I mentioned Obama advisor Podesta yesterday. His Center for American Progress has been criticized from the left for its corporate ties, but those ties, like Obama’s, are pretty much what Progressives anticipated a century ago when their political tradition began. They wanted an intimate embrace between a big central, regulatory state and major corporations, fused into a single establishment. I mean, sure, the idea was vaguely that the state would be all virtuous and make the corporations behave well, rather than things becoming incestuous and power-broking, but that was never very realistic.
And we can distinguish that tradition to some degree from liberalism (mainly concerned with rights) and the left (mainly concerned with redistribution and social power), though there’s all sorts of complex overlap.
To the extent we can distinguish Progressives as a subspecies (and sometimes we can -- terrifying 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carefully clarified once that she is a Progressive, not a liberal, for instance), they’re an arrogant breed, doing things like opposing charter schools (even while posing as the guardians of high educational standards), mocking interracial families (so long as it’s done in the right way -- they gave us eugenics and anti-immigration law, after all), selectively denouncing conservative ties to Israel but presumably not minding when one of their heroes like Mandela learns terror tactics from that country, and in general loving the exercise of technocratic authority (a bit like Obama creepily fantasizing about how much he could accomplish if he were more like Kevin Spacey’s homicidal politician character on House of Cards).
At least their attraction to technocracy means they may notice managerial details that fuzzier-minded liberals and idealistic leftists might overlook, as with Rachel Maddow drawing attention to the possibility that Chris Christie’s bridge-closing tantrum was inspired more by a press conference than by an election (I never much liked him anyway, tantrum-thrower that he is, and think Rand Paul’s the closest thing to an acceptable 2016 candidate, though no one’s perfect, especially politicians).
An important, dangerous legacy of the Progressive impulse is one that may prove a fatal strategic flaw, though. With their (well-meaning) conviction that their form of civic engagement is really just centrist, commonsensical, and reasonable, they have a tendency to continue thinking of themselves as an unassailable establishment even when they are turning themselves into marginalized partisans in the eyes of much of the population (I’ll revisit that topic next week in an entry on Volume 25 of Critical Review, which, in looking at topics like sovereignty, democratic deliberation, and Hayek, touched on Diana Mutz’s observation that the intellectuals tend to think large, centrist-sounding, rich, philanthropic political enterprises are nobler forms of civic engagement than grubby partisan politics and even in some sense apolitical -- which, I’d add, explains why some of those Ivy League aristocrats are dumbfounded that anyone could possibly disagree with them -- “Who doesn’t love the Ford Foundation?” and so on).
But a reminder that they can be dangerously out of touch: they’ve been cheering (social democrat) Mayor de Blasio’s election as a bellwether, rarely noting that despite his alarming 73% of the vote, he won with a record-low voter turnout of only 24%. Even in New York City, the masses are not that impressed with their Progressive managers.
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