Jim Geraghty pens a controversial piece wherein he opines that liberals are more tolerant of the hypocrisy of other liberals than are conservatives. Before I get to that portion of his argument, I’d like to address his conclusion with an historical analogy. Geraghty writes:
“As long as a particular position or stance lets progressives feel good about themselves, they will embrace it. Thus the measuring stick of Obamacare is not whether it’s actually providing the uninsured with health insurance . . . but whether a liberal feels that it’s a sign that he cares about the uninsured more than other people.
Liberals will deem Obamacare a failure only if it stops making them feel good about themselves.
The original Progressives advanced another misbegotten law that made them “feel good about themselves”, even while it destroyed the country. That law was Prohibition. In 1925, H.L. Mencken observed,
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
It would be another eight years after what was obvious to Mencken was finally obvious enough to Progressives that Prohibition was repealed. And even then, it was not the obviousness of the chaos created by Prohibition that turned Progressive minds. It was the fact that by 1933 Congress finally got around to re-apportioning districts–a decennial requirement that was purposefully (and unconstitutionally) ignored following the 1920 Census, because Progressives knew that if they counted the nation’s newly arrived Catholics and Jews, that their beloved Prohibition would have gone to an earlier grave.
Still, even after Prohibition died with the 21st Amendment, Progressives consoled themselves with the belief that it was a “noble experiment”.
There was absolutely nothing noble about Prohibition or about its supporters, who employed more dastardly tactics even than just using unconstitutional measures to over-represent the nation’s more rural (dry) areas instead of its burgeoning urban (wet) cities.
Daniel Okrent catalogued just some of the evils that Prohibition’s adherents used to advance their cause. They actively cultivated the support of both flavors of racists, typified by the overtly bigoted Arkansas congressman John Tillman, as well as soft bigoted paternalists like the United Methodist Church which explained in an official publication that “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” They encouraged anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism, as both religions were associated with alcohol’s manufacture, sale, and consumption. They stirred up nativism, specifically directed against Irish, Italians, and Jews. They not only allied with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, they made the modern Klan and purposefully harnessed its hatred in order to enjoy the benefits of the fear unleashed by strong arm tactics that closely resembled those of Nazi brownshirts a decade later.
Most unforgivably of all, Progressives attacked all things German as war began on the Continent. A year after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and claimed that those Americans “born under other flags . . . poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” The metaphor was well-chosen. While not an avid dry himself, Wilson wanted those supreme executive powers that only war could bestow. If that meant further stoking nativism to bring those zealots closer to his aims, then so be it.
Yes, what I am saying is that early Progressives supported their cause so fervently that entry into World War I–the single most disastrous American political mistake of the last hundred years–became a desirable means of achieving their Prohibitionist ends.
And all of what I just described is the horror that occurred before Prohibition’s enactment. History tells us full well the terror unleashed as a result.
Those early 20th century Progressives are the intellectual forebears of modern Progressivism. Therefore, it should surprise us not that a movement which allegedly supported greater democratization in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment’s extension of the franchise to women, also purposefully blocked blacks from the polls and diminished the value of an urban immigrant’s vote. Women supported prohibition; blacks and immigrants did not. Hypocrisy has a long pedigree in progressive politics.
In an answer to his own question “Why [is it] so hard to make progressives live up to their own rules?” Geraghty comes close to the truth when he says that Progressivism is about making progressives “feel good about themselves”. But even closer to the truth is this oft-quoted observation from C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Progressivism is the belief that they know better than others how others should live their lives. There is nothing that they won’t do, there is no ally so abhorrent, there is no rule so inflexible, that a Progressive won’t embrace the unthinkable to advance their cause. That is because they do so with the approval of their conscience. (As an aside, this is why some strands of “Christian” conservativism have far more in common with Progressives than they do with most conservatives.)
In short, the end justifies the means–even if that end is measurably (as in the case of Prohibition and Obamacare) worse than the beginning. Adherence to means has no meaning in the progressive mind.