Regressives

Roger Simon, among others, has noted that the demonstrations in Madison demonstrate how old-fashioned the modern Left is, something that’s true despite the Left’s attempt to re-brand itself with the name “Progressive.”  It therefore seemed appropriate for me to run again an article I wrote for American Thinker back in September 2007.  My section on the unions (“Look for the union label”) seems prescient now.

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Regressives

Language is anything but static, something for which we must be grateful. It’s the dynamism of the English language that, at the high end, gives us Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, and at the low end, gives us the liveliness of slang and dialect.

One of the interesting things about English’s constant, beneficial mutations is the fact that some terms which start off as merely descriptive begin to degrade in meaning, eventually ending as insults. For example, the now archaic word “beldam” started off as a grand old lady and ended up meaning a miserable hag. “Spinster” originally described a woman who spins, but came to mean a desiccated, narrow minded old virgin. Another word that ended with a completely degrade meaning was “bedlam,” which describes a completely insane situation, but that had its genesis in Christ’s natal town of Bethlehem.

And then there’s the word “liberal.” It comes from the Latin “liber,” meaning free, so the word “liberal” originally referred to one committed to freedom. Over time, however — indeed, in our lifetime — it came to mean one thing: someone who could not win an election. Clearly, it was time for a change.

Liberals, after some bold attempts to reclaim the title for themselves (and they’ve got the bumper stickers to prove it), decided to jettison the term entirely and come up with a new word to describe themselves. They are now “Progressives.” The word “progressive” means to advocate beneficial change and progress, and that’s certainly what Progressives would have the American people believe they offer.

By giving themselves this label, however, the Progressives have proven yet again that there’s no delusion quite as powerful as self-delusion. The fact is that, if you pick apart each of the Progressives’ stands on any major issue of the day, you’ll see that either they have staked out positions that were either proven false or ineffective decades ago, or they’re still fighting battles that were long ago won, making their efforts redundant (yet still, somehow, harmful to the modern political process).

One, two, three, four, No way will we win this war

The most visible example of the Progressives’ tendency to live in the past is their compulsive urge to view the Iraq War as if it was a movie sequel entitled The Vietnam War, Part II. This was apparent within minutes of the War’s inception, when Progressives (both in and out of the media) were already labeling it a quagmire. They looked for and found their My Lai massacre when the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Haditha affair came to light.

Showing admirable tenacity, the Progressives have clung to these few 1960s/1970s lodestones despite some pesky details that run counter to their Vietnam narrative. For one thing, there was the fact that, in the months leading up to the War, Saddam Hussein worked hard to convince UN inspectors that he had WMDs. If this was true (and they’re in Syria or elsewhere right now), he invited the War on himself and his long suffering people.

If it was Saddam issuing propaganda aimed at aggrandizing his stature amongst the rogue nations of the world, no one can be blamed for bombing his nuclear Potemkin Village. Certainly he’d actually built that faux village on a solid foundation, since few could doubt that someone who would gleefully use poison gas to massacre his own people would hesitate to use it against foreign enemies, given the chance.

Another problem for the Regressives… er, Progressives… is the nature of Saddam’s Iraq itself. Vietnam had the bad luck to be caught between opposing Communist forces, with Vietnam the battered football in the middle. Iraq was quite a different kettle of fish. In a region that distinguishes itself as the land of repressive regimes, Saddam stood out as a star. In addition to the Halabja massacre (see above), Saddam brutally tortured and murdered his own people, committed ecoterrorism to drive out disfavored ethnic groups, gave free reign to his sadistic sons with the hope that they’d eventually rule Iraq, invaded neighboring sovereign nations, and is believed to have murdered around 200,000 of his own people. Under Hussein, Iraq was not an unwitting international football kicked around in the Cold War, it was a time bomb waiting to explode.

None of these icky little facts deter the Progressives. For them, it’s always 1974 all over again and they urge us on to the one lesson they learned from the Vietnam War: the U.S. should turn tail and run. Sadly for Iraqis and Americans, the Progressives are careful to freeze their historic memories to fix on that (to them) wonderful moment when people raced to the rooftops of buildings, desperate to board the last U.S. helicopters. Memory carefully stops before it reaches the reeducation camps in North Vietnam or the Killing Fields of Cambodia. For Progressives, useful as the past is to define their current-day agenda, some history lessons are better left unlearned.

‘I believe it is peace in our time.”

When it comes to terrorists, Progressives show a true sense of retro style, turning the Way Back machine to the 1930s, with Neville Chamberlain as their role model. For those who are not conversant with Chamberlain’s dealings with Hitler, they are instructive.

