Progressives and Patriots

The evolution of words throughout American history has become a battleground of ideals. Take the word “progressive” as an example.  The use of “progressive” in politics has evolved greatly since the start of the 19th century. Theodore Roosevelt used the word freely during his campaign of 1912 when he ran as the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, commonly known as the “Bull Moose” Party.  He had previously served as president as a Republican, but ran as a third party candidate when the Republican Party chose Taft to be their candidate.  He ran against the man he had chosen as his successor over a clash of  political ideologies.  

Roosevelt saw the key to America greatness as hard work.  In an essay titled, “The Strenuous Life”, Roosevelt wrote, “No country can long endure if its foundations are not made deep in the material prosperity which comes from thrift, from business energy and enterprise, from hard, unsparing effort in the fields of industrial activity; but neither was any nation ever truly great if it relied upon material prosperity alone… If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world.” Roosevelt chose the word “progressive” to describe his attitude toward politics: He believed that true national greatness can only be achieved by constant effort.  

“Patriot” is another word that has evolved over time to suit the needs of its users.  It is solidly rooted in the soul of America.  From our origins as a British colony, the concept of patriotism was chosen to create a collective identity, an intense desire to be a new nation separate from imperial control.  The American patriot was a man who would put liberty ahead of his own life, sacrificing all that he had acquired.  His family, wealth, and survival were secondary to the concept of creating a sovereign nation and protecting it all costs.  

George Washington wrote, "Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations."  Loosely translated from colonial English to contemporary language, the patriot of history was willing to sacrifice everything in order to protect the first principles of our nation’s founding.  

The concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were new to America, setting our nation apart from the rest of the world.  It is a model of government that has been copied by other new nations over the past 300 years, and no nation can be free of foreign control without the common identity founded in patriotism.  The problem is, the patriot of today has been distorted into someone who would never be recognized by our founding fathers.

In recent years, the concept of patriotism has been confused with nationalism, that blind allegiance to government, no matter how corrupt and devoid of basic fundamental rights that government might be.  In the United States, patriots have been characterized as mindless conservative zealots who seek to block all change in order to preserve the status quo.  Democrats have used the word to attack Republicans, and liberals use it to attack conservatives. 

In the middle of it all is the Tea Party, that leaderless, loosely organized collection of Americans who stand for a return to the fundamental Constitutional principles of the United States of America.  They have been vilified by use of the word, ‘Patriot’, when the use of the word should describe the best ideals that they possess.  

Somewhere in the evolution, the true meaning has been abandoned by both liberals and conservatives.  While liberals use patriotism to symbolize war-loving, flag-waving dolts who are resistant to change, conservatives use the word ‘Progressive’ as an expletive; the antithesis of patriotism.  Conservatives consider progressives as pacifist ideologues who seek to throw out the status quo in favor of change, without any regard for whether that change is good or bad for the country.  They are both wrong.

It is possible to be both a progressive and a patriot.  There are many Americans who have been indoctrinated through manipulation of the meaning of those words to believe that true patriots don’t believe in progressivism, and true progressives don’t believe in patriotism. Progressives should stand for constructive change, while patriots should preserve and protect the fundamental principles that made this country great.  We need both.  Without them, the balance that has provided generations of Americans with a blueprint for the future will never be regained.

True American patriotism, the New Patriotism, should be above party politics and ideology.  True American progressivism, the New Progressivism, should be the means by which we address our problems as a nation and solve them.  We will never solve our problems by fearing and resisting change.  To deny that change is necessary, to huddle in the past with the attitude, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is to deny that parts of our nation are broke and are in serious need of fixing.

It is the American Way.