Click here for Pulp & Paper Radio International
The Paperitalo Library
Free Downloads
My Profile
Point Counterpoint
Comment Print
Are they really progressive?

Jim says: There is a lot of discussion in the United States today about progressives and conservatives. It depends on what aspect of actions one is talking about, but it may be appropriate to say these labels mean exactly opposite of what they imply. Progressives are certainly progressive about loosely interpreting the Constitution of the United States, while conservatives want to preserve it, but in both cases, one has to say, "To what end?" For when one asks, "to what end?" one finds the progressives are the conservatives.

For instance, progressives are great preservationists -- they really want things to stay the same. They want to preserve:
1. Old fashioned train travel via Amtrak
2. Obsolete companies such as General Motors
3. Discreet obsolete manufacturing plants in all industries, including pulp and paper
4. An obsolete method of managing and operating public education
5. Anything that doesn't move using regulations, historical designation, confiscation for parks, and other devious tools
6. And on and on.
Progressives are essentially preservationists, fearful of doing things a new way, fearful of upsetting long held beliefs and habits.

Progressives have a particularly clever way of applying their preservationists' attitudes on a macroeconomic scale. In theory, if two people start out with the same assets, and one, through application of intelligence and effort, acquires more than the other, progressives want to tax the one who succeeded and give the "imbalance" to the one who didn't (after they skim off their own fee for providing the service of redistribution). Progressives have a strong desire to keep everyone "equal."

Of course, it is hard to tell the balance between a progressive's innate desire to keep everything the way it was as compared to the progressive politician's desire to exploit inequalities to their own benefit. For those that rise to the top, by any measure are always going to be a smaller segment of the population than those that don't. Clever progressive politicians exploit this phenomenon by whipping the nonachievers into a frenzy based on equality. This results in their re-election and their continual efforts to throw morsels to those further down the food chain.

Conservatives are not fearful of real change out in the real world, for they know real change brings real progress. Unfettered entrepreneurs bring us improvements in health, communications, transportation, and overall quality of life. Saddle these eclectic thinkers with regulation and they turn out the kinds of goods and services "enjoyed" by the old Soviet Union. Repressive regulation brings dull conformity and the status quo. Had we had the level of regulation in the 1700s we have today, we would all still be sitting in log cabins and playing home-made fiddles for entertainment.

Advancement is not the status quo. True progressivism is not preservation, regulation, and an overall stifling of creativity. Some things, many things, need to be discarded and shoved out of the way if we are truly to have a progressive society. Conservatives get this, "progressives" do not. Hopefully we'll realize this before it is too late.

Travis says: I agree that "conservative" and "progressive" are not particularly useful political labels. Progressives are more conservative with regards to preserving the environment for future generations; conservatives are more activist in allowing corporations to buy elections. The terms are probably more apt with regard to social issues. Progressives from both parties were ahead of conservatives on civil rights in the 1960s, and today's progressives are more likely to support the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. Many of my more conservative friends support high levels of spending on law enforcement and national defense and hate taxes because they have lots of earthly treasure that they want to horde.

Many of my more progressive friends want government to take care of safety net issues, and are willing to pay the taxes necessary, so they won't feel guilty about their lack of direct contact with people in need. Both of these are understandable reactions to particular sets of circumstances or attitudes, and my own sympathies are divided. Like most people, I do not like to be boxed-in by a particular ideology, and I base my political preferences on some combination of instinct, logic, self-interest, and values. I skew progressive, especially on economic issues, but in my own mind I'm a principled independent and in the eyes of others I'm probably an unrealistic and irrational idealist.

As for things progressives want to preserve:

1. Old fashioned train travel via Amtrak -- If you've travelled on Amtrak outside the Northeast corridor recently and you like train travel, you don't want to preserve rail service, you want to improve it. If government is going to continue to invest in transportation infrastructure, I fully support spending more on rail. I also would like to see a carbon tax; that would make passenger rail more competitive in a hurry.

2. Obsolete companies such as General Motors -- I don't know of anyone who loved the GM bailout, progressive or otherwise. The purpose was to prevent a total economic collapse in the Midwest. As Dean Baker points out, at least the government got some equity in the deal, unlike many of the giveaways to banks. It is true that progressives are more willing to intervene economically with fiscal stimulus; I think they stand on the right side of history in this regard.

3. Discreet obsolete manufacturing plants in all industries, including pulp and paper -- I don't follow you here. In the past, you've accused progressives of being the enemy of business, but now you're saying they want to keep old, dirty plants? Make up your mind.

4. An obsolete method of managing and operating public education -- President Obama's Race to the Top is promoting innovation in public education and the Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has a great deal of bipartisan support. I'm not sure what "obsolete methods" you are referring to. By my observation, just about everyone hates the test-obsessed culture promulgated by the second President Bush's "No Child Left Behind."

5. Anything that doesn't move using regulations, historical designation, confiscation for parks, and other devious tools -- When conservatives are in power, they write plenty of regulations, they just skew them towards their preferred industry insiders (see the Bush-Cheney energy policy). As for parks, President Bush designated the largest marine reserve ever created. Historical designation is usually a local issue, and I'm not sure how it plays with regards to progressive-conservative politics.

The thing that frustrates me about most conservatives is their backward-looking focus. Sure, 1940s and 1950s America might have been great for us white guys, but what about women and minorities? The best progressivism points us toward the future, the world not as it is but as we wish it to be.

Ultimately, we live in a representative democracy, and we rely on elected officials and civil servants to set policy. In my mind, this makes where a leader falls on the progressive-conservative spectrum less important than his or her worldview. In a December 2009 column, David Brooks locates President Obama in the "Christian realist" tradition influenced by "prophetic Christianity and the human tendency toward corruption; familiar with the tragic sensibility of Lincoln’s second inaugural; familiar with the guarded pessimism of Niebuhr." Brooks quotes Obama directly on Niebuhr's influence: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.” That sums up my own views pretty well, and I much prefer this paradigm to American exceptionalism/triumphalism or abject cultural relativism.

Jim’s response: Well, let’s start with your shot that “conservatives are more active in allowing corporations to buy elections.” This implies you think using tax dollars to employ a corrupt organization like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to stuff the ballot box or beat up people going to the polls is a superior method!

I think the basic tenet conservatives hold is less government is better. Government should be there to help business thrive, with some regulation, no subsidies, and as clearing a path for prosperous jobs for all. This includes things like getting rid of teacher’s unions and the SEIU. (Even the patron saint of progressive, Franklin Roosevelt, thought it was a bad idea to allow government employees to unionize.)

Things like the military and business exist to serve objectives. In the case of the military, it is to defend the country. All Americans should be allowed to serve there, but without any special dispensation. The discussion about what kinds of Americans can serve cannot be allowed to get in the way of the mission — the mission must be #1. Businesses must be profitable, job #1—otherwise the golden tax goose is killed for all.

Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: