Progressivism's Last Call

The 2014 midterms were more than an average election. They were more than simply a rejection of Obama and his schemes, more than a flogging for the Democrats, more than a simple party shift like 1994. Put aside control of both Senate and House, a near sweep of governorships, and a vastly larger GOP footprint in the statehouses. This year’s midterms marked the third -- and perhaps final -- rejection of the progressive program in the past century.

The chief selling point of progressivism, in its various guises -- liberalism, socialism, communism -- has always been its purported “inevitability.” Progressivism was “scientific,” “rationalist,” the sole suitable ideology to lead the fumbling masses into the bright utopian future. Only shambling Morlocks -- Christians, conservatives, Southerners, Midwesterners -- could deny this obvious truth. Sensible, intelligent people -- the better people -- could only agree.

The slow collapse of the Marxist imperial states should have demonstrated clearly that progressivism, was neither scientific, nor rational, nor inevitable. It was a system based on deprivation and misery with a definite, and very short, half-life. An ideology operating in defiance of human nature, which has its own form of rationality and operates by its own rules despite any and all attempts to systemize it.

The most obnoxious thing about all this was the way that the conservative and traditional elites bought into the leftist paradigm. With no apparent faith in their principles, their country, or their fellow citizens, they consistently bowed to the leftist argument -- either choosing to turn their coats (as the Ayottes, the Rubios, and the Ryans have done in recent years), or pile up the survivalist gear and prepare for the Apocalypse. Recent evidence of this can be found in the meme that “47% (or 49%) of the population is now living off the government.” It followed that this massive number would permanently vote for whoever the progressive candidate might be in any given election, guaranteeing a progressive dictatorship in all but name. (The largest number of these people were actually receiving government assistance in low-cost college or mortgage loans.)

This response overlooked the fact that Americans have rejected progressivism at every opportunity. Three times they have been offered the progressive utopia. Three times they have pushed it away.

The first time was, of course, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The New Deal’s almost pure record of failure has been overshadowed by WW II, to the extent that the postwar rejection of FDR’s nanny state has been lost. It was widely argued as the war wound down that as soon as victory came, the Great Depression would sweep back in, requiring even greater government intervention. Exactly the opposite occurred -- the U.S. underwent one of the greatest economic booms in human history, one that sustained itself almost unbroken for a quarter of a century, from 1946 to 1971. The United States not only recovered, but succeeded in dragging much of the rest of a war-ravaged world along with it. This process had little to do with government. One of the great postwar domestic crises involved a nationwide housing shortage. Almost no new housing had been built during the war. No doubt there were endless government programs to address the problem. But by the time they got their offices set up, the crisis was over. The boys who endured Okinawa and the Bulge (many of them trained in construction by the Army engineers and Navy SeaBees) did not let trivial obstacles slow them down in building places to live.

The second great progressive effort was the Great Society, an attempt by Lyndon B. Johnson to arrange the United States along the model of his Texas ranch. By the 60s, virtually all of America’s institutions -- government, the academy, media -- were sold completely on rationality and inevitability. The nation would be run by committees of experts, utilizing big machines called “computers” (well out of the reach of the average prole). There would be a place for everything with everything in its place. And all done for the good of the Common Man.  

LBJ’s brand of progressivism collapsed into abject failure due to the Vietnam War, the mass public revolt that goes under the name of “the 60s,” and a complete misunderstanding as to how an economy works. Deficit spending accompanied by finagling with the currency by both Johnson and Nixon resulted in the 1970s stagflation, a lost decade culminating in the disgrace of Jimmy Carter.

Rejection of socialism was completed with the election of that throwback Ronald Reagan, who cut down the progressive monolith as much as he could in two short terms and as a result remains the most beloved and admired president of the modern era.

Which brings us to attempt three -- the “Transformation,” I guess we’ll call it. The flaw here arose from the selection of a completely uneducated and possibly ineducable candidate to carry it out. Barack Obama checked all the boxes and touched all the bases during his career without, it seems, ever learning a single thing worth knowing. The tell with this man was the fact that he utterly lacks the humility that has marked men of wisdom since Confucius and Socrates. According to Obama, he was “a better speechwriter than his speechwriters,” a better economist, better banker, better planner, and so on down the line to poodle groomer, than anyone living. Obama committed the greatest crime against intelligence: he didn’t know what he didn’t know.

