When Hillary Clinton recently discarded the term liberal for the term progressive, it reminded me of the famous question of whether a leopard could change its spots? The answer, of course, is no. A leopard is genetically a leopard as a liberal is philosophically a liberal whether she is called a liberal or not.
Nonetheless, it is important to know what a progressive is since that is now the preferred term of the left. It comes from the Progressive Era. One of its intellectual and political leaders was President Woodrow Wilson. The Progressive Movement's chief aim was to centralize power by eliminating those pesky little concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances and escape the confines of a fixed constitution so that America could progress (not that it hadn't up to that point as evidenced by the abolishment of slavery and its rise as a world power).
Wilson despised those constitutional mechanisms because they prevented government from "proceeding" in accordance with the will of "an outside master." Wilson believed that the Constitution should be a living document. As Wilson stated: "All that progressives ask or desire is permission to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle." The outside master, then, was the fittest among us whose societal beliefs could be inserted into the constitution. Wilson thought certain men were able to "embody the projected consciousness of their time and people" and that these men whose "thought[s] run forward apace into regions whither the race is advancing" would master progress.
Wilson, of course, considered himself such a master. As Georges Clemenceau remarked about Wilson at Versailles, "He thinks he is another Jesus Christ come upon the Earth to reform men."
Not surprisingly, the Progressive Movement's adherence to Darwinism gave birth to eugenics. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a leader of the eugenics movement, advocated for a "stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring." In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law permitting forced sterilization in which Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." The culmination of eugenics was the rise of Nazism in Germany and the Holocaust.
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is the author of the book “Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway” available in June 2009.