It is interesting seeing the various labels that many of the current presidential candidates cloak themselves with, the dominant being “Progressive”; that is not very helpful as it could mean anything a candidate wishes it to mean, or a misdirection of what they really mean, or just a way to say they are superior to anyone who does not think “progressively”, which with political elitism is a consistent problem.
There were three principal instances when the USA had a “Progressive Party”, the first in 1912 with Teddy Roosevelt, 1924 with Robert La Folette and 1948 with Henry Wallace; all three were a product of a split in the Republican Party, all had anti-corruption, anti-tariff, and anti-trust platforms; all ran presidential campaigns, all lost, and all three faded away soon thereafter, but at least then there was a forthright idea of what progressive meant.
Consider a political label example in the past from Norman Thomas, a six time Socialist Party candidate for president; in 1944 he announced his withdrawal from the campaign in a speech in which he stated, “The American people will never adopt socialism. But under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened. I no longer need to run as a presidential candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.”.
I dispute one thing about his statement – it is not just the Democratic Party at issue here as the Republicans, though labeling themselves as champions of the free market, are as responsible in many regards as the Democrats for what Norman Thomas says. Also, I assume he uses the word “liberalism” in the 20th Century and not the classical 18th Century sense.
If there is one current candidate that honestly embraces who and what he is, it’s Bernie Sanders, who not only promotes socialism, but cloaks himself in its label….well, almost since he uses the oxymoronic title of a “Democratic Socialist”,whatever that’s supposed to mean; at least he doesn’t try to hide what he’s really about. I’m just not sure if the prefix is meant to align with his DNC affiliation or is meant to soften the label to convey a more acceptable “brand”.
Consider what the leading fund raiser in this huge pack of Democratic candidates, Pete Buttigieg, promotes as a “progressive” approach to help cure the disharmony in America today, i.e. mandatory national service; he clarifies that this could be non-military in nature, but that does not make it any less a form of enslavement than the draft of times past. Baby boomers should remember the Federal Commission hearings on the draft during the late stages of the Viet Nam War in the early 70’s. In one famous interchange, General Westmoreland defended compulsory service against an all-volunteer army that he said would result in “….mere mercenaries…”; Milton Friedman, who served on that commission that helped end the draft, replied, “General, would you rather command an army of slaves?”. The same logic applies to mandatory non-military national service. Let’s remember that it was the Republicans who supported the draft, and the Democrats who were against it; my how things have changed, but at least Mr. Buttigieg provides us with some insight about what the current progressive label means.
Another peek into this progressive label is provided by Senator Kamala Harris, who in 2010 as District Attorney for San Francisco and again in 2011 as Attorney General for California, supported truancy laws that provided for the prosecution and incarceration of parents of children who had in excess of three unaccounted absences of 30 minutes or more during a school year; and yes, there are parents who suffered jail time as a “progressive” approach to truancy. She now claims that the incarcerations were an “unintended” consequence, but the laws she pushed for explicitly provided for that.
This progressive label is beginning to get some definition, but perhaps some of the candidates who embrace it may not really want to have that out there….with the exception of Bernie, who again, if nothing else is at least forthright.
There are so many other examples of bad labels in modern politics, including definitions of political actions. Take for example the recently released Mueller report which raises a lot of questions, but I have yet to hear anyone mouth the word “treason”. There are two instances where that could apply, i.e. levying war against your own country and/or giving aid and comfort to our enemies. I can’t see Trump et al guilty of the former, but couldn’t colluding (or conspiring) with foreign governments apply under the latter, regardless of their intentions? The punishments for treason can no longer include the death penalty as was the 1953 case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for conspiracy with the Russians, but if we are to believe that Trump and his staff worked with Russia during the 2016 campaign to undermine our electoral process, is this not treason?
It has been suggested by some politicians that we face an existential moment in our national history; perhaps that should read as “another” such moment, but if this is so, how do we find the right leaders if all we have are meaningless and/or misleading labels? How can we understand who we are dealing with if we can’t get beyond those labels? We do not appear to have made any “progress” in this regard, so I fear that we could wind up with something even worse than what we now have without really knowing how, as Norman Thomas said; we should not think for a minute that isn’t possible as who ever thought that Trump would be elected?