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Rep Paul Ryan speaks on Progressivism

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
 U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican representing the state’s 1st District, spoke to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs last week. The main point of his speech was his fear that America is headed toward what he called a “European social welfare state,” saying “we are approaching a ‘tipping point' "  that will be decided in the next round of elections. He was, of course, complaining about the recently passed health care reform bill.

Included in his speech was his definition of “Progressivism” and his belief that the Progressivism of today does not match what the movement’s earliest proponents, Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, envisioned. Those who attended the Progressive Magazine’s 100th birthday bash in Madison in May of 2009 might not agree with Ryan’s interpretation below.

The Congressman posted his remarks in the Notes section of his Facebook page. Following are excerpts from Ryan’s speech:

The Democratic leaders of Congress and in the White House hold a view they call “Progressivism.” Progressivism began in Wisconsin, where I come from. It came into our schools from European universities under the spell of intellectuals such as Hegel and Weber, and the German leader Bismarck. The best known Wisconsin Progressive was actually a Republican, Robert LaFollette.

Progressivism was a powerful strain in both political parties for many years. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, both brought the Progressive movement to Washington.

Early Progressives wanted to empower and engage the people. They fought for populist reforms like initiative and referendum, recalls, judicial elections, the breakup of monopoly corporations, and the elimination of vote buying and urban patronage. But Progressivism turned away from popular control toward central government planning. It lost most Americans and consumed itself in paternalism, arrogance, and snobbish condescension. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson would have scorned the self-proclaimed “Progressives” of our day for handing out bailout checks to giant corporations, corrupting the Congress to purchase votes for government controlled health care, and funneling billions in Jobs Stimulus money to local politicians to pay for make-work patronage. That’s not “Progressivism,” that’s what real Progressives fought against!

According to Ryan:

Progressivists say there are no enduring ideas of right or wrong. Everything is “relative” to history, so our ideas need to change. Progressivists say the Founders’ Constitution including its amendments, with its principles of equal natural rights, limited government, and popular consent is outdated. We should have a “living constitution” that keeps up with the times. Progressivists invent new rights and enforce them with a more powerful central government and more federal agencies to direct society through the changes of history. And don’t worry, they say. Bureaucrats can be controlled by Congressional oversight.

Progressives would likely agree with Ryan’s second paragraph below, but likely not his interpretation that leads into it in the first paragraph:

The Progressivist ideology embraced by today’s leaders is very different from everything rank-and-file Democrats, independents, and Republicans stand for. America stands for nothing if not for the fixed truth that unalienable rights were granted to every human being not by government but by “nature and nature’s God.” The truths of the American founding can’t become obsolete because they are not timebound. They are eternal. The practical consequence of these truths is free market democracy, the American idea of free labor and free enterprise under government by popular consent. The deepest case for free market democracy is moral, rooted in human equality and the natural right to be free.

A government that expands beyond its high but limited mission of securing our natural rights is not progressive, it’s regressive. It privileges the powerful at the expense of the people. It establishes the rule of class over class. The American Revolution and the Constitution replaced class rule with a better idea: equal opportunity for all. The promise of keeping the earnings of your work is central to justice, freedom, and the hope to improve your life.

Ryan complained that the new health care reform law was passed by “one political party,” referring to the fact that one hundred percent of Republicans voted against the bill, even though it contained elements that were in Ryan’s own Patients’ Choice Act. Interestingly, the majority of Progressives at the May event last year supported the bill. If anything, they feel it does not go far enough to reign in the “rule of class over class” believing that the current health care system, particularly in regard to insurance companies “privileges the powerful at the expense of the people.” Progressives in general tend to favor a single payer system of health care.

Note: Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette served as a Republican Congressman, the 20th Governor of Wisconsin, and a Senator representing the state. He lived in Madison.

For more info:  Politics101: What is a Progressive? What is Progressivism?


  • Independant 5 years ago

    I have studied the progressive movement and Ryan puts it in perspective. It started as a populist movement and morphed into what would be unrecognizable by the founders of that movement. I have always said that when people say they are "progressive" they really don't know what they are talking about. It have become the poster boy of centralized government and re-defining the constitution to any way they see fit. The progressive movement is really antithetical to progress - it is supressive and regressive.

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