Immediately upon assuming power in 1933, Hitler began to use violence and intimidation within Germany in order to achieve his political and social goals. To the extent that he went after Communists, many in Europe and, especially, in Britain, were not unsympathetic to his goals, even if they deplored his tactics. They were less sympathetic to, but perfectly willing to ignore, his attacks on Jews, gays, clergyman, gypsies, and the mentally and physically handicapped. These were, after all, internal affairs and (I’m sure this was said with the inevitable shrug), “what can one do?”

Europe’s ability to look the other way changed in 1938 when Hitler, feeling limited by turning his aggression on his own people, began turning his energies outward. In March 1938, after having already procured the assassination of an Austrian Chancellor, Hitler invaded Austria in what became known as the Anschluss. (And it’s no credit to Austria that large numbers of its citizens were delighted with this turn of events.) Although this was a complete violation of all international law, and was clearly an act of war, Chamberlain’s government sat passively by.

Then, in September 1938, when Hitler began to rumble about the Sudetenland, which Germany had lost to Czechoslovakia after World War I, Chamberlain went to Berlin to meet with Hitler. Hitler quickly got the measure of the man and offered Chamberlain an either/or solution to the Sudetenland issue: Either Britain assist Germany’s plans to annex the Sudetenland or Hitler would invade Czechoslovakia and take it back himself. Overawed by Hitler’s reasoning, Neville Chamberlain quickly agreed to the “either” part of that plan and executed the Munich Agreement. Proud of his negotiating skills, which gave Hitler the power and geographical range instantly to overrun Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain returned to England and boasted to the British people that

“this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time.”

The 1930s peace crowd took those words seriously. Despite Hitler’s increasingly aggressive acts throughout the 1930s, both inside and outside Germany, and despite Hitler’s clearly expressed threats to take over Europe and destroy all whom he deemed inferior, Chamberlain and the peace party that support him were “shocked, shocked” when Hitler, appropriately viewing the Munich Agreement as a carte blanche from supine European leaders, first invaded Czechoslovakia, then Poland, and then tried to take on the world.

Chamberlain’s incredible naiveté in believing that it was possible to have peace with a tyrant bound and determined to control and kill anyone who affected his power meant that, within seven years of the Munich Agreement, through genocide, the ordinary and tragic casualties of war, and battle deaths, as many as 72 million people are estimated to have died. One can only conclude that Chamberlain got “peace with honor” confused with the Roman idea, which was to “make a desert and call it peace.”

If the above narrative sounds uncomfortably familiar, it should, and I’m not just saying this because you probably studied World War II in school (or, at least, you did if you’re over 30). The so-called Progressives are closely mimicking Chamberlain’s behavior. They’re thrilled with Bin Laden’s reasoning, especially since he sounds uncannily like their own Progressive leaders. They want us to do everything that Bin Laden and his minions advise: withdraw from Iraq, jettison Israel, and remove any Western presence from Saudi Arabia (except, of course, for the petrodollars).

The Progressive’s antiquated appeasement standards are even better displayed with Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York. Let me remind you here that Ahmadinejad may have been part of the 1979 hostage crisis, that he’s repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel entirely, and that he’s determined to become a nuclear power, which poses a threat to all Western interests. But who cares? Bully boys are always treated well by appeasers. This time, not only were the Progressive appeasers excited to give him a forum at the once prestigious Columbia University in New York, they’ve gave him airtime on American TV courtesy of 60 Minutes.

And just to put the whole matter of the Progressives’ fawning over Ahmadinejad in its proper retro perspective, in 1933 Columbia happily offered the red carpet to a high ranking Nazi official. One could argue that, in 1933, it wasn’t quite so obvious how terrible the Nazis were to become, but Columbia President Lee Bollinger has killed that argument already. He announced that he would have invited Hitler to speak too. Keep in mind that even Chamberlain didn’t invite Hitler to London.

We’re having a baby, my baby and me.

One of the most retrograde areas in Progressive thought concerns abortion rights — and I think you’ll agree with me whether you are pro-Choice or pro-Life.

A couple of years ago, I found myself at the abortion rights webpage for the National Organization of Women. What struck me right away was how dated the organization’s position was regarding abortion. At that time, to make its point about the need for legalized abortions, it led with photographs of four women who died from abortions. Following the link, I was led to the story of seven women who died from botched abortions. The years of death were 1929, 1929, 1940, 1950, 1967, 1977 and 1988. The dates are significant, since only the last two occurred after abortion became legal.

