Christopher Snowden writes an article that uses an example that is quite handy in defining the essence of the disease called “progressivism”. He acknowledges that “liberal” has be coopted by the left but still has enough historical cache to be useful to both sides of the philosophical divide. However, “progressive”, at least in the US, is uniquely the left’s.
Fast forward to a city soda tax under consideration in the “progressive bastion” of Berkley, CA where we find none other than little Robbie Reich (former Clinton Secretary of Labor) ensconced as Professor at UC Berkley and waxing enthusiastic about this proposed soda tax:
To see what the word progressive means today, consider the city of Berkeley, California. According to Robert Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley, it is‘the most progressive city in America’. It has also been described as a ‘liberal bastion’. How liberal is it? So liberal that it is illegal to smoke a cigarette in your own flat (sorry, ‘apartment’) and, at the city’s university, it is against the rules to chew tobacco or use e-cigarettes anywhere at all, including in the open air.
Berkeley is also seriously considering a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – aka a ‘soda tax’. A public vote will settle the matter next month, and, in the view of Robert Reich, ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’.
Well, yes, that’s correct. But Reich’s claim is also a very useful tool for a little word substitution to show the insidiousness (and true intent) of “progressivism”:
Consider that statement for a moment. If you didn’t know what the word ‘progressive’ meant – and you knew nothing about Berkeley – what could you infer from the context? If the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most oppressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would make sense. If words like ‘tax-hungry’, ‘anti-business’, ‘puritanical’ or ‘illiberal’ were substituted for ‘progressive’, it would still read correctly.
If, however, the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most tolerant city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would be incongruous. Words like ‘permissive’, ‘libertarian’, ‘easygoing’ and ‘broad-minded’ would also be confusing substitutes for ‘progressive’ in this context, and yet these are all adjectives that appear in the thesaurus under the word ‘liberal’. From this we might conclude either that soda taxes are not terribly liberal or that progressives are not terribly liberal. Or both.
At this point I’m chuckling because Snowden has made a very good point. Reich is all but giddy about oppression and feels it is “progressive” to champion it. Because, you know, the elite know best and hopefully have hammered those who should appreciate them and their ideas enough to vote “yes” and tax themselves.
Then there’s this:
In economics, unlike politics, the word ‘progressive’ has a fixed meaning. A progressive tax is one that takes a larger share of income from the rich than from the poor. The alternative is a regressive tax, one that takes a larger share of income from the poor than from the rich. Taxes on fizzy drinks are highly and indisputably regressive, not only because the rate of tax is the same for all income groups, but also because the poor tend to consume more of them in the first place. So while it is true that Berkeley is a bellwether city when it comes to eye-catching ‘public health’ initiatives, the adoption of punitive taxes on soft drinks would be a step towards it becoming America’s most regressive, not progressive, city in economic terms.
Oh my. Snowden then asks the question of the day:
This is what confuses us, America. If a ‘liberal bastion’ – your ‘most progressive city’ – is one in which the government effectively fines people for drinking the wrong type of soft drink, what on earth are your illiberal bastions like?
Berkley (and New York and … ).
Glad you ask.
This week, Michael and Dale ask why Progressive politics are so attractive.
The podcast can be found on Stitcher here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.
This week, Bruce Michael, and Dale discuss the state of the union. The actual one, not the fantasy one Obama outlined in his speech.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
Stanley Fish lays it out pretty well:
If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what [Ed] Schultz and [Bill] Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?
There is no answer to that question once you step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. Rather than relaxing or soft-pedaling your convictions about what is right and wrong, stay with them, and treat people you see as morally different differently. Condemn Limbaugh and say that Schultz and Maher may have gone a bit too far but that they’re basically O.K. If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair. “Fair” is a weak virtue; it is not even a virtue at all because it insists on a withdrawal from moral judgment.
I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.
It should be shocking, by the conventional narrative, that the White House of a “liberal” president would be a hostile work environment for women, but it is not at all a surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the Democrats and the Left, going back at least to the 1960s, when a prominent Democrat politician got a pass from the media for abandoning a young woman (possibly pregnant by him) to drown in his car. The same man went on to later fame as the top slice of bread in a “waitress sandwich,” and yet was so lionized by the Left that not that long ago, at the time of his death, a woman(!) wrote that Mary Jo Kopechne might have been happy to undergo the terror as her lungs filled with the brackish water of Martha’s Vineyard had she only known what a great legislator he would turn out to be.
