I recently saw your blog at TPMCafe.
Having read some of your excellent posts, and the description of
yourself, I’m very curious as to what a “Progressive Conservative”
embodies? Given your impressively thoughtful posts, I am really
interested to hear some of your thoughts in an effort to evolve my own.
A TPM reader from New Zealand
Hi, [TPM reader],
Thanks for the kind words and the very interesting letter. You are the first person to actually ask me what I mean by progressive conservatism. Figures it isn’t an American doing the asking. We are much too sure of ourselves to admit to evolving thoughts.
This “epiphany” of mine is relatively new. For most of my short political life, I was a fire-breathing liberal warrior who couldn’t even be a democrat since they were too corporate and not far enough “left” for my tastes. I berated Bill Clinton for his various and sundry problems even as I took apart Junior and Daddy and Saint Ronnie for their sins.
I began the last election supporting Dennis Kucinich in the primaries because I thought he had an authentic voice, smart ideas and I wanted to see how America would react to his progressive platform delivered in the fiery rhetoric of a True Believer. We all see how that turned out. Even for John Edwards, who was a democratic president straight out of central casting. But we elected the young black guy with a funny name who spoke of bringing us together before trying to design a society that won’t drive us further apart.
I read Audacity of Hope and was struck by how essentially conservative Barack’s methodology and thought process seems to be, though he is quite “liberal” in his ideals and where he would see society end up. Not because he thinks his ideas are better or inherently good, but due to an innate understanding of our current systems as well as a common sense view of how to fix things. The man reminds me of our greatest presidents and statesmen. Men from of an older school of thought, of all political persuasions. Pragmatic men like Teddy Roosevelt and his nephew Franklin and the man Ben who FDR was named after. Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, who both allowed for the idea that no matter how reprehensible the “crime” we had a duty to come to the negotiation table as fellow citizens with all wounds bound up and all slights forgiven, if not forgotten, as we move forward as one people.
So, I began supporting Obama after Kucinich dropped out. I remained an independent, though registered democrat to vote for Barack in our primary. I kept seeing fierce divisions, even among democrats, that rivaled anything I had seen out of the Rabid Right. The Raging Left had blood in their nostrils and a impending sense of victory that even now makes them mostly unbearable. I am just thankful that rather than simply cheering that their side won or being pissed that their side lost, most Americans seem to be approaching our whole society as something that must be changed in a myriad of ways to get us where we need to go.
That includes not letting a major American political party continue being controlled by zealots and half wits.
Hence my third political life in as many years. From a slacker not paying attention to a Raging Left independent who would crush everything under the weight of my Rhetorical Sword of Fury to a moderate, progressive conservative who would see this country changed through a process of Evolution instead of Revolution. I don’t think we have time to man the barricades and start from scratch. We need to think in three-dimensions right now if we want to get out asses out of the fire and must evolve our existing systems to get there.
I joined the Republican Party for the first time in my life this past August, inspired by a democratic presidential candidate and his book calling for reconciliation. I voted for Obama and a republican for local council member at large who is an old school conservative. The trend is clear to me. The crazies are losing control of the GOP. Time to reassert adult leadership from the grassroots. That sort of thing is invisible until you are examining in hindsight how the change happened.
I hope that answers the question. It is one I get a lot these days, but not quite in the fashion that you asked. Usually it is more incredulous and a little condescending. As if the roots of conservative political thinking in America don’t go all the way back to the founding of the Republic. The underlying ideals of conservatism – a smart, efficient federal government tactically supporting a union of strong states all working toward a clear national strategy – are hardly something to be scorned and are quite compatible with progressive ideals. I don’t think conservative methodology has to be counter the liberal ideals of providing a basic and decent standard of living for all of our citizens.
Even from a bottom-line focus, a country with a majority of citizens who are educated and happy will drive more GDP, so a true conservative should support progressive government as being the only common sense solution to building a 21st century society. A true conservative should support sensible regulation of all industries central to Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness. Sectors such as energy, food, finance and medicine. I would see both parties in America – republican and democrat – designing progressive (innovative) solutions that create a sustainable world, even if they approach the goal from opposite angles or ideological framing. That would enable us to take a real leadership position in the wider global effort as well. We need to start living up to our marketing message.
America has a hypocrisy problem that will only be solved by rethinking the entire enterprise from the ground up.
Obama has a decent shot at starting the American Renaissance, but only if he goes back to the type of political gamesmanship that caused him to write Audacity of Hope in the first place as well as inspire a nation to put him in the White House. I see a lot of the Same Old, Same Old right now and it feels like time we don’t have is being wasted. Still, there was always going to be a learning curve and Barack has shown himself to be
a quick study. He is tracking our efforts all the way to the local level, which is paramount given all the holes at the point of implementation. We have more Fraud, Waste and Abuse than many countries have in GDP.
I hope to join all moderate republicans and democrats who think America is beyond the point where ideology can deliver the results we need. I believe a pragmatic progressivism based in common sense and best practices will deliver incremental, though exponential, change over the coming decades.
Sorry to go on and on and on and on, but it’s what I do best.
PS: I was thinking of using your letter and my response as a blog entry. Would you mind if I used it in full, absent identifying information? Thanks in advance!