The death in 1977 was blamed on the fact that the dead woman was denied public funding for her abortion; the death in 1988 was blamed on a young woman afraid to seek parental consent for a legal abortion. Thus, with the exception of the 1977 and 1988 abortions, all the highlighted deaths occurred in times when birth control options were nil to limited, and when the stigma of pregnancy for unmarried women was extraordinarily high. The 1988 abortion was also a “stigma” abortion, since the girl was afraid to tell her parents.

There is no doubt that, if you are pro-Choice, either whole heartedly or in a lukewarm kind of way, there are, in 2007, still arguments to make in favor of abortion — rape, incest, a high risk pregnancy, a woman’s right to control her body, etc. The old reasons, however, just don’t apply anymore. Aside from the easy availability of myriad forms of birth control, nowadays the average accidental pregnancy may well be difficult or inconvenient, but it is no longer social death. Women are not turned out at night into snow storms, women do not become community pariahs, women are not forever tainted because of having an “illegitimate” pregnancy and, despite NOW’s focus on teen abortions and parental consent, it’s the rare news story that concerns a teen dying of a back alley abortion in those states requiring parental consent. It may certainly be embarrassing for a woman to admit to a pregnancy, but it is no longer the end of life on earth as women know it. Certainly the abortion debate would be more honest, if less emotional, if the “Progressives” were to debate abortion in the here and now, instead of in the then and gone.

We Shall Overcome

Perhaps ashamed that during both major Civil Rights battles (the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements), Democrats allied themselves against African Americans, modern Progressives not only proclaim themselves the defenders of Civil Rights in America, but they also continue to wage the battle against racism as if it’s still Selma, 1964. In the Progressive world, racial oppression is an omnipresent aspect in the fabric of American life, with every white American (who isn’t Progressive, of course) a slavering racist anxious to degrade and dehumanize blacks.

To Progressives, something like the Jena 6 is a beautiful thing, because it proves their point — America is a racist nation, and they can board their protest busses and bravely take a seat at the segregated lunch counters of their fantasies. What they seem incapable of realizing is that even government conduct as suspect as that in the Jena 6 case reveals how far America has come since the actual Civil Rights movement. I’m probably not the first to notice that Jena 6 is a cause celebre, not because it’s happening all over America, or even all over the South, but because it’s anomalous.

White America is not routinely scapegoating black America. Indeed, the most recent racially motivated scapegoating saw a white Southern politician attempt to destroy the lives of several white defendants in an effort to curry favor with the local black community. (That would be the alleged Duke rape, for those of you scratching your heads over my allusion.) It’s also worth pointing out that the Jena 6 case is not the traditional “whites are bad, blacks are scapegoated” scenario, but seems to be an uglier and broader slice of race warfare amongst the young’uns, with each side enthusiastically threatening and otherwise terrorizing its opponent.

There is no doubt that there are still Americans who are racists, and it behooves each and every American to target that racism where it lies. But we make a grave mistake if we (for “we” read “Progressives”) pretend that the institutional racism of the Jim Crow South is still a looming factor in the lives of African-Americans. That kind of historical yearning means that, every three years or so, when something bad happens to African-Americans (and I don’t deny that bad things happen), Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton can race over to relive their own glory days in the early 1960s, all the while obscuring the fact that we live in a much less racially charged world. This kind of 1960s theater in the 21st Century does two terrible things: it continuously inflames the African American sense of grievance, something both psychologically and practically damaging; and it helps grow two dangerous emotions in white Americans when it comes to race: ennui and resentment.

Look for the union label

Unions were a necessity in the early days of the industrial revolution. Workers were so spectacularly abused in those days (in part because they had limited mobility when it came to looking for greener employment pastures) that only by united action were they able to shift the employer/employee dynamic away from mind-bogglingly brutalizing practices. (See, for example, the successful 1888 strike that forced the British government to legislate against the horror of phossy jaw, a phosphorous based cancer that afflicted 19th and 20th century workers in match factories.) Unionization is still useful today in highly dangerous industries where the risks of employment go beyond the economic and into life and death scenarios – and this is especially true in the chemical industry, where the employer has information the employee lacks and has the ability to control environmental safety which, again, is something the individual employee cannot do.

Having said that, most unions today are not useful at all, but are redundant victims of their own success. Thanks to decades of union action, the federal government and all the States have wage and hour laws, labor commissions (most of which are usually very hostile to the employer), occupational safety and health laws, mandatory retirement plans, minimum wage laws, etc. All of these, of course, were worker protections that unions fought for and won.