To see similar hypocritical Leftist misogyny, we need only go back to the last time a Democrat was in the White House. Whenever a woman came forward with allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by Bill Clinton, the response of the Clinton defenders, both in and out of the media, was to attack her credibility, character, and virtue. Advisor James Carville famously said of Paula Jones (the young Arkansas state employee whom Clinton as governor had his state police guard procure to his hotel room for the purpose of orally pleasuring him), “Drag $100 bills through trailer parks, there’s no telling what you’ll find.” Evan Thomas of Newsweek dutifully complemented the slander by declaring her on national television “just some sleazy woman with big hair coming out of the trailer parks,” though he later was compelled to apologize in print. (One wonders how residents of trailer parks felt about that, but I guess empathy for them is for the little people.) When Kathleen Willey accused the president of groping her in the White House, and was physically threatened for her trouble, feminist icon and (former) scourge of sexual harassers Gloria Steinem said that it was no problem — he was entitled to a freebie, after which Cathy Young of Reason magazine reported on “the death of sexual harassment.”
It got worse.
And it has. Just take a look at what Simberg said and then take a look at this so-called “war on women” the left has ginned up recently.
Jeff G. at Protein Wisdom explains:
Fish’s single standard, distilled and properly understood, is that liberals are (they’ll claim) morally superior by virtue of their very belief in their own political identities — which identity is tied to an ideology that, manifested politically, privileges governmental theft, sanctioned inequality as a function of tribal identity, and a giant foundational question beg: namely, that moral superiority comes from being on the left, so therefore being on the left means you can really do no fundamental moral wrong. Progressivism (that is, the leftist political home to philosophical anti-foundationalism), as Fish sees it, is the “non-formal” — that is, I suppose, situationally free-floating — antidote to restrictive “conservative” or classically liberal universalism*. That that restrictive conservative/classical liberal universalism is, as we know from the Declaration and Constitution, the foundation upon which this country was imagined and later framed, well, that’s irrelevant. Those documents are hoary totems, and their impulses Enlightenment fantasies. And we can “fundamentally transform” the country simply by denying it its institutionalized powers by force of will.
Or, progressivism (don’t let them continue to coopt the word “liberal”) leads to tyranny because it isn’t based in any moral principles but instead based in power. Its goal isn’t a better or more moral world, modern progressivism is based on doing whatever is necessary, by whatever means they can get away with, to gather and wield power. Progressivism uses the same tactics and means that every tyranny the world has ever seen used to gain control of the political system.
Victor David Hanson points out that the right has handcuffed itself (or allowed itself to be handcuffed) by the left:
Conservatives are put into awkward positions of critiquing liberal ideas on grounds that they are impractical, unworkable, or counterproductive. Yet rarely, at least outside the religious sphere, do they identify the progressive as often immoral. And the unfortunate result is that they have often ceded moral claims to supposedly dreamy, utopian, and well-meaning progressives, when in fact the latter increasingly have little moral ground to stand upon.
Morality isn’t just something based in religion. Essentially “moral” means a concern with the principles of good and bad behavior as applied to everything.
What progressives have tried to do for decades is tie the word to religion even as they denigrated religion unmercifully (specifically Christianity). They’ve made “morality” a bad word, one that causes the public to shy away from those talking about it. We’ve also been indoctrinated by them to believe that intolerance is one of the worst of secular sins (although they’d never use such language) and we have no right to be intolerant. Well, unless we’re a progressive.
Add in moral equivalency (used whenever it is useful to the left) tied to their multicultural riff and their tendency to redefine key words to their own advantage, and the goals of progressivism start to become clear.
Back to Protein Wisdom:
To the progressive, your social and political worth — in fact, your very claim to morality — comes from your various identity politics alliances. That is, your morality is a function not so much of what you do, but rather of where you claim to stand, and with whom.
Progressivism cares not about fairness or equality in the sense those words are used under a political paradigm that adheres to classical liberalism; instead, it seeks to redefine “fairness” and “equality” (and “tolerance”) as based on the outcomes it desires, a deconstructive procedure it then justifies by tying those outcomes to its own self-serving descriptions of what comes to count as moral. It is circular reasoning made perfect. Might makes right. The ends justify the means.
The progressive movement is a tyrannical movement aimed at completely remaking America and taking it away from its foundational philosophy of individualism, equal rights and freedom. Principles that work and made this the most prosperous and free nation on earth.
