Progressivism in America – Part 5

Enter the Progressives!

John Dewey and Lester Ward placed universal, compulsory, public education at the top of the top of the Progressive agenda. Even against the will of the parents, the child must attend school.

Samuel Gompers said monopolies supressed the competition needed for progress and that the federal government should break them up into smaller companies. – However, the government should then withdraw and permit market place forces to regulate the economy. – Progressives like Benjamin Park De Witt said monopolies were desirable with their massive resources, but that the government should regulate them to prevent abuses. Teddy Roosevelt agreed.

Progressives set up training programs to ensure that welfare and charity work would be done by trained professionals. Settlement houses were established (such as Hull House in Chicago) to help raise the standard of living of urban slum dwellers. Adult education and cultural enrichment programs were offered.

Labor Unions were supported by legal reforms. Child labor laws were enacted. The 8 hour work day was legally established as the norm. Safety and health standards were established in factories. Workmens compensation was enacted. Minimum wage for women was set in place.

Crusading Progressive  journalists called “muckrakers” exposed intolerable conditions in Mc Clures Magazine and other reform periodicals. Notable muckrakers included Lincoln Stephens, Ida Tarbel, Upton Sinclair.

Progressives decreased corruption in politics and increased municipal efficiency in so doing.

Progressive under Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909) established government-funded Conservation projects, and National Parks and Wildlife Refuges that reached an area of 42 million acres by 1909. The New Lands Reclamation Act gave government subsidies for irrigation in 16 western states in 1902. Large areas of land were were Protected by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Later would come civil rights legislation and other important Progressive  contributions.

But, mingled with the enormous good Progressives have done, is grave cruelty as with the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision making abortion legal. Another equally cruel move is the enactment of laws permitting new born infants with severe handicaps to be left to die unattended. This is is the dark side of Progressivism that early Progressives would, doubtlessly, have found horrific. It is the original humane intent of the Progressive movement reversed to inhumanity in its worst forms. It must end! We must end it and we must do it now!

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Progressivism in America – Part 4

When Progressivism began, the Civil War had only been over for twenty years of less. Immigrants had come to America in droves to find streets paved with gold, only to end up in slums. Former black slaves from the South came to northern cities hoping to find prosperity and a cordial welcome from those who had fought to free them a few years before. They, too, were often disappointed. the Industrial Revolution was flourishing and many left the family farm to work in the factories of the cities, intoxicated with independence for the first time. Maybe they shouldda stayed home. 

Many children were taken out of school early (or never went to school at all) so they could work long, dangerous hours in mills and factories for peanuts. With no education, they could not hope for a better life. There was no Food and Drug administration to protect people from dangerous (or otherwide nauseating) things in their food or deadly nostrums sold as cures in medicine shows.

You could lose your arm in a factory accident and be left poverty stricken with no workmen’s compensation or insurance plan. If you protested terrible work conditions you could be shot dead on the spot by the police (as in the Haymarket Riots in Chicago). There were no labor unions and no safety codes and no minimum wage. If there were a fire (as in the Triangle Shirt Factory) there was often no means of escape because there were no laws demanding them. 

Massive numbers of people did not have hope of a better life for themselves or their children and the only means of escape was death. – Death at an early age frequently accomodated them. – Many lived in slums where crowding and filth (as from inadequate plumbing) caused disease to occur, then spread like wildfire. 

It is understandable that somebody had to do something, but for a long time, nobody had. Aside from the more obvious reason for this, based in human greed, calousness, and exploitation, there were certain attitudes that made it easy to shrug-off others’ difficulties without guilt.

There was a smug feeling among some who were (at least ostensibly religious) that these people’s agony was theirown fault (or that they were under a generational curse). The Bible refered to the “sins of the fathers” passed on to the third or fourth generation. David had said in Psalms that he had “never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread”.

The country was founded by Puritains and still possessed a strong Judeo/Christian work ethic. Some had started in adverse conditions, yet prospered. This seemed to clearly demonstrate that the hand of God was upon them and that their diligence and purity had been rewarded. If others did not prosper, the opposite must be true. 

