in heated rhetoric. According to these people, the only thing wrong with
the United States is progressivism. Well, what is the progressive agenda,
and if it's so bad, why has it steadily advanced these past 101 years?
I doubt if I can extract every niche and facet of what progressivism is in a
short blog entry; I'll try to cover the overarching, driving principles.
* Man is perfectible, and has been evolving and improving steadily since
the beginning of time.
* The form and scope of government should advance
as humankind evolves for the better.
* Government should be run by
acknowledged “experts,” in the Executive Branch, far away from the corruption
and intrigue of elections.
Woodrow Wilson (president of Princeton University, governor of New
Jersey, American president), was probably the most articulate proponent of
progressivism. He compared the founder's view of the Constitution with a
machine: unthinking, unemotional, and rigid. He thought we should consider
the Constitution more as a living breathing instrument of whatever the people at
a particular time thought freedom should be. “All progressives ask,” he
stated in a speech, “is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing
and not a machine.”
The idea of checks and balances repulsed him. How could any living
thing survive if some of its organs were constantly fighting and hindering the
rest? To get around these chains of the Constitution, he proposed
that government shouldn't extend very far beyond the executive branch.
Since the president is the only office-holder elected by the entire nation, it's
his job – his mandate – to administer the government as he sees fit.
Getting politics out of governance sounds like such a wonderful, idyllic
solution. Never mind that it takes away from the people (for whom
governments are formed in the first place) the consent of the governed.
Wilson felt that getting politics out was actually a move toward a more
democratic system. The unelected “experts,” running the government, would
be more responsive and competent than some Arkansas pig farmer who happened to
get himself elected to Congress.
Wilson was president when the 16th (income tax) and 17th (election of
senators) amendments were ratified (within three months of each other). If
the government were to expand to encompass all of the wonderful services
envisioned by progressives, the executive branch would need a lot more money to
operate. Direct election of senators was supposed to bring the citizens
closer to a true democracy. Which is quite contrary to Wilson's dream of a
totally irrelevant legislative branch.
While I cannot read the intentions written on anyone's heart, I do not
believe any of the early progressives were evil (as they are so often
portrayed). They honestly wanted a modern, responsive, service-oriented,
and incorruptible government. They championed woman’s
suffrage. They banned demon rum. Banished children working in mines
and factories. Is it any wonder both political parties embraced these
progressive aims? Such benevolence would have EVERYONE flocking to support
As long as issues like these passed through the normal legislative process,
we would still favor most of them. After all, it was the states that voted
away their representation in Congress by approving the 17th amendment.
Prohibition brought the rise of the gangster era, and – in the end – was
repealed by the same states that had passed it a few years earlier.
Inside the modern, responsive, service-oriented, and incorruptible
gingerbread house, there lurks a boiling cauldron.
Income tax forces you to share your pay stub and your bank statement with the
government; a possible violation of the fourth amendment (no searching of
personal papers etc. without a warrant).
The experts in the executive branch now churn out between 13,000 and 30,000
pages of regulations per year. Regulations with the clout of real laws.
They were not discussed and debated by elected legislators. The executive branch
has expanded with an alphabet soup of agencies (EPA, HHS, OSHA, etc.) determined
to make the world a better place while unintentionally destroying people's lives
in the process.
Perhaps we should forget about, “no taxation without representation,” and
embrace instead the call for, “No regulation without representation.”