Special to the Cape Charles Mirror – Opinion by Paul Plante
As this presidential campaign season in America heats up, we hear the word “progressive” being bandied about quite a bit, especially today with Bernie Sanders endorsing Hillary Clinton, while touting the “most progressive platform” in history, with some people treating the label “progressive” as a pejorative, while others look at it in a more positive light.
Given the seeming confusion over what the word actually means, if such can ever be said with any degree of specificity with respect to political labels, which “progressive” is, I would like to take a moment to delve the subject.
First off, “progressivism” is a philosophy.
It is a philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition.
So, if you are for or against “progressivism,” either way, it is dependent on what the term “improve the human condition” actually means to you.
According to my research, and as is stated in WIKIPEDIA, in America, progressivism began as a social movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and grew into a political movement, in what was known as the Progressive Era.
So we are not talking about something new here, and in fact, we can see that as a political philosophy it is quite old, which gives some needed context to the statement of Bernie Sanders today that we are seeing the “most progressive platform” in history.
Of importance to this discussion, in our past political history, some American progressives rejected Social Darwinism, believing that the problems society faced (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) could best be addressed by providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace.
As I see it, those are certainly not radical propositions, and in fact, they can be viewed as being quite rational.
Looked at another way, who in America today would advocate against providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace?
In our history, perhaps not surprisingly, progressives lived mainly in the cities, they were college educated, and they believed that government could be a tool for change, and American President Theodore Roosevelt of the US Progressive Party declared that he “always believed that wise progressivism and wise conservatism go hand in hand”.
On the other side of the political coin, American President Woodrow Wilson was a member of the American progressive movement within the Democratic Party.
So we see that the label “progressive” is not the exclusive property of either major political party in this country, nor could it be, since as said before, it is a philosophy, and philosophies are either accepted by an individual, or rejected, since philosophy is not something than can be imposed by a political party on free citizens in the United States of America.
Again, of importance to this discussion, progressive stances in America have evolved over time.
For example, just as it is again today, imperialism was a controversial issue within progressivism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where some progressives supported American imperialism, while others opposed it, which shows that “progressivism” is hardly monolithic.
In that regard, in response to World War I, progressive American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points established the concept of national self-determination and criticized imperialist competition and colonial injustices; views which were supported by anti-imperialists in areas of the world that were resisting imperial rule, such as Viet Nam, where we became mired down in a quagmire in the 1960s by trying to impose our will on the people of Viet Nam at the point of a gun, after the French imperialists were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
Moving forward in time, and bringing this into the context of the presidential campaigns on-going today, according to David Sirota, a newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), and bestselling author, there is a fundamental difference between liberals and progressives when it comes to core economic issues.
In his view, traditional “liberals” in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society, while a “progressive” would be those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.
As he puts it in more concrete terms relevant to today, a liberal solution to some of our current problems with high energy costs would be to increase funding for programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), while a more “progressive” solution would be to increase LIHEAP but also crack down on price gouging and pass laws better-regulating the oil industry’s profiteering and market manipulation tactics.
Further, a liberal policy towards prescription drugs is one that would throw a lot of taxpayer cash at the pharmaceutical industry to get them to provide medicine to the poor while a progressive prescription drug policy would be one that centered around price regulations and bulk purchasing in order to force down the actual cost of medicine in America, much of which was originally developed with taxpayer R&D money.
So is proposing free college tuition really a “progressive” idea?
Think about that for a moment, if you will, but as I see it, the answer would be no, it is not progressive at all, since giving out free college tuition, as fine an idea as that might seem to some, does not comport with the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition.
To the contrary, since it is essentially just throwing more government money at something, without clearly defining what the throwing of government money will be “buying,” it is a liberal proposition, instead.
When we think of the magnitude of that liberal idea masquerading as a “progressive” idea, instead, we need to consider that at present, Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, which is spread out among about 43 million borrowers, and the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.
Cast that number against the Total Receipts expected by the U.S. federal government in 2016 of $2.99Trillion versus Total Outlays of $3.54Trillion, and we can see that “free” college tuition puts a large load on our federal budget, a load we American taxpayers will be forced to have to pay, since that cost will have to be borne by someone, and that someone is us.
So is this really, as Bernie Sanders said today, the “most progressive platform” in history, handing out free college tuition to anyone who wants it, even assuming that an American president had such power, which is not conceded, or is it just a liberal idea gone crazy that could well cripple our economy?
As always with all of these “good” ideas thrown at us on a daily basis as these politicians pander for our votes with all kinds of “pie-in-the-sky” promises such as a “chicken in every pot” and a “car in every garage” and “doubling exports,” no real details are given as to how it is to be done, just trust us, they say, we are the ones fighting for you, and we will make it happen.
But can they, really?
For the record, I am and have been since the 1980s a political independent, which means I am not for either major party in this contest.
What I am for is common sense, which in politics today is not very common at all, and rationality.
If someone says they are going to do something, like give out free college, I would like the details now, not next week, because in my experience, next week never comes, but the tax bill always does, and each year, our pile of debt grows deeper and deeper.
At the end of FY 2016 the gross US federal government debt is estimated to be $19.3 trillion.
This liberal idea of free college masquerading as a “progressive” idea will be adding a Trillion dollars a year to that figure.
Is that something you want to bequeath to your grandchildren?
In closing, please do “progressivism” a needed favor by not mistaking it for liberalism, instead.
The difference is important for our future as a nation, and that is something we should not forget, for if we do, it will be at our peril.