Not since Toto pulled on the curtain has one been so exposed. If the dramatic reveal of the wizard as a fraud and a liar shocked the audience, President Obama’s unmasking in 2013 only served to confirm its suspicions. For anyone paying attention, Obama has always been a dishonest broker, someone who cynically marginalizes and defames his opposition while countenancing no accountability of his own. But for a majority of Americans Obama was a noble if flawed man whose great ideas were subject to continual and unprecedented “obstruction” from his “enemies.” The rollout of Obamacare shattered the president’s reputation as honest and trustworthy and shredded what credibility Democrats had left. Amid the euphoria of government shutdown fallout redounding negatively for Republicans, progressives believed the “fever” of their opposition would break and the public would be eager to put liberals back in charge of the House of Representatives after seeing such extremism undertaken by conservatives. What actually transpired was the stuff of progressive nightmares rather than the wet dream of unopposed politics they promised themselves. The entire progressive agenda was suddenly in jeopardy, all due to Obamacare’s inconvenient flair for highlighting government incompetence. But where sane and sober-minded people would use this moment of intense adversity as an opportunity to take stock and reevaluate their agenda and look for fixes where their policy went off the rails, progressives are seemingly stuck in a perpetual Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor movie where deafness and blindness are the only possible explanations for their agenda moving forward. If nothing else, the progressive agenda for 2014 amounts to that kind of comedy.
So let’s dive in to the morass and swim in the muck and dredge up some more mixed metaphors to convey how gross and icky the progressive agenda really is.
Before we outline what it actually will consist of, let’s establish what the progressive agenda would look like if Democrats were to control the government as they did in ’09-’10 with no pertinent legislative opposition. Obviously there would be a spate of tax increases on the wealthy as the first order of business, followed immediately by a laundry list of new regulations to be enforced by a phalanx of newly hired bureaucrats. Domestic energy production would finally meet its maker and become the stuff of legend and nostalgia. A stimulus at least double the size of the first would undoubtedly be spent on bullet trains and public union pensions while card check and compulsory union membership gain momentum after a federal law or ruling or edict explained that government’s hostility towards employers was really just about “fairness.” And entrepreneurs should be content to outsource their HR to Washington and better not complain of anything so quaint as a loss of autonomy or agency. The government knows better than the employer how to manage the personnel of the employer’s enterprise, naturally. Universal preschool, blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, comprehensive student-loan forgiveness, aggressive expansion of transfer payment programs and social obsessions like gay marriage, abortion rights and the comprehensive banning of things people enjoy are items on the progressive wish-list that have no chance of materializing without an iron-clad Democratic grip on the Congress.
Since Democrats are not going to regain the House of Representatives next November, and in fact quite likely are going to lose the Senate, the reality for the progressive agenda in ’14 is not encouraging. Having heretofore shown exactly zero interest in working with or even trying to understand its opposition, progressives are clearly not inclined to begin constructive dialogue with conservatives now. Were they to harbor genuine intellectual curiosity instead of demonizing their opponents, progressives would discover that we don’t in fact wish to wage a war on women or consign the poor to starve in the streets. Compromises that served the national interest rather than the short-term sustenance of our ruling elites could actually emerge. This would only be possible if the political party most enamored with demagoguery and cynicism morphed into one that cherished tolerance; not just of physical attributes in people, but of ideas and ideology as well.
Thus the agenda does not include anything resembling an olive branch to Republicans because how could the progressives champion a policy that has any buy-in from conservatives? The right is the enemy and so the powerful tribal sensation one gets from knowing and identifying the enemy is enough to keep millions of deluded Americans in the progressive herd. Progressivism is essentially a cause; against injustice and unfairness. Every cause needs a villain, and to progressive eyes there just so happens to be a perfect nominee perpetually auditioning for the role.
Sometimes the villain succumbs to the righteous outrage. Here are three agenda items I expect the progressives to agitate and whine about this year, as they hope to shame Republicans into action using cheap appeals to emotionalism.
