The year was 1911 this was the year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York City's largest industrial accident in history, where 146 were killed and 71 injured with the youngest victims only being fourteen years old. In the year 1911 there was no such thing as a minimum wage, a forty hour work week, rights of organized labor, worker safety and standards were so unenforced they were virtually non existent, and the ugly practice of child labor was still all too common. People worked back breaking work and many were injured and died on the job including children. This may have been the largest but accidents were a common occurrence all over the ghettos and factory towns across America. William Howard Taft was President who advocated and help bring about trust busting, civil service reform, strengthening the interstate commerce commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the sixteenth amendment which made a federal income tax the law of the land in 1913. He later, being the only President to do so, went on to become Chief Justice of The United States Supreme Court.
One hundred years ago the year was 1911 and the federal income tax was non-existent. Social Security was no where to be found. Medicare and Medicaid not even a thought. The Food Stamp Program, WIC, FEMA, and HUD non-existent. The U.S. Department of Labor would not exist until two years later. The Small Business Administration no one knew of such an agency. The General Services Administration it did not exist. The Department of Transportation was not around and neither was the FAA. Amtrak if you said the term people would be bewildered. Even the FDA was established only five years before. The Department of Health and Human Services not around, neither was National Institutes of Health. The Department of Veterans Affairs had not been founded. The Office of Personnel Management no one heard of such a thing. The EPA, The Department of Energy, and NOAA did not exist. NASA was not even an idea. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was not around. The Bureau of Land Management was nowhere to be found and neither was the National Parks Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was not even in operation or even founded. The Department of Education did not even exist. The Federal Reserve had not been founded, neither was the FDIC, and the Department of Commerce founded only eight years earlier. Our Police and Security Agencies such as the DEA, CIA, NSA, ATF, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Secret Service, DHS, TSA, ICE, US Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Protective Service where not in operation or even in planning and the FBI founded only three years earlier. The Department of Defense not established and The Pentagon not even built. The DOD and Pentagons literally many dozens of agencies no where to be found including the Department of the Army, The Department of the Air Force, and Department of the Navy. Executive Offices and Presidential Councils and Agencies were nowhere to be found and the Presidential Cabinet much more modest in size and scope. All this is only a partial list of what agencies and offices have been added in the last 100 years the actual list would be enormous and people would be bored quickly reading it.
This all said it is obvious that in 100 years a lot of things have changed. Society and government today would be unrecognizable to someone 100 years ago. The 100 years from 1911 to 2011 have seen World Wars, The Great Depression, Revolutions, Outstanding Technological Advancement, and Major Social Changes. Changes have indeed occurred rather they are seen as good or bad or not depends on your perspective. Much Progress has been made that has advanced the United States to the super power it is today. Much hardships, injustices, inequalities, and prejudices have been addressed in the last 100 years and while much more work is yet to be done there has been much accomplishments during this time. The downside is while we have made Progress and created programs and institutions to address problems we have created an unsustainable federal government that tries to do to much and ends up in some cases doing more harm then good. I as a Progressive appreciate the Progress that has been made in society and government but I am beginning to see the other side of the fact of having a large central government that gets involved in nearly every aspect of our lives. We on the left I believe and those on the right as far as that goes have relied on government so much for being the vehicle of change that we have forgotten how to create grass root movements in our communities to create the change we wish to see ourselves. We have thus taken a back seat and allowed the elites in Washington and in our State governments to direct society and our lives. There is no doubt in my mind at least that many of the programs and institutions that have been created have done more good for society then harm. I however will be the first to admit that many programs and institution have done much harm.
