American presidency. 

Under the system of our founders, government was to have sufficient strength and energy to accomplish its ends, but those ends were strictly limited by the Constitution.  The principal way in which the Constitution keeps the government within its boundaries is through the separation of powers.  As readers of The Federalist and of Thomas Jefferson know, the point of separation of powers is to keep any one set of hands from wielding all of the power in national government. 

The Progressives, especially Woodrow Wilson, hated the separation of powers for precisely this reason: it made government inefficient, and made it difficult, if not impossible, to expand the power of government so that it could take on all of the new tasks that Progressives had in mind.  So they looked to the presidency as a way of getting around this obstacle. 

Under the original system, the president was merely leader of a single branch, or part, of the government, and thus could not provide leadership of the government as a whole.  In his book Constitutional Government, Wilson urged that “leadership and control must be lodged somewhere.” The president, Wilson pointed out, was the only politician who could claim to speak for the people as a whole, and thus he called upon the president to rise above the separation of powers – to consider himself not merely as chief of a single branch of government, but as the popular leader of the whole of national politics. Wilson even contrasted the “constitutional aspect” of the presidency – its constitutionally defined role as chief of one of the three co-equal branches of government – to the “political” function of the president, where he could use his connection to public opinion as a tool for moving all of the branches of government in the direction called for by the people.  

It was in this way that Wilson believed the original intention of the separation of powers system could be circumvented, and the enhanced presidency could be a means energizing the kind of active national government that the progressive agenda required.  

In the next piece, we’ll consider whether the principles of the Progressives made them socialists. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




IV.  Progressivism and Socialism 

Since the Progressives had such a limitless view of state power, and since they wanted to downplay the founders’ emphasis on individual rights, it is only natural to ask if they subscribed to socialism.  There are several things to consider in answering this question. 

First, when considering the relationship of progressivism to socialism, we must be clear that we are talking about the similarity in the philosophy of government; we are not suggesting that America’s progressives were the kind of moral monsters that we see in the history of some socialist or fascist regimes (although it is the case that their racial views – particularly those of Woodrow Wilson – were indeed morally reprehensible). 

Second, we must also bear in mind that there was an actual socialist movement during the Progressive Era, and prominent progressives such as Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were critics of it.  In fact, Wilson and Roosevelt both ran against a socialist candidate in the 1912 election (Eugene Debs).  The progressives were ambivalent about the socialist movement of their day not so much because they disagreed with it in principle, but because the American socialist movement was a movement of the lower classes.  The progressives were elitists; they looked down their noses at the socialists, considering them a kind of rabble. 

Keeping these points in mind, it is, nonetheless, the case that the progressive conception of government closely coincided with the socialist conception.  Both progressivism and socialism champion the prerogatives of the state over the prerogatives of the individual.  Wilson himself made this connection very plain in a revealing essay he wrote in 1887 called “Socialism and Democracy.”  Wilson’s begins this essay by defining socialism, explaining that it stands for unfettered state power, which trumps any notion of individual rights. It “proposes that all idea of a limitation of public authority by individual rights be put out of view,” Wilson wrote, and “that no line can be drawn between private and public affairs which the State may not cross at will.” After laying out this definition of socialism, Wilson explains that he finds nothing wrong with it in principle, since it was merely the logical extension of genuine democratic theory. It gives all power to the people, in their collective capacity, to carry out their will through the exercise of governmental power, unlimited by any undemocratic idea like individual rights. He elaborated:

    “In fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.”

Roosevelt, too, argued for a new conception of government, where individual natural rights would no longer serve as a principled boundary that the state was prohibited from crossing.  He called in his New Nationalism program for the state to take an active role in effecting economic equality by way of superintending the use of private property. Private property rights, which had been serving as a brake on the more aggressive progressive policy proposals, were to be respected, Roosevelt argued, only insofar as the government approved of the property’s social usefulness.  He wrote:

    “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.”

In the next and final piece, we will consider the some of the most important connections between the original progressives and the resurgence of progressivism today. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




V.  Progressivism and the Current Crisis 

There are important connections between America’s original Progressive Era and the crisis we are facing today, and it is useful to consider these connections on two levels. 

The first connection is at a general level, and concerns our abandonment of the Constitution.  The present crisis did not appear out of nowhere, and didn’t simply begin with the election of Barack Obama.  Politicians of both parties spent the better part of the 20th century disregarding the Constitution, as they looked to have government step up to solve every conceivable human problem.  Thus it ought to be no surprise that the Constitution’s limits on government aren’t even part of the conversation today as our politicians debate the new interventions in our economy and society that seem to come daily.   

Such a state of things would have greatly pleased America’s original progressives.  As I’ve endeavored to explain in these pieces for the newsletter, progressives believed that the role of government should be determined not by our Constitution, but by whatever the needs of the day happened to be.  This is why they sought to eradicate talk of the Constitution from our political discourse; today, that goal seems to have been realized. 

