There’s a recommended diary on here right now demonizing Woodrow Wilson as the root of the Progressive evil. Ok, there’s plenty to not like about WW and, especially, his darling wife, but WW is one Helluva ways from Comrade Obama or Rahmbo Emmanuel.
The original Progressives were 19th Century activists who recoiled at some of the abuses of the unfettered capitalism of that day. Some of them were budding Socialists, a few called themselves Communists, but they were far more likely to be Presbyterians or Quakers, or various deriviatives of the Unitarian/Universalist sects. In those days, going back to at least the 1830s and ’40s, the conflict in America had a religious basis, either you believed in the perfectability of man or you believed that original sin made man inherently imperfect. The Yankees were all about perfectability and salvation by works. The Southerners were all about original sin; man was imperfect but could be saved by faith. That one led to a four year war and over a half-million dead, but the battle didn’t end; The South just settled back into its belief that one should just accept man’s imperfection and say, “Thy Will Be Done.”
The Progressives of the late-19th Century through to JFK and LBJ were Americans who believed in America and American exceptionalism. They were as religious as cynics can be, but they believed in a fundamental notion that man was, should be, and could be perfected and government was an instrument of that perfection. They were all at least nominal Christians and nominal capitalists, and they were all proud to be Americans. Though he didn’t write it, I believe that JFK’s Inaugural Address describes his heart.
But somewhere in the 1920s and ’30s another line of progressivism intersected the American Progressivism, Soviet Communism. One thing we allowed to immigrate to America in our rush to acquire more and more cheap labor in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was on Helluva bunch of, mostly, Southern and Eastern European Communists, activist, true-believing Communists and the communist version of trade-unionists. Here there was no secret police and they could make enough money to actually act on their beliefs. By the time the Soviet Union was fully formed in the ’20s, the Comintern was fully activated in America and the CPUSA was taking its orders from Moscow. By the ’30s, Progressive was simply code for Communist, with a capital “C,” or a fellow traveller who, because of security reasons or fear of reprisal couldn’t openly be a member of CPUSA. Those lines intersected in the FDR Administrations and FDR may be faulted for not purging his Administrations of various open and obvious Communists but we did have to keep them as allies during WWII, so that excuses some of it – sorta, maybe.
Then in the late ’40s, America had had enough of Communists generally and Communist dominated unions specifically. Enter the Taft-Hartley Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, loyalty oaths, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Sen. McCarthey gets the rap from the Left, but repudiation of Communists was pretty universal in public life in America. They followed the Italian Communist thinker, Gramsci’s, prescription and cleaned up and went below the radar and began to go beyond mere infiltration to outright capture of academia, much of government bureaucracy, the media and entertainment. The old trades unions were fundamentally a conservative lot, but the new industrial unions and even newer public employee unions were and are fertile ground.
While most of America thought that the ’60s radicals had put on a suit and tie and become Yuppies rather than Yippies, they really hadn’t. Some just cleaned up and went stealth into great corporations and into the maw of the capitalist beast of Wall Street, many more went to the unions, especially the burgeoning public employee unions, into government employment, even into elected and appointed office. Many, many had to stay in school to keep their 2-S deferments during the draft so they wound up with a Ph.D. and stayed in academia pouring communism into empty little skulls. While nobody was really paying attention, they hooked up with a bunch of speculators, investment bankers, currency manipulators, and trust fund babies and decided to take over America using Comrade Obama as their instrument.
These guys don’t believe in the perfectability of man, they believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat – as they define proletariat, meaning people like them – and they really don’t have much in common with dour Presbyterians who just thought that people ought to behave better and live better.