Framing Progressive Government, Part 1

Wordle: Jonah Goldberg: Government Growth out of Control

As the word cloud of Jonah Goldberg’s recent column “Government Growth out of Control” shows, the article emphasizes the federal government, the president, and the individual. He objects to the FDA’s preliminary ban on trans fats  in processed foods by claiming that it’s a sign that liberals love to push people around. He summarizes the differences between liberals and conservative views of governing like this:

The difference, however, is that conservatives tend to see government as a necessary evil, and therefore see policymaking with some humility. Liberals tend to see government as a necessary good and see ordering people to do things “for their own good” as a source of pride, even hubris.

From a conservative perspective, telling people how to run their lives when not absolutely necessary is an abuse of power. For liberals, telling people how to run their lives is one of the really fun perks of working for the government.

Besides unfairly attributing bad motives to liberals, it deceives in at least the following ways:

  1. The ban affects giant agribusiness conglomerates, not people,
  2. It’s been known for a long time that trans fats are bad for health and unnecessary, and
  3. Only the conglomerates will miss trans fats.

The purpose of such an article is not to inform but to infect Americans’ minds with the idea that liberals and progressives are bad and not to be trusted with power. We have to defend ourselves against these attacks. According to Drew Westen, taking the high road and not responding means that conservatives’ view of liberals becomes the only one out there. He challenges progressives to speak up and tell our own story in our voice. That’s what this site intends to help progressives do. How about:

Progressives believe that in a democracy, government represents and serves the people. Rather than being a distant threat, democracy government has a responsibility to protect and expand the rights and wellbeing of its citizens. That can mean placing limits on harmful products. Thanks to the government’s attentiveness, we enjoy safe food and water. The ban on dangerous trans fats makes our food supply safer while preserving plenty of choice in the grocery store.

On those rare occasions when food gets contaminated, we know the government will punish the negligent company. Though it might seem nice to think that we wouldn’t need government protection, the food industry’s self-regulation has sickened and endangered Americans in the past. We’re not going back there!

How would you say it?

7 thoughts on “Framing Progressive Government, Part 1”

  1. The goal, at least since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, has been for business to destroy the power of government–or anyone else–to limit their activities. Regardless of the reasons given, the bottom line (pun intended) is this: to maximize profits to the benefit of shareholders and top executives. Period. Not all businesses do this, but it’s where the big money is. Incidentally, a sideshow of this has been the successful sowing of chaos among Christian denominations, particularly those who historically have stood for justice. The Disciples of Christ now have no office dedicated to social issues. Even the Quakers are becoming conservative in many places. The United Church of Christ has successfully resisted most attempts to undermine its social witness.

  2. I see the Great Recession, the biggest crash since the Great Depression, as a sign of the harm done by deregulation of many industries. But I don’t remember hearing this point made by politicians or media figures. Would it help to say so?

    Do you see a connection between the Reagan Revolution and the changes in some denominations’ social witnesses? If so, what do you think we should say about it?

    1. I think it would help to say so. I believe the pressure on some denominations, along with the rise in influence of Fundamentalist churches, televangelists, etc, is connected to the same forces that brought about the Reagan Revolution. One tactic, besides withholding funds, was to get the denominations fighting among themselves over intractable issues like abortion and homosexuality. It worked with virtually all of them, except for the UCC. The latter dealt with the pressure by embracing both issues warmly and positively, so the UCC remains a credible voice for Progressive Christianity. I believe that not only were funds being withheld, but some rich conservatives funneled money to conservative elements in the denominations. This certainly happened with the so-called “Disciples Heritage Fellowship.” Read their stuff, and you’d be led to believe that the Stone-Campbell movement once embraced Fundamentalism, even though its founding predates Fundamentalism by a century or more. I also believe, though I cannot prove, that there was some bribery of denominational officials.

      1. I hadn’t thought of the abortion and LGBT controversies as being about dividing churches against themselves. They certainly have had that effect, alas.

        Maybe like defenders of government protection against corporate abuse, liberal Christians should speak up about their faith and values, which I take to be the same as political progressives. George Lakoff named these as empathy, responsibility, and the strength to act on the basis of empathy and responsibility. To this list, I’d add community. What else should be on it?

        1. To Lakoff’s excellent list, I’d add active love and a commitment to justice, which is love writ large. A key Bible verse is John 3:16. The eternal life to which our faith in Jesus invites us is any thing but otherworldly. It begins in this life, whenever we see and/or practice justice and love, for it is a glimpse of God’s Kingdom in the now.

          1. I think the verse “For God so loved the world…” is often interpreted as focusing on God’s salvation of individuals, but you seem to see it as including social justice as well. Conservative and radical Christians have had the biggest megaphones, and in the absence of competing views from liberal Christians in the media, their views have tended to define the public’s view of the Bible and Christianity. I’m glad you’re willing to speak up! We have to frame the Bible, too!

          2. For Progressive Christians, framing the Bible is crucial. How often do you hear a Fundamentalist say: “The Bible says…..”? We usually react, with comments like, “The Bible says to kill people who do X”. We need to make it clear that we are committed to love/justice bec. The Bible tells us so. We need to speak of Jesus and God in personal terms. That’ s easy for me, but not for some.

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