The second connection between the original Progressive Era and our situation today has to do with policy.  The progressives knew that our original system of government was not capable of handling all of the new tasks that they had in mind for it.  So they envisioned creating a vast set of bureaucratic agencies.  They argued that Congress should enact very broad and vague laws for supervising more and more facets of the American economy and society, and then delegate to the bureaucratic agencies the power and discretion to enact specific policies.  Both Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt conceived of government in this way. 

The New Deal certainly went a long way toward implementing this progressive vision, and what we have seen in our own situation with TARP and the various other interventions is simply greater steps toward the progressive plan.  Our Congress has simply said to the Treasury agencies: here’s a trillion dollars, here’s all the legal authority you need, now go out, determine what is in the public interest, and spend and regulate accordingly.  That is the progressive vision of government, in a nutshell. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

On Monday's radio program, Glenn Beck and Stu Burguiere discussed former Starbucks CEO and progressive Howard Schultz, a lifelong Democrat who has not only been disowned by the Democrat Party but he can no longer set foot inside of a Starbucks store because of his success in business.

In this clip, Stu explained how at one time Starbucks only sold coffee in bags until Schultz, an employee at the time, convinced the company to open a Starbucks cafe.

Click here to watch the full episode.

At one point, the owners came close to closing down the cafe, but Schultz eventually managed to purchase the company and transform it into the empire that it is today.

Stu continued, describing how Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, went on to implement liberal corporate policies that earned the company a reputation for being a "beacon" of liberalism across the country.

"And now he (Schultz) can't even get into the Democrat Party," Stu said."That is craziness," Glenn replied.

Citing a "60 Minutes" interview, Glenn highlighted the journey that Schultz traveled, which started in the New York City projects and evolved, later becoming the CEO of a coffee empire.

"This guy is so American, so everything in business that we want to be, he has taken his beliefs and made it into who he is which is very liberal," Glenn explained.

Catch more of the conversation in the video below.


This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

This weekend, March 17, Rep. Rashida Tlaib will be speaking at (Council on American Islamic Relations) CAIR-Michigan's 19th annual "Faith-Led, Justice Driven" banquet.

Who knows what to expect. But here are some excerpts from a speech she gave last month, at CAIR-Chicago's 15th annual banquet.

RELATED: CLOSER LOOK: Who is Rep. Ilhan Omar?

You know the speech is going to be good when it begins like this:


CAIR-Chicago 15th Annual Banquet: Rashida Tlaib youtu.be


It's important to remember CAIR's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Think of CAIR as a spinoff of HAMAS, who its two founders originally worked for via a Hamas offshoot organization (the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP)).

A 2009 article in Politico says feds "designated CAIR a co-conspirator with the Holy Land Foundation, a group that was eventually convicted for financing terrorism."

The United Arab Emirates has designated CAIR a terrorist organization.

In 1993, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I wouldn't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future.

In 1998, CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad said:

Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran … should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.

Notice the slight underhanded jab at Israel. It's just one of many in her speech, and is indicative of the growing anti-Semitism among Democrats, especially Tlaib and Omar.

Most of the speech, as you might expect, is a long rant about the evil Donald Trump.

I wonder if she realizes that the Birth of Jesus pre-dates her religion, and her "country." The earliest founding of Palestine is 1988, so maybe she's a little confused.

Then there's this heartwarming story about advice she received from Congressman John Dingell:

When I was a state legislator, I came in to serve on a panel with him on immigration rights, and Congressman Dingell was sitting there and he had his cane, if you knew him, he always had this cane and he held it in front of him. And I was so tired, I had driven an hour and a half to the panel discussion at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus. And I sit down, my hair is all messed up, and I said, 'Oh, my God, I'm so tired of this. I don't know how you've been doing it so long Congressman. They all lie.' And he looks at me and he goes. (She nods yes.) I said, 'You know who I'm talking about, these lobbyists, these special interest [groups], they're all lying to me.' … And he looks at me, and he goes, 'Young lady, there's a saying in India that if you stand still enough on a riverbank, you will watch your enemies float by dead.'

What the hell does that mean? That she wants to see her enemies dead? Who are her enemies? And how does that relate to her opening statement? How does it relate to the "oppression" her family faced at the hand of Israel?

Glenn Beck on Wednesday called out Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for their blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric, which has largely been excused by Democratic leadership. He noted the sharp contrast between the progressive principles the freshmen congresswomen claim to uphold and the anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminist, anti-Israel groups they align themselves with.

Later this month, both congresswomen are scheduled to speak at fundraisers for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a pro-Palestinian organization with ties to Islamic terror groups including Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State.

Rep. Tlaib will be speaking at CAIR-Michigan's 19th Annual Banquet on March 17 in Livonia, Michigan, alongside keynote speaker Omar Suleiman, a self-described student of Malcolm X with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Suleiman has regularly espoused notably "un-progressive" ideas, such as "honor killings" for allegedly promiscuous women, mandatory Hijabs for women, death as a punishment for homosexuality, and men having the right to "sex slaves," Glenn explained.

