Thursday, November 5, 2009
A PROGRESSIVE MANIFESTO (Part 2 in a series)
This is the second installment in a series designed to present a broad overview of the progressive position on a wide array of current issues, designed to dispel any misconceptions conservatives, moderates, or independents may have about what we believe and where we are coming from.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
Teddy Roosevelt was a very influential and immensely popular Republican President.
Republican Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive who firmly believed government had the right and the obligation to look out for and protect the best interests of all the people. In an Osawatomie, KS speech given on August 31, 1910, he declared, "The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so far as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens." With this statement, he defined the progressive belief that government is an entity whose major responsibility is making certain that ALL citizens' needs are met, not just those of a particular class or income level. This was further reinforced by another 1910 speech he gave to an audience at the Sorbonne in Paris, when he stated, "Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." That statement, of course, also refers to government's role in regulating business, as he made clear in another speech, this one at the Progressive Party Convention in Chicago on June 17, 1912. "We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumer", he said. By this time, his Republican Party had disagreed with him on the role of government, particularly as to how it related to business, so he had broken away from it to form a more progressive party, known back then as the Bull Moose Party.
Roosevelt's declarations stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of today's free-marketers and far-right conservative Republicans, who believe that government has no right at all to interfere with business and that the free market will fix whatever problems it encounters all, and best, by itself. We progressives believe this to be an errant, naive philosophy. Historical events prove OUR belief to be true, and theirs to be folly.
Wild, unregulated market speculation fueled by greed caused the crash of October, 1929, and led to the Great Depression. Similar wild unregulated speculation fueled by greed caused our summer of 2008 $4 per gallon gasoline problem, our mortgage banking problem, the failure of numerous banks, and contributed to our current Great Recession. In all these cases, had government been able to exercise a moderating influence on free market business initiatives, general prosperity would have been maintained rather than lost, and millions of people now unemployed would still have jobs. If rhe government had more power to regulate the health care industry, we would not have 1 of every 6.5 people in this country without health care insurance coverage, and the ever-rising costs of health care WOULDN'T be rising at a rate much higher than inflation or wages, and millions of citizens wouldn't be heading into bankruptcy due to medical costs. In all of these cases the lack of government regulation and the totally free exercise taken by unrestrained concentrated capital hurt, rather than helped, the public welfare. Each of these cases perfectly exposes the fallacy of private enterprise being able to take care of problems all on its own, without regulation.
We progressives believe that government has the inherent power to protect its citizenry from powerful enemies from without as well as from powerful entities within. You have every right to march and prance around as often and in any way you like, but should your marching and prancing be all over my toes and hurt my feet, we progressives say that your marching must be restricted, and that restriction should occur as a result of government regulation and supervision. That is only basic common sense, and so should it be with the marketplace. We do not believe that individuals or their businesses have the absolute right to do as they please without question; to force workers to work in unsafe conditions; to pay these workers, who actually produce the goods and services from which profit is made, very low wages while the company owner or CEO makes many hundreds of times that amount; or for an individual or business to be able to pollute the environment or endanger others in their pursuit of profit. In each case, we see the complete necessity of government to act as a regulator for the common good.
We progressives do not at all agree with Ronald Reagan's assertiion that government is the problem and not the solution. For government is the creator and enforcer of LAW, which is the underpinning of a stable and civilized nation. In the absence of law there is anarchy and constasnt civil disorder. Government is therefore an absolute necessity.
It is interesting to note the difference between the progressive and conservative perceptions on government. The conservative believes government is necessary to enforce absolute property rights and to protect the wealthy's holdings from being taken away by the lower classes. The progressive sees government as a necessary buffer to protect those in the middle and bottom from excesses and exploitation foisted on them by the wealthy. Conservatives therefore only see government's value in terms of its material protection, and see all other attributes as encumbrances. Yet, as Manifesto Joe of Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues (http:manifestojoestexasblues.blogspot.com/) so wisely pointed out in the comments section of the first installment of this series, "property rights exist BECAUSE OF GOVERNMENT, not in spite of it." He further explains, "Government and law define what property is, how much of it one rightfully owns...a typical difference between progressive/modern liberal view and that of conservatives and libertarians is that the former consider property rights CONDITIONAL . The piblic interest comes first, and ownership of assets carries with it the condition of being accountable to that public interest." With these statements, Manifesto Joe has brilliantly reinforced that which Republican Teddy Roosevelt first laid out and practiced during his presidency from 1901-1909, and which subsequent progressive Presidents, among them FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ followed suit with.
Progressives believe government can and should be a good force working on behalf of the people and not just a vehicle for special interests to use and abuse for their own ends.
NEXT: FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL DEFENSE