Damon Root has a very good post criticizing this new paper (PDF) from the Center for American Progress which seeks to claim the original Progressives as direct ancestors of today’s self-described Progressives. I’ve only skimmed the report, but it looks like Root’s criticisms are right on target.
What’s funny is that CAP actually goes farther than I do, a member in good standing of the Progressive-Bashers of America. As anyone who has read my book knows, I’m all for today’s Progressives owning up to their intellectual founders, but even I don’t claim that today’s Progressives believe the same things as their forebears. If they did, they would be rightly pelted from the public stage as statist, racist, imperialist, eugenicist warmongers.
Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, I wrote an article criticizing many of his left-leaning supporters for labeling themselves as progressives, arguing that “what the current vogue for the term progressive fails to acknowledge is that the original progressives embraced the worst abuses of state power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
In response, I received a number of angry emails stating that today’s progressives had nothing to do with the sins of the first progressives, and that to conflate the two was intellectually dishonest and just plain mean. Perhaps some of my correspondents will now direct their outrage to the left-wing Center for American Progress, which just released a new monograph entitled “The Progressive Intellectual Tradition in America.” This paper argues that today’s progressives are the direct inheritors of an unbroken progressive tradition, one that brought glorious benefits to all Americans by doing away with the evils of limited government.
I’d be glad to compare email with Root. And while I think he does a fine job at pointing out many of problems with the report he leaves a couple points out.
A quick search of the report shows that the word “imperialism” never comes up. There are all sorts of good arguments about America’s imperial adventures during the Progressive era, but one claim you can’t make is that imperialism wasn’t central to Progressivism.
Also Root may have mentioned this elsewhere, but it’s worth noting again that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both claimed the original Progressives as their lodestars. Hillary went so far as to reject the liberal label in favor of the term “modern progressive” because it has deep roots in the American political tradition.