Oh, my. It’s always a treat to have Craig Westover tell me what I think and stand for as a progressive.
No matter what provokes him or how widely he wanders to gather his wooly proof points, he always gets around to the same rant: Progressives aggressively impose their values on others, using the police power of the state to extort from the hard-working class the costs of providing extensive and unearned benefits to every slacker, transit rider, unwed mother and drug addict in creation.
His latest (“The problem with progressives”) might be called a straw man argument, provided one could see past all the mud. In it, he manages to herd Growth & Justice, Mussolini and stalwart Minnesota governors Harold Stassen, Elmer Anderson, Al Quie and Arne Carlson — some of the leaders being honored by the G&J-sponsored Sept. 3rd event, Celebrating Minnesota’s Progressive Republican Tradition — into a single, muddled group of apostates.
The notion that we are all progressives now — or, if not, we should be — is a dangerous challenge to constitutionally limited government.
Well, that’s Westover’s notion, which he proceeds to pummel into incoherence. Our event has a less sweeping point to make — that a progressive orientation toward governing is an admirable Minnesota political trait historically exemplified in both parties. It has played a significant role in making our state a model for how to achieve honest elections, effective government, a vigorous, community-engaged private sector and relative economic prosperity.
Minnesota’s progressive tradition is something worth recognizing and celebrating at a time when the political spotlight is on us during the Republican National Convention — and when our standing as a national role model is coming into question.
In fact, progress is a core American value, and progressives represent the optimism and assertiveness of our founding fathers.
A “progressive” is someone who acts on the belief that life can be improved. Progress, whether enjoyed by individuals, businesses, communities or nations, is achieved through change that benefits increasing numbers of our fellows. For example, Harold Stassen’s reform of civil service that cleaned up serious corruption in state employment; Al Quie’s ongoing quest to assure the quality of our judiciary; Arne Carlson’s fiscal discipline coupled with visionary planning and wise investment.
Progressives don’t believe mankind is perfectible, the market is evil, the government is infallible or taxes are mother’s milk. We do believe the world for our children — and other people's children — can be made better than the one we ourselves enjoyed.
To Westover, though, we're totalitarians.
“Progressivism is politics as religion” that strives to aggressively impose values on society. "’Growth’ and ‘justice’ are both desirable,” he lectures, “and the progressive believes this makes them compatible irrespective of the laws of economics.”
Thinking about how to treat others — with justice — ought to engage our moral sense, but that does not mean government must dedicate itself to erasing all differences among people or businesses. Nor that business must tiptoe through every transaction lest it give offense or be accused of exploitation.
Private interests and governments both have the capacity to improve life. Yes, there are ideologues at the extremes who think the world would run better if one or the other were more fully in charge, but that does not represent the Growth & Justice position. Nor does it accurately reflect the mainstream Minnesota view of a balance between limited government and unlimited free markets.
Westover also conflates progressive politics with progressive taxation. A progressive tax strives to achieve proportionality in the overall tax system by taxing income at a higher rate as income increases. A progressive tax is based on a model of justice and fairness — that people who earn less should not pay a higher proportion of their income for public services than people who earn the most, as is the case today in Minnesota.
There's plenty of room for discussion on this point, but Westover dismisses it as “moral argument, dividing the world into the self-sacrificing good and the selfishly individual.”
It is difficult to know, however, who is on which side in Westover World, considering Westover himself recently wrote: "Taxes as charity rob the giver of the virtue of the freely given gift and the responsibility of judging a recipient worthy of the gift."
No moral argument going on there, surely.
In Westover’s immutable universe, no one who favors progress — Republican, Democrat or Lutheran — can retain claim to their own core principles. We hope — hoping is still allowed, isn't it? — Celebrating Minnesota’s Progressive Republican Tradition will remind people of all parties that it wasn’t always so.
[Note: This was cross-posted from Growth & Justice blog, where I write as a communication fellow for Growth & Justice.]