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.