Obama’s Presidency and the Pathologies of Progressivism

by Bruce S. Thornton

FrontPage Magazine

Obama’s presidency has failed miserably, but it has accomplished one thing: it has revealed for all to see the lethal pathologies of progressive ideology. This doesn’t mean progressivism will go away. We thought the New Democrat Bill Clinton had put progressive ideas to rest when he said that the era of big government was over, and then reformed welfare and cut government spending from 23.5% of GDP to 19.5%. Yet despite the success that followed his rejection of failed liberal policies, here we are in the fourth year of Obama’s term, saddled with $5 trillion in new debt, a stalled economy, a National Labor Relations Board carrying water for the unions, a blatantly politicized Department of Justice, and rapidly metastasizing entitlement programs. Meanwhile the president indulges in class-warfare rhetoric young a century ago, and calls for even more redistributionist deficit spending to benefit his political cronies and clients.

The worst economic recovery since World War II that Obama and the Democrats midwifed has exposed the failure of the notion that the government can create economic growth and wealth rather than merely expropriating it from the creative and productive, and that centralized planning and regulating by “experts” can more efficiently allocate resources than the free market does. But more important is the underlying idea of progressivism that Obama’s policies are predicated on: Perfect justice, prosperity, and equality are possible if enlightened elites are given the power to organize and run society according to “scientific” knowledge about human nature and behavior. For two centuries this hubristic idea has led to failure, misery, and murder on a vast scale, yet progressives continue to increase government power in order to create this impossible utopia. Obamacare is just the latest iteration of this frequently demonstrated fallacy that complex human behavior, which reflects the unpredictable free will of millions of unique individuals, can be organized, controlled and regimented in order to achieve some dream-world utopia. That progressives still cling to this exploded idea despite the evidence of history and a disintegrating EU shows just how reactionary and blinkered they are.

But the list of progressive fallacies exposed by Obama is much longer. He has laid bare the hypocrisies and failures of the race-based identity politics that lie behind affirmative action and other racialist policies. Only by dint of the Jim Crow one-drop rule can someone who is half-black, who was raised in one of the least black states in the union by white grandparents, who had no exposure to black American culture and mores in his formative years, and who graduated from exclusive, elitist, predominantly white universities be considered authentically black. Moreover, his manifest ignorance about everything from pronunciation of common words to the basics of history and economics has exposed the gross inflation of his abilities by whites, one based not on performance but on assertion. Remember the presidential historian who claimed, with no evidence from transcripts or test scores, that Obama was probably the smartest president ever? Obama illustrates the truth that progressive racial policies are based on the illiberal idea that predicates minority identity on simplistic group stereotypes and the presumption of victimhood based on nothing other than melanin quotient and hair texture.

Then there’s the obvious dishonesty of progressive claims to care for the welfare of the “people” and battle for their interests against the elite. Remember Al Gore’s 2000 campaign slogan, “The People vs the Powerful”? Or Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%”? In the progressive worldview, public employees who earn more than private sector workers, enjoy greater job security, and get gold-plated health and retirement benefits are the downtrodden workers that evil capitalist stooges like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker are eager to destroy. Twenty-something Occupy Wall Street riffraff — with federally subsidized, useless college degrees and the leisure to befoul public spaces and vandalize private property in order to promote decrepit bumper-sticker politics — are “dissident” idealists bravely opposing the “man.” Zillionaire movie stars and pop divas with little or no education are noble, enlightened protestors against “income inequality” and the depredations of the “1%.” Well-heeled global-warming alarmists gorging on federal “clean-energy” subsidies and trailing King-Kong carbon footprints are admired champions of the environment being ravaged by corporate barbarians.

In fact, it is the progressives who are the party of big-money elites out of touch with the average American. In 2008, Obama reaped a third of a billion dollars from blue-state plutocrats like Goldman Sachs, the University of California, Time-Warner, Google, and Microsoft. This trolling for cash in America’s richest zip codes is continuing this election cycle, which has seen Vogue editor Anna Wintour offer hoi polloi a chance to win a seat at her fundraiser for Obama. Even liberal Juan Williams saw the class snobbery of letting “someone who reeks of ornamental excess announce that the peasants can have a place at the table.” But why are we surprised? As David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin document in their just-published The New Leviathan, progressive tax-exempt foundations, with a near-trillion-dollar war chest, outspend conservatives 7-1, while currency manipulator George Soros pour billions into progressive causes. Meanwhile, the most populist, grass-roots political movement in decades, the Tea Party, is slandered as racist hillbillies clinging to their guns and religion.

Next is the big lie that progressives are all about human freedom. What they have promoted is more accurately called license: the selfish freedom to do whatever you want no matter the cost, which then must be picked up by the taxpayer. Hence the elevation of abortion into the most important sacrament in the progressive church. Sexual pleasure and license can now appear to be “cost free” because no matter how careless or stupid people are, the consequences of their bad choices can be eliminated or mitigated on somebody else’s nickel. Progressive freedom is all about the freedom to indulge selfish appetites without the restraints of virtue, shame, guilt, or morality — unless, of course, one desires to better oneself economically without the state meddling in your business and filching your earnings. Then we will hear fire-and-brimstone sermons about the “greed” of the “selfish” redolent of Cotton Mather.

Genuine political freedom, on the other hand, the freedom to run our lives and the state according to high principles that seek to make us better human beings worthy of freedom, always entails the need for personal responsibility and accountability, and the acceptance of risk and failure. But these are all anathema to the progressive, who wants the state to take responsibility for our actions, insulate us from the consequences of our bad choices, and compensate for our loss of true freedom by distracting us with the license to gratify our appetites. But as political philosophers from Plato to Tocqueville have pointed out, this “soft despotism” ends up empowering the state and “enlightened” elites, and thus puts at risk our political freedom and autonomy.

Finally, the arch-virtue of the progressive, tolerance, is in fact the rankest intolerance. We should tolerate pornography and vulgarity in the public square, but stamp out religious speech or criminalize conservative criticism as “hate speech.” We should understand and sympathize with the terrorist and not rush to judge him, but reflexively condemn and hound those who try to stop him. We should seek out and promote diverse points of view, but censor or silence those of “conservatives” and other ideological reprobates. We should show “civility” in our political discourse, but savage with relish political enemies. We should admire and privilege non-Western religions, but attack Christianity and Judaism as oppressive superstitions. We should praise and promote all lifestyles no matter how distasteful or sordid, yet ridicule traditional mores and virtues. We should root out racism, sexism, and homophobia, but make an exception for minorities, feminists, and Muslims.

Failed economic theory, illiberal racial policies, elitist snobbery, political freedom reduced to selfish license, and intolerance of disagreement and dissent — these are some of the pathologies of progressivism that have been illustrated every day of Obama’s presidency. It will take November’s election to show whether a critical mass of Americans has finally had their fill of this rancid progressive wine, or whether it returns once again in a new bottle.

©2012 Bruce S. Thornton

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