Whose Interests Does Progressivism Represent?
Progressivism is a political movement that represents the interests of ordinary people in their roles as taxpayers, consumers, employees, citizens, and parents. To coin a phrase, progressivism champions government "of the people, by the people, for the people."Given this mission, one might expect all democracies to be made up predominantly of one or another Progressive parties. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.
Why Aren't All Democracies Progressive?
Economic elites emerge in every society and invariably seek to promote their own interests, all too often against those of taxpayers, consumers, employees, citizens, and parents. By definition, economic elites enjoy greater wealth, and therefore influence, than the ordinary citizen, and they typically attempt to exploit these advantages politically, using them as leverage to obtain still greater wealth and influence. And since the desire for wealth and power is rarely satisfied, there tend to be recurring cycles of concentrated political and economic power, together with the corruption that always attends these. One such cycle of corruption was seen in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, culminating in the economic crash of 1929. At the turn of the 21st century, the US is in the midst of another.
Where Does Progressivism Fall on the Political Spectrum?
Progressives are typically portrayed in the corporate mass media as being "far left," a characterization which is grossly misleading. It should never be forgotten that virtually the entirety of the mass media are owned by the ultrawealthy, and objective studies have shown, for example, that corporate representatives outnumber labor representives in the mass media by enormous margins (by one count 27 to 1).
Thus, the impression that Progressives are "far left" arises largely because the elitist mass media simplistically, and falsely, portrays American politics as being a one-dimensional split between "liberals" and "conservatives." In fact, American politics are far more complex, and can't be properly understood unless we add (at least) one more dimension: elitism vs. populism. When we do add this additional dimension, it becomes clearer that many self-styled "conservatives" are in fact ultrawealthy economic elitists who have little in common with cultural conservatives or cultural liberals, and that their distance from the political center is much greater by far than the distance of Progressives, whose views, when accurately represented, are far more mainstream than those of virtually any elitist. (See the linked diagram for the true political spectrum.) Indeed, polls have shown that many of the most important Progressive goals are endorsed by large majorities of the American populace on both the left and the right (as high as 95%).
This misportrayal of Progressivism has been intentionally cultivated because US economic elites typically seek to exploit highly emotional "wedge" issues on which cultural conservatives and cultural liberals differ most, so as to elicit the political and economic support of cultural conservatives. For this reason, it has become customary for pseudoconservative elitist politicians to pose as strong backers of American values. Yet sadly, when this type of individual is elected, cultural liberals and cultural conservatives both lose out, and the most fundamental American values are undermined.
For example, pseudoconservative elitist George Bush portrayed himself as a champion of education. However, a general rule of thumb is that real political priorities, as opposed to political posturing, can be judged by what a president spends money on; and as president he did nothing to increase funding for education. Instead, he cut taxes (primarily among the wealthy) that might have funded such increases, shifted remaining spending to "defense," which benefitted conservative investors and underwrote aggressive foreign policy adventures for the sake of large corporations, and sent out his wife, and posed for photo opportunities himself, so as to present himself as the champion he falsely claimed to be. To choose another example, he talked a great deal about imaginary jobs while millions of real American jobs were exported to other countries, all to benefit his wealthy friends. He also talked about the value and importance of hard work, even as he sought to strip millions of Americans of overtime pay.
Few Americans would have endorsed Bush's actual policies on these issues, and a great many others, if they had been better informed concerning them, while few Americans would find much to object to in the typical platform of Progressive candidates.
Further Reading Concerning Progressivism
Our primary resource concerning Progressivism may be found here. For further details concerning Progressivism, we recommend The World of Hope: Progressives and the Struggle for an Ethical Public Life, by David B. Danbom. This study emphasizes the connection between Progressivism, core American values, and the difficulties confronting attempts to bring those values to bear on politics in the face of recalcitrant and corrupting business and financial sectors.
"What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base."
George W. Bush speaking to the audience at an $800 a plate fundraiser.