When former Clinton administration official John Podesta wanted to launch a liberal think tank in 2003, he named it the Center for American Progress.
As it turns out, there aren’t any particularly new ideas on the political left, so CAP has mostly served as a proxy for the Democratic National Committee. It sends out talking points supporting socialized health care, increased regulation and ever-greater “stimulus” spending, and attacks anyone with an “R” after his/her name. Yawn.
Still, the name is interesting. Even Podesta understood that it’s important in the United States to at least claim to support “progress,” a concept all Americans can agree is a good thing. At least we used to.
The Washington, D.C., building built in the 1800s to house the Patent Office is now home to a Smithsonian museum. But it’s interesting to stand in the building’s largest room, a massive space that was built to be large enough for inventers to display large models of their creations.
The four corners of the room feature statues of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Fulton and Eli Whitney. That’s an interesting pairing -- two political leaders who wrote the nation’s founding documents (and were also known to tinker) alongside two inventers whose creations unleashed steam power and “King Cotton.”
It’s almost as if those who built the building wanted to signal that American inventiveness mattered almost as much as American governance. It’d be difficult to make that argument in 2010.
In Washington, the government has passed a massive health care law that seems certain to take power away from doctors and patients and give it to federal bureaucrats. It also passed a financial regulation law that will limit innovation on Wall Street, but won’t do much to fix the problems that almost brought down the nation’s financial system. Again, bureaucrats and regulators will be asked to ride to our salvation. Good luck to all of us with that.
Meanwhile, “progress” seems to have gotten a bad name, at least in elite circles.
The July 11 Outlook section of The Washington Post featured a pair of stories slamming inventions earlier generations would have unabashedly cheered. “Washington didn’t grind to a sweaty halt last week under triple-digit temperatures,” wrote author Stan Cox. “Instead, the three-day, 100-plus-degree, record-shattering heat wave prompted Washingtonians to crank up their favorite humidity-reducing, electricity-bill-busting, fluorocarbon-filled appliance: the air conditioner.”