The problem is that, once you’ve done what you came for, what’s left? Well, for a lot of unions, aside from a huge effort negotiating salaries for the union bosses and a de minimus effort doing the same for union members, what’s left is a bullying style that tries to infringe on management prerogatives by dictating how the business should be run. The most obvious example of that trend can be found in the teacher’s unions, which routinely try to control both the broader political process and the classroom curriculum, all the while pressuring their employer (that would be you, through your agent, the government), to continue employing them without regard to performance standards.

Despite all this, for the Progressives, unions are the only things that stand between American workers and the 19th Century factory system of 12 hours, at salaries equal to mere pennies, in horrible unsafe conditions. It’s as if the social and political changes affecting employees during the last 100 years never happened. Instead, only by emphasizing working conditions that, in most cases, no longer exist, can Progressives keep alive an institution that serves their larger political agenda (often with a complete disregard for the rank and file’s beliefs), but that has an increasingly small effect on any given union’s original purpose.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, when running in 1992, were fond of repeating the old saying that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome. They were prescient (and I’m not just talking about Hillary’s recycled healthcare plan). No matter how they label themselves, the Progressives are anything but: on every issue that affects Americans, they have staked their politics and theories that are antiquated, ineffective or redundant. And if that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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Comments

  1. Wolf Howling says

    Great post, Book.  I think you can explain the entire progressive agenda by looking back through history to Marx and, before that, the French Revolution.  Their paradigm and their reliance on 19th century unions as a bedrock foundation of their cause have not varied in the slightest.  That said, the focus on unions today is not merely ideological, but financial.  Public sector unions are the single greatest contributors to the Democrat party.  It is impossible to overestimate their importance to the modern left, nor the degree to which all of that funding distorts our politics.  Pull the rug out on the public unions and me well see the progressives bankrupt 19th century political wing go the way of the Whig Party in America.

  2. says

    There’s quite a few issues with the essay, but let’s makes sure we have a clear sense of its main points.
     
    Wolf Howling: Great post, Book. I think you can explain the entire progressive agenda by looking back through history to Marx and, before that, the French Revolution. 

    That appears contrary to the original post, which seems to say that there were often legitimate purposes associated with the progressive movement, but that each solution became a rigid institution that no longer addresses modern issues, and is defended based on the old battles. 
     

  3. Wolf Howling says

    Zach – true enough.  I am referring to the origins of those ideas.  Nothing that I said contradicts the legitimacy of the issues when they were raised.  Both the French Revolution and Marx’s Communist Manifesto, printed in 1848, were responding to very real social problems.  In Marx’s case, it was sweat shops, company stores, dangerous work places and slave wages. The French Revolution was more complex in the ills it addressed, but as the birthplace of socialism, it wholly overlapped with Marx’s own causes. 

    But you can read the Communist Manifesto online, it is not a long tome at all.  Where it goes off the rails is not in the response to the social ills of 18th century society, nor in its calls for unions and direct action to correct those ills, but rather in the analytical framework Marx posits.  All history – and thus all contemporary actions – are defined by the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor.  That is a deeply distorting paradigm, yet it is one that defines the left’s approach to the world today.  The left wing movement defines itself not as a monolith, but rather as a mosaic of pigeon holed permanently “oppressed” interest groups, be they minorities, lbgt, women, or, for that matter, public sector union employees.  The fact that, in many cases, whatever oppression may have once existed has disappeared means nothing to the left.  At any rate, I was not contradicting Book, merely adding another layer of analysis that, in my mind at least, helps to explain the left’s motivations – and bankruptcy of the those motivations in today’s world.

  4. Charles Martel says

    One aspect of “progressivism” that gets little addressed is the left’s reactionary view of technology. To the left, technology is good if it can be controlled by progressives (or their favorite tool, government). Examples include the instruments of news dissemination, such as TV channels and newspapers; medicine, via ever-increasing government control of supply and interference in consumption; weapons, as in trying to leave only government functionaries, such as soldiers and policemen, adequately armed; public transit, which can be used to rationalize hostility to the automobile and the perceived earth-destroying mobility it offers politically incorrect people like suburbanites.

    Perhaps the most notable example is the co-optation of large parts of the scientific community by the AGW hoax. As long as the left could keep the hoax under wraps and contained via a compliant press, AGW enjoyed a vogue. Now, in the wake of the East Anglia leaks and the pitiful lying by the IPCC, the left is losing to a process it barely understood in the first place, namely that real science inevitably wins out over scientism’s frauds (Lysenkoism, Piltdown Man, the approaching Ice Age, the population bomb, we’re running out of resources, estrogen therapy, HIV threatens the U.S. straight population, etc.)

    When technology is not under the left’s control, it becomes hostile to these now “dangerous” tools. Examples include the blogosphere and its alternative media; coal, oil and nuclear power; private transportation; end runs around medical bureaucracies by consortia of private doctors; and the astute use of relational databasing by companies like Wal-Mart to deliver increased standards of living to remote areas without government input.