Paradoxically, this grotesque flaw served the country well. In his abject blindness, Obama raged ahead with “transformation” with no hesitation or sense of caution. People who actually knew things would have been more careful. Not Obama, who truly believed that he could operate the way the generalissimos did in his adopted country of Indonesia -- give his orders, flick the fly whisk, and move on. He knew nothing of history or the economic record -- or even that there was such a thing as a record. He had no Plan B’s or fallbacks in case anything went wrong -- what could possibly be the point? He was Obama -- what could go wrong?

As a result, progressivism received its first fully public test. The disastrous effects of the New Deal (such as the Second Crash that occurred in 1937 and which has been carefully excised from the history textbooks) were hidden by WW II. The Great Society was masked by the Vietnam War and the upheavals of the 60s. (Not to mention the cover later offered by Richard “we’re all Keynesians now” Nixon). Few 1980 voters saw the connection between the current doldrums and events that had occurred back in 1965.

But the Barackian Transformation unfolded on the public stage, under the full spotlight, overseen by one of the purest narcissists ever to practice politics on the North American continent. Every move was telegraphed, every effort underlined, every last syllable amplified, every gesture outlined in neon. And every last inch of it has collapsed.

As of 2014, 95 million people have left the workforce (most of them women). This constitutes a lost generation, embittered and yearning for better days. ObamaCare has not collapsed only because it has not yet been put into effect. (IPAB -- or whatever it’s called this week -- the death panel, remains unestablished, with no one named to it. Obama’s bureaucrats don’t dare to ramp it up). The national debt and deficit, already at levels beyond human comprehension, have been multiplied furiously over the past few years, to a point where they can never be repaid and will require other forms of action. (Forget “laying the debt on our grandchildren” -- it is to laugh, as they say in one of them foreign countries. Believe me, that debt will be inflated or devalued to zero long before it reaches the grandkids. We’re going to pay for every last nickel -- I kid you not.) Obama even figured out a way to assure that the financial industry would make no effort to support a recovery by treating them to a trillion and a half dollar handout, none of which was loaned out or put to work in industry, but safely invested, thus decoupling the stock market from the economy as a whole.

The disastrous nature of the “Transformation,” in economic terms alone, is beyond rational calculation. Which does not mean that its effects are invisible. A man out of work for six years may not grasp the process in detail, but he does know that he’s broke.

By 2014, the end result of progressivism, in the basic, bread and butter economic sense, was clear to all but the willfully blind. While the administration has made a number of attempts to distract attention through increasing racial animosities and the “War on Women,” none of this has worked. For the first time in a century, the trajectory of progressivism was clear and unmistakable. The progressive ideal has been stripped naked in the public square, its illusions ripped into tatters, its rhetoric flensed of meaning, its promises rendered null -- and all this inflicted by its own supporters and acolytes. The American people beheld, and recoiled at what they beheld. Last week it came up for the vote. The voters rejected it in toto.

The dream is over. The progressive spell is broken. The long witch’s dance of the left is ending through sheer exhaustion. The edifice of left-wing power has been rent in twain by the rock of the American republic.

This does not mean that leftism is dead and gone. Or that Obama will disappear in a blue flash. Or that we will wake up tomorrow to find the shadows receded to sit in peace beneath our vines and fig trees. No… plenty of battles lie ahead. The infection is deeply entrenched and will have to be cut out piece by piece. There will be retreats and mistakes and betrayals. We may see yet another attenuated adolescent in the White House, preaching the same dead slogans and demanding the same demented actions. There will still be leftists clogging the landscape as the 22nd century dawns.

But the nightmare will not come to pass. The dream of the Founders will not be curtailed, the Republic will not be strangled. Because in 2014, the American people said, “No.”

Obama was the high tide mark for the progressive movement of the United States. They had a clear shot, and they blew it. They have failed in a way that they will not understand for years to come. Americans simply cannot be bought off.

What conservatives must do is rub it in -- underline it, hammer it, let no opportunity pass shout the death of progressivism. The GOP will attempt to soothe their “friends across the aisle.” The Northeast Corridor conservatives, our intellectuals in their blue blazers and bow ties, will wring their hands about how “unseemly” triumphalism is. Forget them. In the end, it was and will be the people of this country who set the agenda.

There’s a reason why three strikes means “out” in baseball -- the classic American game. Three is a magic number, the number of the Trinity, the number of good luck, but also the number of the last gasp of the drowning man, the sniper’s guaranteed kill on a lit match. Three is the number of hope for the decent, the innocent, and the good, of finality for the wicked, the useless, and the corrupt.

The left has had its three tries -- we will see that they don’t get a fourth.