Michael Barone

All this was supposed to have been consigned to the past long ago. The Progressives of the early 1900s -- Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, New Republic founder Herbert Croly -- argued that in an industrial era of mass production and giant businesses, ordinary people were helpless and needed government's guiding hand. It would be more efficient, they argued, for centralized, disinterested experts to administer national institutions than to let chaotic markets operate freely and to observe the Constitution's horse-and-buggy limits on government power. The Founders were out of date.

The Progressives had their way for much of the 20th century. But it became apparent that centralized experts weren't disinterested, but always sought to expand their power. And it became clear that central planners can never have the kind of information that is transmitted instantly, as Friedrich von Hayek observed, by price signals in free markets.

It turned out that centralized experts are not as wise and ordinary Americans are not as helpless as the Progressives thought. By passing the stimulus package and the health care bills, the Democrats produced expansion of government. But voters seem to prefer expansion of liberty.

The Progressives' scorn for the Founders has not been shared by the people. First-rate books about the Founders have been bestsellers. And efforts to dismiss the Founders as slaveholders, misogynists or homophobes have been outweighed by the resonance of their words and deeds.

The Declaration of Independence's proclamation that "all men are created equal" with "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has proved to be happily elastic. It still sings to us today, thanks to the struggles and sacrifices of many Americans who gave blacks and women the equality denied to them in 1776.

In contrast, the early Progressives' talk of an "industrial age" and an outmoded Constitution sounds like the language of an age now long past. Their faith in centralized planning seems naive in a time when one unpredicted innovation after another has changed lives for the better.

Polls and recent election results tell us that racial minorities and the so-called "educated class" -- the people who expect their kind will administer centralized institutions -- still take the side of the Progressives. Most Americans, however, are rejecting the path of dependence and are intent on declaring their independence once again.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM