Even casual observers of American politics are aware of how adept the left has been at eschewing the term ‘liberal’ in favor of ‘progressive.’ Writing in Salon, Michael Lind provides a lucid historical analysis of the American left, or, as he euphemistically calls it, the ‘center-left,’ but concludes with a construction of liberalism that is entirely out of sync with its modern incarnation:
“Liberalism is a theory of a social order based on individual civil liberties, private property, popular sovereignty and democratic republican government.”
What’s most fascinating, which is to say, illuminating, about his characterization is that liberalism is not a system of governance, but rather a “theory of social order.” In contrast, conservatives believe that social order tacitly follows economic freedom and adherence to the timeless principles enshrined in the American Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and as articulated in the Federalist Papers. Note the deliberative avoidance in Lind’s definition, or, for that matter, in his entire exegesis, of the founding documents of this Republic.
Ironically, he quotes Jack Kennedy’s speech to the New York Liberal Party, which, in part asserts that,
“…if by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties…then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.'”
We can stipulate a consensual concern about our fellow Americans who, through no fault of their own, struggle with the challenges of providing for their families. In fact, as Arthur Brooks persuasively argued in his book, “Who Really Cares,” conservatives are far more likely to make contributions of their time and money than are liberals. Therein lies the crux of the matter: Kennedy was a tax cutter, whereas the modern liberal–or progressive, the name matters very little–believes in redistributing income.
Underlying that civic construction is a denial of the economic realities that govern success over time: To wit, those in the lower income quintiles invariably find their way into the middle and even upper income levels with time and effort, but sans the guarantees and multi-tiered safety net the left insists is required to get them there.
Working our way deeper into the core of their motivating principles we find an abiding skepticism concerning our capitalist system because it fails to provide universal success. However, besides its obtuse gloss that discounts success over time, this view fails to appreciate the vital lessons learned by the inevitable failures that befall everyone, save those who fail to try.
For Lind, a government without an activist blueprint, one designed to infiltrate every capillary of our economic and civic system, is unacceptable because it denies the common man’s ability to succeed on his own. The obvious political corollary is that if everyone, with a few caveats, can achieve a measure of economic success, where does that leave the liberal “theory of social order”? Indeed, without the left’s habitual largess–a la other tax payers’ money–without robust union influence and a resilient regulatory apparatus, the very justification for their existence ceases.
It’s that almost religious reliance on government that the modern progressive–or, liberal, as the brazen Lind would prefer–that distinguishes him from anyone nominally to the right of center. That their public policy framework is at fundamental odds with the Founding Fathers’ vision for this nation is a quaint observation thoroughly lost on most Americans who have but a veneer thin understanding of what our Founders contemplated for our Republic.
That’s why it’s likely we’ll see a dramatic expansion of the footprint of government in the upcoming Obama administration. We’re effectively ceding control to a cabal who will advance the liberal agenda in the beneficent guise of, as Kennedy said, people who care “about the welfare of the people.”
It’s the left’s Brave New World. Welcome to it.
Mella is editor of ClearCommentary.com.