Then there were the Social Darwinists who believed in the survival or the fittest. Some races or ethnic groups were deemed inferior. Life seemed to break these wretched people into pieces and cast them off to make way for their betters. Were they too cowardly or lazy or stupid to get out? Did they wallow in self-pity, spending their income on liquor and debauchery to escape their plight instead of providing for their families?

Scriptural discourses on the “Good Samaritan” and to “the greatest of these is charity” and to the fact that “faith without works is dead”  and many other references may have been faithfully adhered to by some individuals and churches, but the massive need may have seemed too staggering to any individual or organization smaller that the federal government.  

Were these tragic cases worthy of help and would they profit by it, or would they simply demand more and more and more like an insatiable, spoiled child (or animal)? If they were not supplied, would they savagely take what others had as their just compensation for past injustices?

Enter the Progressives – Part 5…

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Progressivism in American – Part 3

A second Progressive movement came in 1924 when Senator Robert La Follette ran for president, crusading against oligarchy (government by a small elite) and plutarchy (government by and for the wealthy). He lost in this period of the “roaring twenties” when business was booming and we were dancing the Charleston and the the country was still tying one on in the speak easies and everything was swell.

In 1932, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, extreme Progressive, Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency with his New Deal that would transform government in America on a scale unknown to that point, even in previous Progressive periods. Some say he was savior of the nation, others that the economy would have recovered better and faster had he not “soaked the rich to save the poor”. Some say it was World War II that really ended the Depression anhow.

A third wave of Progressivism came briefly when Henry A Wallace ran for president in 1948. He called for a Global New Deal and advocated better relations with the Soviet Union. His followers were disillusioned with the Cold War and the policies of President Harry Truman who initiated the Truman Doctrine by which we would now be obligated to confront the spread of Communism militarily throughout the world (as in the Korean and Vietnamese Wars). Wallace lost.

The Conservative agenda of the Eisenhower Years (1952-1960) were followed by the Kennedy and Johnson years of more Liberal (or Progressive agendas) alternating at times with Conservatism. For a time, Conservative meant Republican and Liberal meant Democrat and everybody had a pretty good idea of what each of those terms stood for. 

Recently, however there is a more complicated designation of Social Conservative/Fiscal Liberal or vice versa (with a plethora of variables and shadings) that sometimes obscure political party lines so that voting for party is often not enough. Liberals now call themselves Progressives. Some who are Republican (Ron Paul, for instance) call themselves Libertarian when running for office.

Progressives in modern times have sought to eradicate discussion of the Constitution from political discourse (and with some success). For decades, Progressives realized that our original system of government was not capable of handling the new tasks they invisioned. Therefore they constructed a plan of action to circumvent this fact. They started by establishing a vast network of bureaucratic agencies.

Then they prompted Congress to enact very broad and vague laws for supervising more and more facets of the American economy and society. Then they delegated to the bureaucratic agencies (they had just created) the authority to enact specific policies at their discretion.

Contemporary Progressivism grew out of social activism movements and Naderite and populist left political movements, in conjunction with civil rights, gay rights, feminism, environmental movements of the 1960’s through 1980’s, etc.

It is a mixed bag of tricks as well as treats with such things as Health Care Reform, which ostensibly covers practically everybody (but with what quality and to what extent in expensive prolonged illnesses, and at what price to us and to generations to come?) Vast amounts of money have been spent to prop up financial institutions that were not functioning correctly to start with.

Now the Cap and Trade Bill (ostensibly to stop global warming) is under consideration (even though there is great controversy as to whether global warming even exists). Even if there is global warming, is it caused by us contaminating the environment or is caused (as some say) by factors out of our hands (such as changes in the sun).

Even if we do our part, is it an exercise in futility when China and India refuse to do their parts? Will a Cap and Trade Law destroy what is left of free enterprise to the extent that we will all be living in a cleaner and cooler environment, but in a way that is so primitive and meager that it will not matter anyhow. Remember some of those old sci-fi pictures we grew up with?   

In Part 4 of this series, we will look attitudes of the 19th Century culture, prior to Progressivism.

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