What the right and libertarians identify as “hypocrisy” on the left is simply what you see described above at work – a principle free attempt to take power by any means necessary. There are no foundational principles at work for them in reality … anything is “OK” as long as it advances the cause. Although they’ll claim they are driven by principles (but their “hypocritical” actions in the wake of those declarations always show them to be false principles), they’re essentially malleable talking points used to take in and gain the support of the gullible. However, as Saul Alinsky taught them, they will use the other side’s principles against them at every opportunity (see the Rush Limbaugh kerfuffle).
What we had, what our founders created, what it stands for, is rejected by this bunch:
“Hopefully, more and more people will begin to feel their story is somehow part of this larger story of how we’re going to reshape America in a way that is less mean-spirited and more generous,” Obama said.
This is the real problem we face in America. Jeff G. calls it “un-American”. In the strictest sense of the word and given the fact that it rejects everything our founders believed in – I agree.
Would you like to get a crystal clear insight into the “progressive” mindset. An informative look into the hard Left’s reaction to this week’s election. Well, go no further than this diary by Tim Wise at Daily Kos. Mr. Wise is not only miffed at the election, he’s already laying out a picture of the future in which the tables are turned.
You really should read the whole thing. I’d be interested in your responses.
What made me laugh out loud was wondering who Mr. Wise is planning to tax to pay for his socialist utopia, after all the rich white people are dead.
George Will’s column today is a “must read” if for nothing more than this succinct description of why government exits (and why it should be a “limited” government:
Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.
Will uses his column to describe the dueling concepts of government that have arisen in this country. He identifies, properly in my estimation, Woodrow Wilson as the first “progressive” President and the one who began this move away from limited government that had served the nation so well to that point, to the more progressive version. It is a version we’ve yet to escape. FDR was just a continuation of the Wilsonian ambition who happened upon the proper crisis at the right time (sound familiar?).
With our recent discussion of rights and privileges in the comment section of a post, I found this to be dead on target:
Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government’s ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights — entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.
The name “progressivism” implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
The cheerful assumption is that “evolving” must mean “improving.” Progressivism’s promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.
And, progressivism’s method of choice for all this improvement is the vehicle of “big government”. What other institution can carry out such a massive project. And who has the time or patience for cultural change or to let markets sort it all out. Besides, only government allows the use of force.
Of course, as Will implies, the method of expanding government is the expansion of “rights” or entitlements and the declaration that only government is capable of ensuring their fulfillment. This flows directly from the Wilsonian idea that it is government’s job, as society evolved, to identify, enable and protect new “rights” as they emerged.
He repudiated the Founders’ idea that government is instituted to protect pre-existing and timeless natural rights, promising “the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”
The result, as William Voegeli correctly identifies it, is government’s “right to discover new rights.” The result is preordained:
“Liberalism’s protean understanding of rights,” [Voegeli] says, “complicates and ultimately dooms the idea of a principled refusal to elevate any benefit that we would like people to enjoy to the status of an inviolable right.” Needs breed rights to have the needs addressed, to the point that Lyndon Johnson, an FDR protege, promised that government would provide Americans with “purpose” and “meaning.”
Although progressivism’s ever-lengthening list of rights is as limitless as human needs/desires, one right that never makes the list is the right to keep some inviolable portion of one’s private wealth or income, “regardless,” Voegeli says, “of the lofty purposes social reformers wish to make of it.”
Lacking a limiting principle, progressivism cannot say how big the welfare state should be but must always say that it should be bigger than it currently is. Furthermore, by making a welfare state a fountain of rights requisite for democracy, progressives in effect declare that democratic deliberation about the legitimacy of the welfare state is illegitimate.
How many time have you heard the international criticism of the US for not having a national health service? That’s symptomatic of Will’s last point. Progressivisim, or at least the European equivalent, has had its way in Europe and we see the result today. Will correctly identifies the fatal flaw of progressivism – the lack of a limiting principle. Instead, progressivism sees the job of government in an ever expanding role of catering to almost any need or desire it can imagine and make a “right”. The most recent government invented right is the right to health care. The fact that the fulfillment of that “right” involves the labor, time and abilities of others doesn’t seem to register with progressives. Having identified the right and legislated it into existence, it is simply the role of those others, forced by the state, to fulfill that new right.
All of this, of course, leads to the inevitable conclusion – such a system is unsustainable:
“By blackening the skies with crisscrossing dollars,” Voegeli says, the welfare state encourages people “to believe an impossibility: that every household can be a net importer of the wealth redistributed by the government.” But the welfare state’s problem, today becoming vivid, is socialism’s problem, as Margaret Thatcher defined it: Socialist governments “always run out of other people’s money.”
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!