Try to define progressivism. In fact, ask progressives to try to define progressivism. All we really know is that they’re, well, progressing. They and their ideas and their politics are always changing, evolving. This means that what they believe and hold fast and dear today may not be what they believe and hold fast and dear tomorrow, or decades or a century from now.
For instance, when progressive heroine Margaret Sanger started her American Birth Control League a century ago, she was seeking birth control for, among other purposes, what she and fellow progressives termed “race improvement.” She hoped to expunge the gene pool of what she termed “human weeds,” “morons,” and “imbeciles.” She repudiated abortion, calling it “an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn … the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious.” She clarified in no uncertain terms: “some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not.”
Today, Sanger’s American Birth Control League is Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider. Progressives have not only progressed to that level but also to the point where they demand full taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and birth control and abortion drugs. Most amazing, those who disagree are castigated as Neanderthals favoring a “war on women.”
How did we suddenly progress to this latest stage?
That’s a long answer with a lot of factors, but we cannot disregard the huge impact of the latest influence: President Obama. If you would have told me five years ago that the president of the United States, by executive fiat, would force all Americans—including all religious organizations—to fund sterilization services and abortion drugs, I would have at least taken solace in one thing: my liberal friends would surely respect my religious beliefs and insist their president was crossing the line.
Sorry, the opposite is true. With President Obama leading, millions of Democrats have willfully fallen in line. He is not bending, and neither are they. If we disagree with what they’re compelling us to do … that’s our fault. We have failed to progress to their understanding.
My pro-choice friends always promised they’d never force me to pay for their abortions. With Obama out front, that has changed. They simply hadn’t progressed there yet.
The same is true for gay marriage, where liberals—immediately after Obama’s statement on gay marriage to ABC a few months ago—are suddenly on fire for the cause, from blasting Chick-fil-A to, according to The New York Times, considering the unprecedented step of placing gay marriage in the Democratic Party platform. Consider liberals’ progression on this issue:
A half century ago, the concept of “gay marriage” would have been unthinkable to any Democrat. Currently, I’m being frequently asked about parallels in thinking between Obama and his mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. There are striking similarities when it comes to their words on Wall Street, the rich, tax cuts, wealth redistribution, universal healthcare. I’m often asked if Davis’ writings indicated support for gay marriage and abortion. Are you kidding? Anyone who might have voiced public support for those things back then, Democrat or Republican or radical, would have been hauled off to an asylum as a public menace.
Just 20 years ago, the previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.
While support for gay marriage has increased since then, what the progressive movement needed was a front man to light the fuse and take the lead. They got it big-time from President Obama. Just like that, the entire public debate has changed, with gay-marriage advocates on the offensive and opponents on the defensive. Those opposing the unwavering norm since the dawn of humanity, following the billions before us—what Chesterton called the “Democracy of the Dead”—are suddenly framed as extremists who must explain ourselves. And CEOs of companies who voice a mere opinion to the contrary—e.g., Chick-fil-A—are picketed, protested, banned, and attacked by the nation’s mayors for manufacturing everything from “hate thoughts” to “hate chicken.”
Progressivism. No one can see where it will end up, but we can see how it unfolds. In this latest manifestation—call it President Obama’s progress—it compels all of us to acquiesce on gay marriage and abortion. Obama didn’t begin the push, but, in only four years, he has advanced the progressive project by leaps and bounds, a stunning surge that doesn’t happen without him.
In 2008, Barack Obama promised fundamental, transformational change—and now, thanks to the American electorate, we’re getting it.
This article first appeared August 6, 2012 on The Center for Vision & Values website, and is reprinted with permission.