The Corner

Paul Ryan on Progressivism

Earlier this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) traveled to the Sooner State to address the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Much of his speech focused on progressivism:

The Democratic leaders of Congress and in the White House hold a view they call “Progressivism.” Progressivism began in Wisconsin, where I come from. It came into our schools from European universities under the spell of intellectuals such as Hegel and Weber, and the German leader Bismarck. The best known Wisconsin Progressive was actually a Republican, Robert LaFollette.

Progressivism was a powerful strain in both political parties for many years. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, both brought the Progressive movement to Washington.

Early Progressives wanted to empower and engage the people. They fought for populist reforms like initiative and referendum, recalls, judicial elections, the breakup of monopoly corporations, and the elimination of vote buying and urban patronage. But Progressivism turned away from popular control toward central government planning. It lost most Americans and consumed itself in paternalism, arrogance, and snobbish condescension. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson would have scorned the self-proclaimed “Progressives” of our day for handing out bailout checks to giant corporations, corrupting the Congress to purchase votes for government controlled health care, and funneling billions in Jobs Stimulus money to local politicians to pay for make-work patronage. That’s not “Progressivism,” that’s what real Progressives fought against!

Since America began, the timid have feared the Founding Fathers’ ideas of individual freedom, so they yearn for Old World class models. Our Progressivists are the latest iteration of that same fear of the people. In unprecedented numbers, Americans are speaking out against the intolerable Health Care bill and irresponsible debt-ridden spending.

Does anyone recall Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom of Speech” painting of an average working Joe standing and speaking his mind at a town hall meeting? Today’s Progressivists ridicule average Americans speaking out at tea parties across the nation and denounce their criticisms as “un-American.” Millions of average Americans reject their big government solutions, and that scares them.

Last January President Obama said: “There are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years.”

He was right. So let’s examine these “philosophical differences” of government. Progressivists say there are no enduring ideas of right or wrong. Everything is “relative” to history, so our ideas need to change. Progressivists say the Founders’ Constitution including its amendments, with its principles of equal natural rights, limited government, and popular consent is outdated. We should have a “living constitution” that keeps up with the times. Progressivists invent new rights and enforce them with a more powerful central government and more federal agencies to direct society through the changes of history. And don’t worry, they say. Bureaucrats can be controlled by Congressional oversight.

Ryan continues:

The Progressivist ideology embraced by today’s leaders is very different from everything rank-and-file Democrats, independents, and Republicans stand for. America stands for nothing if not for the fixed truth that unalienable rights were granted to every human being not by government but by “nature and nature’s God.” The truths of the American founding can’t become obsolete because they are not timebound. They are eternal. The practical consequence of these truths is free market democracy, the American idea of free labor and free enterprise under government by popular consent. The deepest case for free market democracy is moral, rooted in human equality and the natural right to be free.

A government that expands beyond its high but limited mission of securing our natural rights is not progressive, it’s regressive. It privileges the powerful at the expense of the people. It establishes the rule of class over class. The American Revolution and the Constitution replaced class rule with a better idea: equal opportunity for all. The promise of keeping the earnings of your work is central to justice, freedom, and the hope to improve your life.

And his parting thought:

A political realignment is on the way. Democratic leaders are staking their party’s future on their ideological agenda. Financial Services Committee Chairman Frank candidly admits that his party “are trying on every front to increase the role of government.” Former President Clinton told a Netroots convention last year that “We have entered a new era of progressive politics, which if we do it right could last 30 or 40 years.”

The question is, do we realign with the vision of a European-style social welfare state, or do we realign with the American idea?

My party challenges the whole basis of the Progressivist vision of this country’s future. We challenge their attack on American exceptionalism. We challenge their claim that bureaucratic centralization is the only way the US can meet the economic and social challenges of our time.

Those leaders have underestimated the good sense of the American people. They broke faith with independents, Republicans, and their own rank-and-file. They walked away from the foundational truths that made America the wonder and the envy of the world. The price of their infidelity will be high.

Read it all here.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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