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The History of Progressivism in Party Politics

Robert Dimuro

Posted on October 6, 2019 14:33

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Progressivism always pulls the Overton Window more towards the Left as progressivism pushes to change the status quo and implement new reforms.

Consider this excerpt from a major party's platform: "[The Party] will strive...to enact the necessary legislation to safeguard the public health; to limit effectively the labor of women and children, and to protect wage earners engaged in dangerous occupations; to enact comprehensive and generous workman's compensation laws...; and in all possible ways to satisfy the just demand of the people for the study and solution of the complex and constantly changing problems of social welfare."

Believe it or not, this was GOP doctrine in 1912. At this time, the Republican Party actually championed progressive reforms. Since Theodore Roosevelt's influence left the Party, it began a gradual shift to the Right. However, progressivism had captured the nation's pulse, with the ratifying of Amendments 16-19, labor reforms, regulation of trusts and monopolies, and environmental conservation all receiving bipartisan support. 

In terms of popular support, this period was the apex of progressivism. The Overton Window of popular ideas had caught up to the Progressive movement by the Roaring 20's. Over time, the Overton Window has closely followed progressivism in its tracks, which is an important point to keep in mind. In its nature, progressivism always pulls the Overton Window more towards the Left, as progressivism pushes to change the status quo and implement new reforms. Therefore, it's unequivocal that the Republican Party in 1912 was a Left-leaning party, whereas today it's the embodiment of the Right.

This shift occurred because the Progressive movement transitioned to the Democratic Party over time, beginning with FDR's New Deal initiatives. The last bastion of progressivism in the Republican Party existed during Eisenhower's administration, which touted the raising of the Federal minimum wage, the expansion of social security and unemployment insurance, the increase of union enrollment, the protection of collective bargaining rights, and the provision of Federal assistance to economically deprived communities -- all of which were explicitly labeled as "dynamic and progressive programs" by the GOP in 1956.

However, since that time, the Republican Party has undergone a cultural and ideological shift, garnering new support from Southerners and Evangelicals, and losing support from coastal, urban-based population centers. With the rise of Barry Goldwater, whose principles heralded the Reagan Revolution, the Republican Party became markedly Conservative. Limiting the size and scope of the Federal government, through lowering taxes and deregulating business, became standard Republican orthodoxy in a very short period of time.

Since then, Republicans have become the resistors, not drivers, of a Left-shifting Overton Window. This is why Republicans today always seem behind the curve in representing public opinion and are ultimately coerced into supporting or accepting initiatives on the Democratic agenda, such as providing universal healthcare, legalizing marijuana, and upholding gay marriage.

In closing, the past century has taught us that the Progressive movement, whether allied with Republicans or Democrats, has turned the dial on public opinion and policy implementation more powerfully and persistently than any other major political movement since its onset -- a tough fact for Conservatism to overcome. 

Robert Dimuro

Posted on October 6, 2019 14:33

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