Rep. Omar is the keynote speaker at a CAIR event on March 23 in Los Angeles and will be joined by Hassan Shibly, who claims Hezbollah and Hamas are not terrorist organizations, and Hussam Ayloush, who is known for referring to U.S. armed forces as radical terrorists.

Watch the clip below for more:


This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

The roots of AOC

Wikimedia Commons

It wasn't too long ago that Blanca thought it was all over.

Born in Puerto Rico, Blanca lived in New York most of her life. Recently, a reporter from the Daily Mail sent a reporter to interview Blanca. When the reporter arrived, Blanca was calmly sculpting wood in the front yard of her modest, 860-square-foot home down the street from a cemetery. Occasionally, a drug deal takes place out front, and the house is crumbling in parts, but Blanca has been fixing it up since she moved in a couple years ago, and this is home.

Reading the article, you can feel the writer's surprise, you can feel an unsuspecting writer being wrapped in Blanca's story.

RELATED: We are all now dumber for what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to say

By day, Blanca works for the Lake County School District as a clerical assistant.

This is a story about mothers.

Blanca is a woman who makes lasagna for visiting relatives and watches over her 78-year-old mother, "who suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and often breathes oxygen from a concentrator, and a loud rescue mutt named Tammy."

This is a story about daughters.

Because Blanca always believed in her daughter. Believed her daughter would be important. And, regardless of your opinion on her daughter—and, believe me, you have an opinion about her daughter, because everybody has an opinion about her daughter—there's no denying the wholesomeness of this story, so hear me out.

"Her dad and I were preparing for Alexandria's birth and still picking names," Blanca told the reporter. "And he came up with 'Alexandria.' I thought about it for a while and I said: 'Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That sounds very powerful. That'll be her name.'"

Yes, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the infamous millennial Democratic Socialist who represents New York's 14th district (covering the Bronx and Queens) in the House of Representatives.

And her mother is Blanca Ocasio-Cortez.

Blanca married Sergio Ocasio in Puerto Rico, then moved to New York. She knew very little English, but she learned. She worked the jobs nobody else wanted. She mopped floors at night, she drove school buses, she answered phones, took orders.

In 1989, she gave birth to her first child, a girl, in The Bronx, New York City. Two years later, she gave birth to a boy.

Until Alexandria was five, the family lived in a one-bedroom condo in the Parkchester neighborhood of the Bronx.

Theirs was an American struggle.

Theirs was an American struggle. Sergio worked hard until he had his own business, and the small family pooled together their resources and took out a mortgage, and moved into "a small single-family house with a yard in nearby Yorktown Heights."

"We had a great life there," Blanca said. "Alexandria was very social, so she always had a bunch of girls over. She took over the shed in the backyard. She cleaned it up, put up curtains and photos and made it look nice, and that was like a clubhouse for her and her friends."

Blanca talks about her daughter the way any good mother does, recalling that her daughter was always talkative.

"When I took her to her pre-K interview, she didn't let me talk much. She was going on and on about knowing the alphabet and being able to count."

In 2008, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a sophomore at Boston University, her father, Blanca's husband, died of lung cancer.

Overnight, Blanca had to become the breadwinner.

I was cleaning houses in the morning and working as a secretary at a hospital in the afternoon... it was still difficult making ends meet. At one point, I was skipping mortgage payments and we almost lost the house.

This is a story about a single mother who raised her family after her husband died of lung cancer.

As the Daily Mail notes:

Sergio's death put the family into a tailspin. He had no life insurance, two years of health care bills due and the money his business brought in dried out. Blanca recalls she faced foreclosure not just once, but twice.

"It was scary," Blanca told the reporter. "I had to take medicine I was so scared. I had to stop paying for the mortgage for almost a year. I was expecting someone knocking on the door to kick me out at any time. There were even real estate people coming around to take photos of the house for when it was going to be auctioned. The worst is that I only had $50,000 left to pay on the loan."

Funny enough, it was the bank, not the welfare office or the local church that helped her.

Blanca worked from 6am until 11pm.

And I prayed and prayed, and things worked out. After the children graduated from college, I figured it was time for me to move to Florida.

These days, Blanca lives in Eustis, Florida, a lakefront community of about 16,000 people near Orlando. She moved here just before Christmas in 2016. She'd been paying $10,000 a year in real estate taxes in New York. Now, she pays $600 a year.

When she first got here, the world, her world was much different. Her daughter was a bartender in New York and hadn't filed paperwork to become a Representative.

Really, though, this is a story about what it means to live in America.

"I love privacy and calm," Blanca said. "I don't like the limelight for myself and my family. But it seems that God played quite a joke on me with this politics stuff."

The Daily Mail sent reporter Jose Lambiet, presumably to do a hatchet job. The story is tempting: taxes are so severe in New York that even the mother of the wild-eyed Democratic Socialist representing that area can't even afford to live there. Really, though, this is a story about what it means to live in America.

And while liberal media has paraded the story around with that smug look on their faces, so have conservative outlets, and in both cases they've missed the real story. The human story. The story of all of us. Because Blanca is an American, same as you and me.