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Op-Ed: Progressivism? Not So Fast, Folks

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The progressive movement in the United States is generally traced back to Woodrow Wilson's presidency, but he took his lead from predecessor Teddy Roosevelt and expanded on it.

The intellectual foundation of the progressive movement, though, can be traced farther back -- to the French Revolution inspired by Rousseau and Robespierre. The central faith was that the "collective" was more important than the "person." Robespierre said, "The people is always worth more than individuals. ... The people is sublime, but individuals are weak."

Following the progressivism of Wilson were communism, fascism and Nazism. All believed in the state and tried to marginalize religion. (These leaders desired that the least feel comforted only by the generosity of the state.)

Progressivism and its progeny all believed in the fairness and wisdom of decisions made by the state -- often at the expense of the individual, who, it was believed, made selfish decisions. All demanded that the state have an increased role in raising children. Adolf Hitler scoffed at those who remained opposed to him, saying he already had control of their children.

All believed in the minimum wage, state control of private property for the public good, unionization and environmentalism. And they believed in eugenics to purify the gene pool.

It is now fair to wonder whether we are returning to a belief that only a powerful central government can fix all of our problems. Victor Davis Hanson wrote in the National Review that President Barack Obama is governing as though the United States were a university and he its president. Governing by czars fits that example. A diversity czar, environment czar, pay czar, science czar, manufacturing czar and, of course, health czar could deal with the "whole" of an issue rather than looking at it piece by piece. This is not unlike the women's studies, black studies, diversity studies, environmental studies and other obsequious studies in most academic settings.

And with the Obama administration, just as in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy and Wilson's America, the leaders of major corporations are falling in line. Whether it is climate change, executive pay, automobile manufacturing or bank buying, CEOs step right up and wait for the tax benefits to surely follow their pandering. And the CEOs stood mute while bondholders saw their investments given to the unions. David Broder recently quoted an article by William Schambra of the Hudson Institute. Schambra writes that "Obama is emphatically a ‘policy approach' president. ... Long-term, systemic problems of health care, education and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole."

Broder notes that Schambra traces the roots of this approach back to the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- when progressives believed that social sciences should instruct government. Broder compares Obama's approach to governing with that taken by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

And just as was the case with Wilson, Carter and Clinton, Obama blames selfish individuals or corporations for the problems he seeks to redress. Eighty-five percent of Americans are happy with their health care, and Obama blames greedy insurance companies for this huge failure, which he seeks to correct by taking over 16 percent of our economy.

The principal sin in politics is overreaching. Americans have in the past repeatedly voted for freedom and the supremacy of the individual over the state. It will happen again.

Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.


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