By Thomas L. Krannawitter, Ph.D.

In July, Bernie Sanders said Joe Biden will be “the most progressive president since FDR.” Few people noticed.

Conservatives get riled when they hear “socialism.” Mention “progressivism” and they yawn. 

Within the Democratic Party, there’s a fight over whose lead to follow: Overt radicals like Bernie, AOC, and lock-’em-up Kamala Harris? Or soft-spoken career cronies like Joe Biden?

Regardless, all Democrats agree that theirs is the party of progressivism, while few people challenge that brand and what it represents. 

There’s no problem with progressivism, right? Wrong.

Progressivism is the problem in America today. If progressives achieve their ultimate goals, the United States can no longer exist as a self-governing, constitutional republic. 

It’s long-overdue that we call progressivism what it is: the greatest existential threat today to a free America.

That’s not to say every progressive is a bad person with bad intentions. Many progressives genuinely believe they’re helping others, unaware of how much suffering results from the politicians and programs they support. Still, most progressives can be forgiven because, as was famously said long ago, they do not know what they do.  

Their lack of self-knowledge, however, is no excuse for the rest of us to ignore the ideology that fuels divisive, destructive progressive politics. 

ORIGINS OF PROGRESSIVISM 

Progressivism is not new. It began as an intellectual movement a hundred and fifty years old, stretching back to the 1870s. 

Early progressives tended to be academics, university professors and administrators who created the first Ph.D. graduate programs in the late 19th century. Woodrow Wilson is perhaps most memorable because he made the transition from academics to politics, elected President of the United States in 1912 

Many early American progressives were German-trained in the social sciences that later fueled socialism in Hitler’s Third Reich and communism in Lenin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s PRC. Progressivism took a different path in the United States mainly because the U.S. Constitution made it difficult for progressives to conduct the kind of social engineering experiments here that they did in Germany, Russia, China, and other nations.

Following the devastation of the Civil War, American progressives became convinced that America had been ill-founded. They set out to establish a better, more scientific, more “progressive” foundation for American politics, policies, government, and culture. In place of the Founders’ self-governing constitutional republic, progressives started planning for a new kind of republic (as the title of Herbert Croly’s progressive magazine suggested). 

Their dream was a regime of total central planning, free from constitutional constraints, where unelected government bureaucrats and other “experts” divide subjects (not citizens) into tribes and decide which ones are “allowed” to do what, as well as how, when, where, and why. 

Name a problem—any problem—and progressives respond with a government “plan.” Unlike the Founder’s Constitution, the purpose of progressive government is to subsidize, regulate, license, supervise, and otherwise plan every aspect of our lives. Nothing can be left to the private realm of unprogressive, self-interested citizens making their own choices, especially not those in business seeking profit. 

Bernie is right about Joe Biden. He’s a model progressive. When asked what he’ll do in various situations, Biden’s answer is typically some version of: “I’ll do whatever the experts say.” 

For progressives, even elected members of government should be controlled by unelected experts, which raises a question: Why do we need elected members of government at all? Perhaps unelected bureaucrats are the progressive version of the philosopher-kings wished for by Plato?

RESULTS OF PROGRESSIVISM

As progressive government has become involved in everything, everything has become politicized. 

It’s nearly impossible to have a discussion, in modern progressive America, that does not become political because virtually every subject involves government regulation, funding, or oversight. 

It’s also nearly impossible for citizens to form friendships with those who hold different political opinions. Question a progressive government program, today, and one is instantly accused of being hateful, stupid, or both.

Yet, the hallmark of progressive programs, now spanning over a century, is repeated failure, often on grand scales.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s and 40s, for example, while promising to provide jobs and resources to those in need, progressive central planners regulated entire industries, dictating wages, prices, and production schedules. 

Progressives politicians confiscated enormous amounts of private capital, paid farmers not to farm, slaughtered millions of piglets, dumped millions of gallons of milk into rivers, and burned thousands of acres of crops, while hungry, struggling Americans went without food, saw their taxes increase, and remained chronically unemployed.

A generation later, in 1964, progressives declared a War on Poverty. Since then, progressives have spent over $22 trillion, far more than all U.S. military wars from the American Revolution to today, combined. That’s $22 trillion of other people’s money not invested in starting new businesses or increasing productivity at existing ones. 

More than half a century later, after creating hundreds of government programs and hiring millions of bureaucrats, progressive programs have failed to reduce significantly U.S. poverty rates.

In recent decades, progressive politicians have thrown mountains of other people’s money at education, while student achievement measures have stagnated—or even declined—while many public schools have become little more than institutions of progressive indoctrination that line the pockets of union bosses. 

Today, we live in the most progressive era of American history. Progressive government regulates and controls more areas of our lives than ever before. Never in American history has it been more difficult and expensive for ordinary citizens to start a business, own a home, or provide for one’s own family.

As progressivism has spread across the United States, we’ve witnessed increases in rates of child abuse, spousal abuse, partner abuse of all kinds, fatherlessness, substance abuse, neglect, depression, random mass murders, teenage suicides, and other pathologies fueled by idleness, dependency, and lack of responsibility.

Pure coincidence? Unlikely.

And what do progressives offer as solutions? More regulations. More subsidies. More central planning. More progressivism. 

JUST SAY NO 

To be progressive today is to feel morally superior because the progressive politicians, programs, and policies one supports are marketed as helping others. Yet, slapping charitable-sounding labels on wasteful, counterproductive, unconstitutional, and often corrupt government programs isn’t helping the people who need it most. 

Who benefits from progressivism? Growing ranks of unelected government bureaucrats, elected politicians who dish out progressive favors in exchange for expanding power, and politically connected corporate cronies who use progressive regulations, subsidies, and special perks to crush their politically unconnected competitors.  

After 150 years of American experiments in progressive central planning, the verdict is in: It’s bad. No more. It’s time “progressivism” becomes the term of opprobrium it so richly deserves to be. To call oneself progressive is no reason to be smug. And he who would be “the most progressive president since FDR” is precisely the one who never should be president. 

This post was originally published in a revised form at The Federalist as “Calling Joe Biden ‘Progressive’ Is The Same As Calling Him A Failure“.