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Edelman: Progressivism is the engine behind democracy

The next presidential election is 588 days away. Campaign rhetoric has already broken the bounds of civility. The old saw was a Southerner was someone who thought “damn Yankee” was one word. Nowadays, some people speak as though they think “Democratic Socialist” is just one word. It’s high time people knew what ideas the parties really stand for.

If the conservatives of 1776 had their way, our national anthem today would be “God Save the Queen.” The American Revolution was founded on the progressive ideals of liberal democracy, that government derives its power from the consent of the governed — another, more familiar term for “liberal democracy” is “Western Democracy.” Over the centuries since the American Revolution, the engine behind democracy as we know it has been progressivism.

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American progressivism has been described as the :political movement that addresses ideas, impulses, and issues stemming from modernization of American society. Emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, it established much of the tone of American politics throughout the first half of the century.” The most visible and persistent characteristics of progressive policy are reform and social justice, ideas rooted in religious freedom in colonial America, the abolitionists of the early and mid 1800s, and the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln.

Labor unions pushed for the 8-hour workday and legislation to restrict child labor, ideas that found a home in the Democratic party in the late 19th century. Over time, the labor movement sparked more general workplace issues, such as concerns over workplace safety and a minimum wage. These hard-won ideas are so much a part of American society that we rarely recognize them for being the monumental culture changes they are, nor do we give credit to the progressive movement that fought for them.

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To a very large degree, there was a strong moral component to the early progressive movement. In addition to supporting universal education and eliminating illegal voting, prohibition and anti-prostitution were causes they marched for.

Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt championed conservation, creating and preserving National Parks and historical monuments. It’s ironic that the present-day Republican party has spent so much effort trying to remove federal protection for those parks and the environmental protection laws that keep them and the rest of our country’s clean air and water, when it was pre-Reagan Republican administrations that enacted the laws that created and protected them.

The civil rights legislation that came into existence in the 1960s are among the most significant accomplishments of American liberalism. Under the Democratic Party, with progressive Republicans, culture-changing legislation was enacted: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed discrimination in the public arena; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was intended to remedy injustices that dated back to the Civil War.

Contemporary liberalism still concerns itself with reform and social justice. Issues like income inequality, equal access to quality education, and making affordable health care available to every American are at the forefront of the Democratic Party’s message. Carroll County Democrats work to make our county, state, and country more productive, safer, better educated, better informed, and more upwardly mobile.

When people call progressives “Democratsocialists,” they ignore the facts: not only would we not enjoy the many revolutionary advances in economic, social, educational, political, and environmental policy that liberals have achieved through the years, America would never even have had the revolution that brought our nation into being.

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