To the editor:
John O. McGinnis’s article [“Why Progressives Mislead,” Winter 2015] comes across more as an argument against President Obama than as a nuanced distinction between contending features of a modern democracy.
Anthony C. King
To the editor:
Federal intervention is needed when states drag their feet to perpetuate structural social and economic inequalities. At least Obama looks to the future for all America, rather than to knee-jerk reaction—even to policies that Republicans first advocated and implemented. The country isn’t going back to discredited policies designed for a certain class of “real” Americans. It’s a new day.
San Antonio, TX
To the editor:
Yes, of course this is a great country. But it is change that has made it so. And it’s not yet as great as it should be. Becoming great is a process that, the human condition being what it is, will never have an end. That’s what being progressive is. And that is not a bad thing.
John O. McGinnis responds:
King says that my essay comes off as “an argument against President Obama.” But its principal point was the exact opposite. I showed that the president’s misstatements and his administration’s infidelity to law were not the result of a personal failing but a response to the weakness of the modern progressive legislative coalition. Any president espousing Obama’s principles and thereby quickly losing his congressional majority would have had much the same problems. Until the rise of progressivism, Americans had disagreements about politics, but, except for the Civil War, they took place within a structure of separation of powers and federalism that helped assure democratic accountability. Progressives, however, assaulted that structure because their schemes of comprehensive social planning were hard to fit within the strictures of the limited and accountable government that the Framers had bequeathed us.
The Obama administration is trying to make the U.S. more like European social democracies. These regimes are less economically efficient and have higher levels of unemployment than the United States. They need to free-ride on the innovations and military power that our economic dynamism creates.
But my essay was not a policy analysis of the Affordable Care Act or any other Obama initiative. Instead, it was a demonstration that modern progressives must mislead and disregard the law to succeed when they enact such sweeping national, top-down programs. Perhaps Centeno thinks that breaking eggs is a small price to pay for making omelets to his taste, but I believe that maintaining our structure of democratic accountability and separation of powers is more important than mere policy disagreements.
Gavin and I have no disagreement that new legislation is needed from time to time in a healthy democracy. To be sure, the Constitution can, and sometimes should, be changed as well. But progressives are not attempting to create a consensus in the nation to change the Constitution by amendment. Instead, they are trying to transform the Constitution through a combination of executive and judicial fiat. That is a destabilizing and dangerous process.