What was started in the 1890's through the 1920's and really became into being in the 1930's did much good to improve society especially for those living in poverty and on the margins of society. This continued in the 40's and lasted well into the 60's. The Progressive Era became the The New Deal the New Deal Became The Great Society. This era from the 1890's-1960's was the crowning achievement of the left in America. There was seventy years of progress and America. Then came the bust of the 1970's after the tumultuous 60's (Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, Social Revolutions). What people saw government as once a helpful institution had suddenly began to be seen as an authoritarian and repressive institution that made wars, demanded ever higher taxes, lied, cheated, stole, was bureaucratic, and inefficient. America began to see the other side of big government and wanted to reduce its size. American's depended on many of the programs and institutions in government but began to distrust it and even fear it. Thus it could be said American's were saying the majority that is we want government and government programs but have a deep distrust of it so we want less of it. Ronald Reagan captured the mood of the country at the moment and played on the anti-government theme. The majority of the country was convinced the government was the problem and gave him a second term and then his vice president George Bush the White House. The left seemed to be an endangered species at this point and conservatives were hoping for a long running conservative era like the left had for decades in the past. Then out of nowhere came Bill Clinton and the left thought finally someone on the left who is electable. Bill Clinton was more a pragmatic centrist then a Progressive who convinced America once more government can be used for good and that there was a middle way between the extremes. The right though launched a counter-revolution fearing a return to the old liberalism of the past and convinced Americans to give them leadership of the congress. The left's hope for a resurgence was thus smashed to pieces and indeed it looked like the Reagan Revolution had still more staying power. The government did not shrink in size however during the 1980's and 1990's it merely shifted from some areas to others. I do not need to remind you of which person would hold the White House next the person the left loved to hate George W. Bush. With this presidency the Reagan Revolution seemed to be back with a vengeance although it never really left.
The left after Conservative Reagan and Bush, Moderate Clinton, and now Very Conservative Bush Jr. was beginning to worry predictions in the 1980's were coming to pass the Conservative Era like the Progressive Era before was real. George W. Bush pretty much took every Progressive sacred cow and tipped it over and every Liberal Mantra and defiled it. The left was seething mad and counted the days George W. Bush would be out of office. To the lefts surprise the majority put that conservative political blasphemer back in office for a second term. How could the majority be so stupid many of us on the left thought truth be told. After the re-election of George W. Bush many of us on the left practically threw up our hands and said what's the point of even caring America is heading for a train wreck might as well sit back and wait for it to crash. The right was going to dismantle every Progressive program that the left fought tooth and nail with much blood, sweat, and tears to bring about was our greatest fear at least those on the left I spoke with. The left saw not only Progressive Programs in jeopardy, but unjust wars, dwindling civil liberties, an expansion of police powers, unfair and unbalanced tax breaks, bigotry and a ballooning debt (remember we were the ones first complaining about it Bush's debt that our kids and grandkids were going to inherit little did we know that mantra would be used against us later by the Tea Party). By the time Bush's second term was in the second year I think many American's had voters remorse. Many Americans were uncomfortable about how far right and recklessly George W. Bush led the country and thought he had gone too far. The Democrats were looking for a strong Progressive to restore the country to a better time and reverse Bush's policies. They narrowed down their choices to two Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. In the primary I went with Hilary Clinton because I thought she was Progressive, compassionate, strong willed, and after going through the right wing attack machine many times would know how to get things done I was in the minority however as most Democrats were looking for a fresh face. Needless to say Barack Obama won and went on to beat John McCain by a significant margin surprising veteran politicos and first time voters alike. America had spoken they were looking for change and trusted Barack Obama to bring that change.
When Obama was elected and gave his victory speech and other early speeches I and many others on the left thought Obama was the real deal a genuine Progressive. What the right smeared him as made those of us on the left think finally someone who will be sympathetic to our causes. Terms like socialist, black radical, believes in redistribution of wealth, anti-war activist might have sent the right shivering in a corner it was music to our ears. In his early presidency many of us on the left thought he was indeed a Progressive but as his presidency dragged on it became very obvious he was not a Progressive although he often spoke like one his policies did not match his rhetoric. That's the funny thing we on the left our angry because he is not a Progressive and the right is angry because they think he is a socialist which are further left then Progressives. The truth be told on a political scale Obama would be slightly center-right to the right of many on the left and to the left of many on the right. Obama has in a number of ways been a continuation of Bush's policies and I know saying that will anger both Obama and Bush supporters alike but it is the truth. Tax cuts continued, war on terror continued, war continued, Patriot Act continued, expansion of police powers continued, large deficit spending continued, bank bailouts continued, bad economy continued, being out of touch with the average American continued. Obama has otherwise chosen pragmatism and the centrist way over Progress. This may anger us on the left but may likely be the thing that gave him a second term as going as far left as many of us would prefer would have surely meant only one term. One thing we on the left have had to learn in the last 30 years in patience as it is obvious Progress in the near future will only happen in spurts not outpourings. We must remember Obama has had a number of hurdles he has had to face; being elected during a recession, stubborn unemployment, high deficits, a hard right resurgence (Tea Party), international instability, two wars, a country in a very bad mood, and a broken culture in Washington. Obama however if he is to get a second term will have to answer the question on the role of government and his beliefs in the private sector.