Both sides of the debate largely disgust me on this issue, as the right too often traffics in apparent xenophobia while the left doesn’t even try to conceal that their true intention is to legalize large swaths of future Democratic voters. As a libertarian I subscribe to the freedom of movement concept, in which humans are free to live their lives according to their own dictates, location among them. As a Texan I subscribe to the realist line that the border cannot be fenced or walled, nor should it be, practically or morally. The border from Tijuana to Laredo is nearly two thousand miles of rough desert and river terrain; not exactly talking about Jerusalem or Berlin here where walls have succeeded in partitioning societies and elevating misery and contempt for those on the wrong side as a result. A fence is just not practical, and any conservative who clamors for one is either ignorant to the details or overtly hostile to Latino immigration. This is not to say that “open borders” is the answer either, utopian and perfect as they would be in theory. We should embrace a lenient and welcoming immigration policy that commits itself anew to the rule of law. The driver of conservative immigration anxiety is the current progressive inclination to view the law the way a card shark views a slot machine: as a quaint relic that only rubes concern themselves with. In the wake of Obamacare, the likelihood of another multi-thousand page piece of legislation that no one understands getting through Congress is identical to my chances of marrying Natalie Portman. When a majority of the country believes the president and his party are dishonest actors and are still simmering hot over being lied to about their medical circumstance, there is no way they are going to enlist the same incompetent government to manage a gargantuan immigration overhaul, because they just won’t trust the government to obey whatever the law says.
The minimum wage movement is bubbling up once again among progressives who think Elizabeth Warren is awesome and believe Bill DeBlasio is magically going to turn New York into an egalitarian fairy tale. Rags from Slate to The New Republic to Salon have all recently jumped on the bandwagon with pieces claiming that the minimum wage increase is “good economics.” How does one escape this Bizarro World in which people are allowed to state such lies without repercussions? There is simply no good economic reason for the minimum wage to exist, let alone increase. An increase in the cost of labor necessarily means an increase in prices or a decrease in labor, unless the employer is a progressive altruist who abhors profit and enjoys losing money. The cacophony that will ring from coast to coast about the minimum wage in 2014 is probably a precursor to the even more hilarious progressive fantasy desire of a federal living wage for all. You know, the one where the government just gives every American a check? The logical endpoint of every slapdash progressive economic scheme is just more redistribution. Forced egalitarianism, also known as totalitarian socialism. The proggies will get back to their native ideological foundation eventually; just give them time.
If progressives think they have an ace card to play in 2014, it will likely come from their climate change fear-mongering deck on issues like fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. Following the same playbook used to gin up angst about inequality, progressives will deploy apocalyptic language flanked by a hodgepodge of unintelligible and misleading data in order to confuse and distort the issue to the point that it feels morally bankrupt to stand opposed. Hammering dystopic visions of melted ice caps and smoldering hellscapes into the collective subconscious of the population is bound to raise the urgency of climate change in the mind of the average voter. And to the unwashed ranks who remain stubbornly unconvinced that a massive warming of our planet is even occurring, let alone merits an alarm call for radical global economic makeover, the cult of climate belittles us and points haughtily at their sacred “consensus.” Science is supposed to be about inherent skepticism and prolific experimentation; consensus is what matters to a group of friends debating where to have lunch. That “95% of scientists agree…” on anything as mysterious, unpredictable and unknowable as the Earth’s historic climate patterns is enough to pronounce their consensus wrong. Because there simply cannot be consensus on this issue, at least not without political and monetary motivations. At this point I think it quite uncontroversial to assert that with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the crumbling of Communism as a viable governing ideology, it is no coincidence that we see the rise of environmentalism so soon on the heels of the collapse of communism. For all the pomp and celebration by free marketers at the end of the Soviet Union (Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History in ’89 – a bit prematurely – to aggrandize the triumph of capitalism and liberty the world over) the allure of collectivism did not die. Instead it found a new home in the burgeoning environmental movement. And almost every initiative of the greens and the radical environmentalists consists of moving the planet incrementally toward global governance on emissions, regulations and taxation, a communist aim if ever there was one.
Fortunately, the green movement remains rather impotent. Bill McKibben draws headlines for silly stunts like chaining himself to the White House fence to protest Keystone, green groups are disconcertingly influential within the EU and UN, and Al Gore is still somehow respected. But overall the movement is listless and creatively challenged: if protesting a pipeline and the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas (both of which are cleaner technologies than coal and more efficient than renewables) are the best the environmental movement can come up with, I’m afraid they’re dooming themselves to a constant state of pissing into the wind.
Still, they’ll bring all their righteous anger and sentimental nonsense to the fore in 2014. I don’t think it will matter though, as climate change is the least likely of all progressive projects to move out of Congress this year. Republicans could ostensibly get browbeaten into some kind of motion on immigration and minimum wage, but not on climate. My money is on none of the above seeing any legislative action this year, but you can set your watch to the fact that the progressives will surely try.