Election Tally: Glenn Beck Won. Progressivism Lost

By Zimmerman, Jonathan | The Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

Election Tally: Glenn Beck Won. Progressivism Lost


Zimmerman, Jonathan, The Christian Science Monitor


Glenn Beck and the Republican Party scored big in the midterm elections by attacking progressive values - even, it seems, the very concept of the federal government. Now Americans may find out just how many features of 'big government' they actually value.

Score one for Glenn Beck. Not just for Mr. Beck's Republican Party, which captured the House and nearly the Senate in yesterday's midterm elections. The verdict represents a victory for Beck's political philosophy, a brand of conservatism that sees progressive values as the No. 1 threat to America. One day, historians might look back on 2010 as the year that Americans sounded the death knell for progressivism itself.

A government solution for every problem

The term dates to the early 20th century, when social reformers triggered an unprecedented explosion of government activity. To these self-described "Progressives," America's filthy cities, factories, farms, and schools cried out for improvement and regulation. They crafted new laws to bring this undirected chaos under intelligent control.

A DIFFERENT VIEW: You want a more 'progressive' America? Careful what you wish for. And so the modern state was born. For every social problem, the Progressives devised a government solution. Lethal over-the-counter medication? The Pure Food and Drug Act will regulate it. Unsanitary butchers? Meet the Meat Inspection Act. No new law would enforce itself, of course. So the Progressives also built vast government agencies to accompany each new reform. From the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve Bank to the Food and Drug Administration, a maze of bureaucracies transformed Washington, and the nation. And that's precisely what Beck despises about the Progressives. From his daily "lectures" at his television blackboard to the "courses" he offers at Beck "University," he has mounted a steady campaign to discredit them. It's easy to mock the distortions and bizarre conspiracy theories in Beck's tirades against progressivism, which he has even suggested results in Communism or Nazism. [Editor's note: The original version of this article mischaracterized Beck's critiques of progressivism.]

Enemy No. 1: Woodrow Wilson

But on one basic claim, Beck is spot-on correct: the Progressives gave birth to modern government. He reserves his greatest invective for President Woodrow Wilson, an Ivy-educated intellectual (sound familiar?) who brought us, among other things, the graduated federal income tax. But his screeds against the Progressives would apply equally well to Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who both did their share of federal state-building along the banks of the Potomac. Since the 1960s, to be sure, Republicans have won office by demonizing federal programs and especially federal spending. And we heard plenty of that in this election, with the GOP's constant barrage against "Obamacare," the bank bailout, and the stimulus. But something else was at work, too. To Beck and his minions, the real problem isn't simply a bloated federal bureaucracy or runaway deficits. It's government, plain and simple, which has run roughshod over the individual rights and freedoms that our founding fathers held dear. …

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