This dark side of the Progressive Era, thankfully, came to an end. Its belief that there are those among us who know better and shouldn't be constrained by a fixed Constitution and limited government, unfortunately, did not. To escape the baggage of the term progressives, they started calling themselves liberals. Today's liberals, like yesterday's progressives, believe wholeheartedly that the answer to all of societies problems lies in the use of government by enlightened leaders to effectuate progress and view constitutional constraints as archaic and quaint.
The aim of the Progressive Movement succeeded as it gave birth to the rise of the administrative state and the consolidation of power in Washington during the New Deal and Great Society periods where many new rights and federal powers were suddenly found into the Constitution. This couldn't have happened had the progressives not succeeded in amending the Constitution in 1913 first to provide for a source of funding the administrative state (the federal income tax via the 16th Amendment) and then to eliminate any check the states had on the power in Washington (electing senators by popular vote instead of by state legislatures via the 17th Amendment). When states lost their ability to reign-in recalcitrant senators with threats to appoint someone else after his term ended if they voted to expand federal power or push costs to the states, the principle of federalism suffered a horrible blow. Given the failure over the last thirty years to reduce the power in Washington, that blow may have been deadly.
While no reasonable person would claim that Hillary Clinton is a dark side progressive, the danger of the progressive-liberal beliefs in a living constitution and the idea that they know better than the rest of us is that the distinction between forced sterilization and universal healthcare rests solely on the degree of government coercion used to achieve the end and the wishes of five justices to see it happen. When politicians are unconstrained by a fixed constitution and checks and balances, we better hope their idea of progress is the right one.
Unlike the leopard, changing the Constitution with the progressive ideas du jour takes us from the rule of law to the rule of enlightened kings. We rejected that type of rule once already. Perhaps it is time to do so again. Now, that would be progress.
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.