It is woefully obvious the status quo of the last 30 plus years will not work. Obama before it is all said in done may have to redefine the whole Progressive movement. New Deal Programs of the 30's and Great Society Programs of the 60's will have to be made workable in the 21st century or be replaced. Government agencies will out of necessity and practicality will have to be scaled back and some even abolished. The idea we can create a government program or agency to handle every problem will have to be replaced with public/private partnerships and grass root changes. The tax code will need to be simplified and loopholes curtailed. Some things will have to be handed over to the states and some to the private sector. I know many on the left will say I am buying into the Republican mantra but I am merely stating the facts our government how it is made up today is unsustainable. I believe in Progress, social spending, and economic justice more then ever but I am aware the old way of tackling those problems will have to be reformed as the the times and situations have changed. What once was a government that left too many behind has today became a government that is a pain in the behind. The government simply has expanded too much and consumed more then its revenue. Don't get me wrong I am not talking of dismantling the federal government and popular and helpful programs merely reforming them. If the left is to stay viable we will have to change with the times and move more towards changes at the grass roots. We will have to create institutions and think tanks at the grass roots level to deal with problems at the grass roots level and create an active citizenry rather then depending on government. The government is simply too indebted and Washington culture so broken that it can not be relied on as the sole positive vehicle for change anymore. This is not to say in the least we have to back away from our ideology just take a step back and reassess the way to move forward and realizing the old ways our not going to work in the 21st century. We live in a changing world and the government and Progressivism will have to change with it or we will go the way of the Whig Party.
Understand this is not surrender, retreat, or admitting the economic-right was right all along they aren't and never were rather it is pragmatic Progressivism that will allow progress to continue in these current times. I believe in Progress of our society and humanity as a whole and think it is the best way to move forward in addressing the problems of the twenty first century. The kind of Progressivism I am talking about will empower individuals and communities not institutions and governments. It is the kind of Progressivism that early reformers adopted the grass root groups creating grass root changes. I don't know about others on the left but I am getting tired of waiting on change coming from government and think we should work on creating the change we want to see. If Progressives across America gather together in their communities and work on addressing their particular problems in their communities they will create faster change, more relevant change, and empower more people then any such change from government. Let the politicians in Washington go on eating grapes and we as citizens acting collectively will go on rebuilding America. Let the elite do what the elite will and we the people will do what we will. Need we forget this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people and thus the government belongs to each one of us and acts to our commands not us to some self appointed elite. This country belongs to every man, woman, and child who is a citizen of it and thus everyone of them deserve to have a voice and have representation. The only ones who can create lasting change is the people they are the only ones who ever had. Even the New Deal started at the grass roots level and only succeeded because enough of the people supported it. Change only comes from the top when enough on the bottom make it happen. We must get involved once again and not just standing holding up signs but with an agenda that is pro we the people and create institutions and movements at the grass roots that actually will DO things to create the change we wish to see.
The government will need to have many reforms that we must demand, many problems were facing will need to be addressed, our neighbors will need to be helped, our communities become more compassionate and involved, our neighborhoods more inclusive, our view expanded if we are of faith or not to make room for those of faith and different faiths, the marginalized and ignored must be allowed to have a voice, our aging cities, suburbs, and rural areas rebuilt, those without opportunity given opportunity, human rights must be seen as essential, and each person must be given the opportunity to reach their potential and enjoy their life, liberty, and pursue happiness.