It hasn’t been a banner century for progressives. Not too long I re-read a book that my grandmother, Lucille Milner, wrote in 1954, The Education of an American Liberal. She was truly an activist who was engaged in virtually every area of social reform in the early 20th Century. The work that she and millions of others did paved the way for numerous accomplishments by 1920. These included women’s suffrage and the creation of organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters.
So we’re now less than eight and a half years from 2020. What have progressives accomplished so far in this first fifth of the twenty-first century? It seems as if we’ve been steamrolled by friend and foe alike.
RH Reality Check recently published a most interesting article in AlterNet called How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis. You’re probably saying, “Say what?” Actually I think that it makes very clear sense. It’s a reflection of the kind of outside the box thinking that progressives need to utilize more.
If I understand Reality Check correctly, he/she is saying that the anti-choice movement after Roe v. Wade launched a relentless effort by extreme conservatives to do damage to progressives wherever possible. Conservatives were so offended by women having the fundamental right of choice that they ramped up an effort to challenge liberal ideas in every area of public policy.
It was government, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court, that provided the protection that women needed to have control of their reproductive rights. Some of us may have forgotten that Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, during the Nixon Administration. As much as Richard Nixon has been demonized by progressives, he presided over the continuing of and creation of a number of liberal programs while he was president. An insightful description of Nixon’s comfort level with using the federal government to help people in need is presented in an excellent op-ed by Kurt Anderson in the New York Times on August 5, 2011. It is of interest that when David Frost was interviewing Nixon for 28 hours in 1977, none of the four topics that he covered related to domestic policy. They were “Watergate,” “Nixon and the world,” “War at home and abroad,” and “Nixon, the man.”
But extremists on the right saw Roe v Wade as just one area of “federal intrusion” into people’s lives (ironically Roe v Wade actually reduced government intrusion into people’s lives). Conservatives began a full-scale attack on the federal government. Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. While statistics show that he strengthened federal programs, that was not the perception. Even George W. Bush strengthened some government programs because he had no regard for deficit spending (two discretionary wars which were not funded as well as huge tax cuts for the wealthy).
Reality Check’s piece on “How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis” made me to a 180o turn on a belief that I had held since April, 1970. The first Earth Day was April 22 of that year. Even though I obviously favored environmental protection, I resented the Earth Day movement because I felt that it was siphoning off energy needed to continue to address the issues of civil rights and America’s presence in Vietnam. The “narrowcasting” position that I took over forty years ago possibly had merit then. However conservatives have clearly shown in this century that the way to bully progressives is to “wage war” on all fronts. They don’t give up an inch of ground on any issue unless they are forced to do so.
Thus my suggestion to progressives who want economic reform including as many stimulus programs as are needed to successfully put America back to work is to engage conservatives wherever they choose to do damage to the welfare of the American people. We can no longer back off from engaging in discussion on abortion. We need to protect rights and expand affordability and accessibility. We can’t be silent about gun control when a Congresswoman is shot while conducting an informal outdoor meet and greet. We can’t look the other way when the Environmental Protection Agency is being stripped of its powers. We cannot pretend that the National Endowment for the Arts is not constantly threatened with extinction.
Like conservatives, progressives are currently very active utilizing social media. Facebook is an excellent way to pass the word around and sometimes organize. But this digital town hall does not provide us with commitment to vital issues. We need to augment our use of social media with a renewed effort to challenging conservatives on all social issues that are important to us. We have been intimidated into thinking that these issues are too risky to address. If that is so, what will we say when the limited protections that we have now are further diminished?
My thanks to Reality Check for thinking outside the box and giving me a perspective that I previously did not see. As if I needed another reason to support abortion rights, now I do. It’s all part of a movement to convince the American people that the federal government is very capable of meeting their needs and it is the one institution that can truly protect their rights. Maybe in another forty years I’ll change my mind, but I’m good for now.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.