By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette — Too many today seem to have drunk “progressive,” make-over kool-aid–the word “liberal” now needing deodorization by the more moralistic moniker, “progressive?” And not by the way, progressivism that T.R. or Upton Sinclair would have recognized, unless you think they’d automatically approve every social change now demanded–which is doubtful.
So we’ve got the poor, old term “liberal” transmogrified into the current version of “progressive.” And you think they’ve got it bad? The word “conservative” has been tainted even more, but no good substitute has been found, including the anodyne-sounding “traditional.” Even great thinkers of yore like Edmund Burke, Benjamin Disraeli et al. have been put in this fish-smelly basket.
And what of “classical liberalism,” nearer for certain to today’s conservatism or libertarianism? Sneer at that, rather than do a fairweather commandeering job (which can of course occur), and you sneer at Locke, Jefferson, and really, at much of the “founding philosophy.”
What today’s “progressivism” also tries to ignore in its remake of both classical and FDR-big-government liberalism is that for good or ill, Judeo-Christian values used to be part of the package, at least into the Truman and Kennedy eras. Now that value system is much diminished, and often considered antithetical to soup du jour societal transformations we apparently require–and wait till a new one comes down the pike next week!
In other words these labels on both sides of the spectrum have been sullied, contributing to the sorry divide that so plagues current American politics. On one flank a derided, patronized conservatism, and on the other, a too often elitist-sounding progressivism. And that word “sounding” does need to be taken literally.
For indeed, progressives you hear interviewed too often have this all- knowing, demi-Princetonian brogue, obviously meant to connote deep understanding of issues affecting this challenged world of ours. Meanwhile, so-called conservatives are too often appraised by folksy-sounding, southern, midwestern, or Plains accents — pure country, backwoods, ye olde, all that. Never mind that some may be every bit as smart, accomplished (or moreso) as progressives one hears. (And vice-versa.) Unfortunately we too often hear only the surfaces and affix labels, and that’s as far as we get, not least in channel-surfing for cable news channels.
Oscar Wilde in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion said something to the effect that only superficial people don’t appraise by appearances; and superficial whiffs or snippets you get on radio or TV do count more perhaps than ever before. And this is detrimental because — Wilde’s jibe notwithstanding — judging by off-the-top appearances, accents, or code words is the wrong way to make intellectual choices and judgments.
And what this divide is doing to the political world has become a serious problem right now. That same kind of divide very much hurt France in the ‘30s, confronted by Hitler’s battalions across the Rhine, and it plunged Spain into a ruinous civil war during the same era.
Here these divisions have been manifested over the problem of conferring or not conferring eventual legal status on some 11,000,000 illegals, whom some fear could crest (with family reunification) to over 30 million. One side has wanted quick resolution of this thorny problem, deriding opponents as not forward-looking enough; the other has preached the virtues of looking more carefully at complexities and ramifications before leaping.
Meanwhile, the formerly patronized Third World provides most immigrants these days, legal and illegal, and one day all this progressive-conservative sniping may simply be overtrumped by such incomers, including from countries essentially locked up before the ‘90s or so.
We all live (whether progressive, conservative, or in-between) in a sort of “as if” universe, and many these days take refuge in “nostalgism,” really for a world we’ve basically lost. The Beach Boys are now some 50 years from their heyday, and that America–or more accurately, North America–is really a thing of the past.
And neither side of the ideological divide addresses this adequately, because it would take proactive guts, including electoral guts, to do so. Yes, today’s tarnished, supremely divisive terminology may ultimately become outmoded and irrelevant–and in the not distant future.B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.