Why It's a Privilege to be a Progressive in 2013

We enter the new year with a degree of optimism, because Americans, except for Congress and the uninformed, are beginning to realize that cooperation transcends self-centeredness as a means of national betterment. Here are some of the specific reasons to be proud of our progressivism:

1. We focus on community rather than the individual.

As George Lakoff put it, "For progressives, democracy is based on citizens caring about each other..to provide through the government..a means by which citizens pay for..infrastructure..

"education..health and safety..a justice system..energy..communication..transportation."

As a role model we have Howard Zinn, who cared about people, rather than Ayn Rand, who cared about herself.

Conservatives point to "individual" successes like that of Bill Gates. But Bill Gates owes most of his good fortune to the thousands of software and hardware designers who shaped the technological industry over a half-century or more. A careful analysis of his rise shows that he had luck, networking skills, and a timely sense of opportunism, even to the point of taking the work of competitors and adapting it as his own.

That's true for all the high-tech individuals who relied on a half-century of national research and development to make their fortunes. Apple's first computer was introduced in the late 1970s, and the company still does most of its product and research development in the United States, with U.S.-educated engineers and computer scientists. Google's business is based on the Internet, which started as the Defense Department's ARPANET, and their search engine derives from the Digital Library Initiative research at Stanford University.

Government funding hasn't slowed down. According to the report Funding a Revolution, "Federal support has constituted roughly 70 percent of total university research funding in computer science and electrical engineering since 1976."

In short, individuals can only succeed with the support of a nation.

2. We focus on progress rather than profits.

Progressives are concerned about real issues that affect everyone, not just investors. We're moved to action by studies that show we're near the bottom in child poverty, children's health and safety, and infant mortality.

We're angry about being at the top in the number of billionaires and the number of people in jail, and in health care costs and military expenses.

We're shocked by the fact that we have greater wealth inequality than every large country except Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.

We celebrate successes in the war on drugs and the battle against Citizens United, and on behalf of LGBT rights, marriage equality, pro-choice issues, and Obamacare.

3. We rely on insight rather than instinct.

Conservatives preach a spirit of self-reliance that goes way beyond common sense, rejecting, for example, assistance programs that give nine-tenths of their benefits to the elderly, disabled, or working households.

They demand that the poor climb the economic ladder on their own even though the U.S. has less economic mobility than almost all other developed countries.

Research shows that conservatives will "rationalize away social inequalities in order to justify the status quo." They are orderly and moralistic and dependent on authority. Liberals, on the other hand, are more open to new ideas and experiences, probably because they have more of the gray matter that helps to manage complexity in the thought processes.

But if we're so smart..

..Why do we lose the wars of language and emotion to the conservatives? Our opponents agree on big issues without too much thinking -- like the Tea Party saying "less government" without considering the consequences.

We progressives agree on the need to take the trillion dollars of tax subsidies for the rich and use them for middle-class jobs in renewable energy technologies. But it's not enough to agree. We need to put all our energy into that agreed-upon objective, to make America understand how important it is for ourselves and our children.


Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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