    The left’s reactionary stance involves an old-fashioned disdain for complex intellectual attainments and processes that it cannot thwart or control. It was always thus: The French Revolution and the Bolshevik Coup delivered no new technologies or scientific breakthroughs, save those designed to increase the power of the state. On a practical level, the left’s hatred for complexity is costing it dearly. The unionists in Madison are clueless when it comes to realizing that the video cameras traiied on them by their opponents are showing them as witless, graceless, tone-deaf parasites. That’s why the rise of YouTube as a place where politically charged messages can go viral in only hours has become a focal point for the left. It has to find a way to control what gets on there lest people see what the left’s supporters really look like and believe in.

    The left also has nostalgia for grandiose projects that invoke the glory days of Hoover Dam and the Don Canal. Today, it’s high-speed rail, massive solar wind farms and an electric car industry—all useless and expensive, but feel-good. Perhaps that’s the real point for the left, the desperate desire to finally grab onto both some meaning and power.  

  5. says

    That’s why the rise of YouTube as a place where politically charged messages can go viral in only hours has become a focal point for the left.

    And it’s why Google bought it. Then they control it, if only partially so.

    History never teaches how Islamic slavery spread all over Africa or how Islamic armies destroyed countless cultural and intellectual centers of learning. Much of what is attributed to Arabia or Islam, like “Arabic numerals” were originally developed by subject populations. In this case, the Indians came up with “Arabic numerals”.

  6. says

    Today, it’s high-speed rail, massive solar wind farms and an electric car industry—all useless and expensive, but feel-good

    You forget that this is another way to funnel money to unions. Who do you think will be hired to “work” on these new industries and projects, eh?

  7. says

    Wolf H. – “All history – and thus all contemporary actions – are defined by the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor.  That is a deeply distorting paradigm, yet it is one that defines the left’s approach to the world today.”

    This reminds me of a book that I read in graduate school – Montaillou – it is basically about a bunch of sheep herders in a small village on the French side of the Pyrenees in th 1300s.  Many of the folks living there were Cathars, a form of Christianity consider to be heritical by the Roman Catholic Church. They were later wiped out by the Crusade against the Cathars led by the French King, with backing from Rome, of course.  I highly recommend this book for those who like history. 

    But, to my point.  The main criticism that the professor had about my report and class presentation was that I did not include a Marxist interpretation about the history of this small village.  What?!  They are all a bunch of sheep herders, moving their sheep from the foothills to the high meadows and back again.  Even the so called “nobility” in the area raised sheep for a living.  There were no “oppressor and oppressed” classes.  One, just one, village priest could hardly be called an “oppressor class,” especially since he was one of the Cathars. The Crusade against them didn’t come until later; so that wasn’t included in the book.  So, how on earth could there be a Marxist interpretatation of this microhistory? (Oh wait. Should I have considered the sheep as the oppressed class?) That criticism was the reason I received a grade of B+ instead of an A.  He said, everything else was great.

    The left-leaning teacher just couldn’t accept the fact that Marxism did not apply in this case.  This same teacher was one who showed up late to class one day, along with two of the students – both GAs or something like that – because they were at a protest to demand that the school give graduate assistants a “living wage.”  They just couldn’t live on the money they got for working 20 hours a week, live in school-subsidized housing, and do their own graduate studies at the same time. They needed more money, darn it! It was unfair that so many of them had to take on part-time jobs off-campus. 

    So, yes, Book, “progressives,” “liberals”, whatever they want to call themselves are locked into their “theories” and refuse to change. The world changes, but they don’t. 

    BTW, here’s a small lesson from history. The “bolsheviks” in Russia called themselves “bolsheviks” (Russian for “majority”) even though they were at one time a minority.

  8. says

    Charles: This reminds me of a book that I read in graduate school – Montaillou – … There were no “oppressor and oppressed” classes.  One, just one, village priest could hardly be called an “oppressor class,” especially since he was one of the Cathars.

    If you’re referring to Le Roy Ladurie’s microhistory, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, the book is based on the records of the Inquisition that led up to the arrest of the entire town for heresy in 1308. The priest, Pierre Clergue, was the primary informer. There was definitely religious oppression, though the book also details the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants.
     
    Charles: The left-leaning teacher just couldn’t accept the fact that Marxism did not apply in this case.

    Not sure why your teacher would want a Marxist interpretation, but certainly one could be constructed. You could use the particular history as a vehicle to show the limitations of Marxist theory. 
     

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