Progressivism and conservatism don’t have to be diametrically opposed.
Somewhere along the way, there was a disconnect. Instead of two parties working together to do what’s best for the people, the American political forum became an arena in which two competing factions battle it out to see that their victory is assured. Politics in America is no longer about compromise—it’s about winning and losing. Ubiquitously, this is seen as a major defect. In fact, by many on both the left and the right, it’s considered to be the biggest challenge currently facing the American system of government. An unwillingness to bend, even a little bit, creates a filibuster that exists in perpetuity. Progress comes to a halt. After all, there can be no deals agreed upon when the bargaining table doesn’t even exist.
As a self-proclaimed progressive, I tend to think the unwillingness to coalesce comes primarily from the GOP. (If you disagree, take a look at the Right’s obstinate stance with the fiscal cliff, a scenario in which there is no possible way for them to come out favorably in the public eye if they avoid compromise).
They’ve seemingly taken a hard-line stance on liberalism. And, more importantly, progressivism, and turned it into an exclusively liberal ideal. The scope through which progressivism is viewed by the GOP today generally falls in line with other misunderstood political ideals, most specifically, socialism—which has become a buzzword so vilified and so overused, I’m convinced the actual definition is known to only a select few. (Interestingly, it was recently reported that “socialism” was the most Googled word of 2012, a fact that speaks both to the GOP’s regular spouting of the term and to the public’s gross misconception of what socialism actually is).
But progressivism should not be a philosophy marred by partisanship. At the root of its theory, the goal is to advance society forward. This should be something both the right and left strive for. The alleged mutual exclusivity that exists between progressivism and conservatism is a fallacy. Conservative blogger, Mike Dwyer, suggests as much in his very compelling piece on progressive conservatism. He writes:
“Though contemporary political jargon seems to disagree with me, I believe you can be a ‘progressive’ and be a conservative. You just have to be willing to move forward instead of spending your time glorifying Reagan and Goldwater. There are many political observers who would balk at the suggestion that a conservative would champion causes such as work rights, gay marriage or the antiwar movement but there are plenty of conservatives that do.”
Dwyer’s assessment that there are conservatives who would support progressive ideas is quite accurate, especially among young conservatives. I personally have many friends who are in favor of gay marriage, despite the fact that they identify themselves with the right.
On the national stage, there are Republicans who also subscribe to progressive ideals. In the interest of bridging the ever-growing gap between the two sides of the political spectrum, here are a few Republicans who have some beliefs with roots in progressivism.
Jon Huntsman: Huntsman is without question the easiest person to put on this list. The former Utah Governor is the walking embodiment of progressive conservatism. He favors raising taxes on the wealthy; recognizes the existence of climate change, and believes the federal government needs to act to slow it down; supports immigration reform; and has suggested it’s time for the Republican party to abandon their war against gay rights and other social issues. Huntsman has recently been tagged as a possible replacement for Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State. Obama would be hard-pressed to find someone better to achieve both bipartisanship in his cabinet and a Secretary of State who endorses many of his party’s ideals. As a Republican, Huntsman would have no issue being vetted for the position by Congress.
Chris Christie: It was not too long ago that Christie was a darling of the Republican Party. Though his actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may have him in his party’s doghouse, he is still fundamentally a conservative. So it seems odd that he should make his way onto this list. His slash-first, ask questions later policy when it comes to the education budget in New Jersey is the antithesis of progressivism. However, he does have one redeeming quality and it’s one that isn’t publicized nationally. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to cover one of Christie’s town hall events for the newspaper where I’m employed. While there, I was shocked to hear Christie state that he favors treatment over incarceration for drug addicts, his belief being that incarcerating a drug addict doesn’t solve the problem and needlessly wastes government dollars. As you can understand, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But Christie was steadfast that treatment is the way to go for addicts. So there’s that.
Scott Brown: Brown lost his Senate seat in this year’s election, running against progressive darling Elizabeth Warren. While his loss was a good thing (his seedy campaign shouldn’t beget a victory), Brown does reside towards the middle as a Republican. He considers himself a moderate, and is in favor of things like a woman’s right to choose, civil unions (though he is against a federal recognition of gay marriage), birth control and the Affordable Care Act (not a surprise being that he’s a soon-to-be former Massachusetts Senator). While his fiscal policies are much more in line with a traditional conservative, he does step away from the norm on social issues.
Bobby Jindal: Like Chris Christie, it’s hard to believe that Jindal is on this list. Many of his views are decidedly not progressive (for example, his support of chemically castrating convicted sex predators and his pro-life stance). However, like Christie, he does have one belief that breaks the Republican mold: He is in favor of investing funds back into low-to-moderate income areas. The Louisiana Governor also called out the GOP following the election, claiming it was time for them to “stop being the stupid party” and make an effort to reach a broader audience in their foundational beliefs. So he at least has shown a tendency to separate from the pack in thought.
Ron Paul: Some of Ron Paul’s policies embody the idea that progressivism can exist without a government intervention (an important thing to note, because the GOP is generally against progressivism because they view it as big government). For example, Paul is against identification cards for immigrants, voted no on defining marriage as between one man and one woman (though, like Brown, he is also against federal recognition of gay marriage) and also voted no on making the Patriot Act permanent. Paul is also an avid opponent of the war on drugs and would end No Child Left Behind.
There you have it. While most members of the GOP don’t have ties to any progressive ideology, those mentioned above at least break away in some aspects of their political ideology. Between Huntsman and these other four, we almost have two full progressive conservatives. It’s a start.