Obviously everyone is freaked that Dems might run a Progressive in 2020 and dire predictions insist that choosing a moderate is the way to go. I will bow to the decision of the majority but I do believe that history disagrees. Progressives, never popular, have rescued America in several instances that threatened our nation’s very existence. Since I am reading David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass I can’t help but mention the exhaustive Progressive efforts of the abolitionists before, during and after the Civil War. Lincoln, while mainly interested in reuniting America, came to believe that slavery had to end if the republic was to continue. If Lincoln had lived would the Reconstruction have taken the tragic course it took? We will never know, but Douglass felt that what the South got was a southern version of Reconstruction once the racist vice president became the nation’s new leader. Progressivism got nipped in the bud fast at that moment of ignominy and the Jim Crow south was the legacy for almost a century.
When we were deep in the Great Depression progressives were once again able to rescue America, this time the American economy. FDR stepped in to offer government jobs to the jobless, the homeless, the army of poor Americans that threatened to destroy the republic through sheer depression. Programs like the CCC and the WPA, the programs that built dams across American rivers grounded people who felt a sinkhole had opened in their lives. There are Americans who have reviled the actions of FDR, who label him with every evil name that we like to throw at each other when we are riled up, but would the American economy have recovered without his policies? Probably, but not as quickly, nor would people have been given the gift of a sense of purpose.
Lyndon Johnson, not exactly a man filled with sweetness and civility, supposedly, gave us The Great Society, so maligned by so many. He gave us practical programs of social support, educational opportunities, housing assistance and a long list of programs intended to end racial inequality in America. Many critics say that the result of these programs never justified the dollars spent but, despite constant backlash from communities in the form of real estate redlining and from Republicans in Congress who turned aid into a grudging handout with laws that gave with one hand and took away with the other, The Great Society still made a real difference in upward mobility for black folks and poor folks around the nation.
Lincoln did not run for office as a progressive, nor did FDR. Both became more progressive while in office. LBJ, of course, did not run for office at all but completed the term of JFK after his assassination. Could any of these productive presidents have run as progressives and won? We will never know. The enemies of progressive policies are loud and effective in America.
It seems that our economy does not seem threatened enough to justify a progressive set of policies, although it seems thin and on shaky ground in terms of the wisdom of important economists. What could justify progressive action is taking up the cause of science, tackling what most of us believe is pretty existential climate change and creating a nation that is more “people” oriented and less dollar oriented.
We could accept that economic inequality has gotten so grossly out of proportion that pretty soon we will have an aristocracy of the wealthy and a virtual serf class underneath. We need incentives to thrive and innovate and, so far, austerity and obscene tax cuts that increase the inequality gap are not offering those incentives. Who knows what could happen if the American people enjoyed policies that allowed them to work without worrying about their children’s days, who were rewarded for hard work both financially and with more time off? Perhaps someone could even come up with a cheap way to turn carbon dioxide back into oxygen and those fossil fuel guys could guzzle to their heart’s content as long as they don’t build pipelines over fresh water reserves or drill in the Arctic.
These thoughts woke me in the middle of the night and inspired this article but when I was reading my morning papers I came across this article in The Daily Beast that does a better job than I have at looking at this same topic:
“The 40 years of reform from the New Deal through the Great Society that created a safety net for the nation’s vulnerable, institutionalized labor rights, forged a progressive tax system that narrowed the gap between rich and poor, and created agencies to protect the public from corporate excess were swept away by the Reagan revolution and the ethos of “Greed is Good.” The seminal Civil Rights legislation of the Great Society in the mid-1960s that restored civil and voting rights to blacks in the South led to a massive defection of whites there from the Democratic Party. And the 1965 Immigration Act that finally did away with the racial quotas of the 1920s produced an unanticipated influx of non-European newcomers that generated a fierce nativist response with its attendant cruelties.”
Read the whole article, it is very germane to the decisions we face. The decision is to go in big for policies that are the opposite of those of the current policy makers or the gut reactions of our 45, or face the reality that most Americans are too afraid to make such giant leaps right now and that a moderate will at least be able to hold the line, perhaps even make some progress that will not upset the timid. To me it seems a great time for grand moves, when we are so stuck, and it seems that there are dangers if we don’t go big. But I will go along with what the Democratic Party decides because I think Dem chances are pretty bad in 2020 and a huge turnout is necessary. However I also have plenty of hope that the universe will give the Dems an assist.
Today (2/6/2020) I found an interesting take from the other side. It is the clearest statement about people’s fears about progressive Dems that I have read: