The Democrats, with President Barrack Obama leading this time from the front, are anxious to portray Republicans as being the party of the past. It was Orestes Brownson who said, way back before the outbreak of the Civil War, “that mankind are always divided into two parties, one of which may be called the stationary party, the other the movement party, or the party of progress.”
Americans, a highly experimental people, are temperamentally disposed to align themselves with the party of progress. It was something of a coup for presidential candidate Obama to structure his first bid for the presidency around the pillars of hope and change, too often mistaken for progress.
Republicans are constrained to point out during the national election that since Mr. Obama ran on a ticket of hope and change, he has blasted the hopes and lives of Americans yearning for progress. Mr. Obama is, they have implied, like the first date that never leads to a second date. He is charming, has a silver tongue and knows how to pump up a pretty girl’s dreams. But after date one, when a naïve enthusiasm has been blasted by real world experience and sober reflection sets in, allowing a sounder measure, you just… KNOW …
In his Vice Presidential acceptance speech at the Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Florida, Paul Ryan seemed to have something of the kind in mind when he began to speak of Mr. Obama in the past tense; what better way to lay claim to the future.
“President Obama is the kind of politician who puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record. (LAUGHTER) But we are four years into this presidency. The issue is not the economy that Barack Obama inherited, not the economy as he envisions, but this economy that we are living. College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. (APPLAUSE) Everyone -- everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this too, if you're feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you. (APPLAUSE) None of us -- none of us have to settle for the best this administration offers, a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”
The dreams Mr. Obama’s father dreamed have been with us a long while. In Europe, a doddering socialism is coming apart at the seams. Progressivism itself wears a grey beard that dates from the 1912 election. There is nothing new under the political sun. Despite valiant attempts, the hope and change crowd has not been able to invent a new primary color.
As for the party of progress, Mr. Brownson, whose whole life was a flight from progress to progress – the man wore out movements the way old socks are worn out – may have had the first and last word in “Democracy and Liberty,” a publication written in 1843, well before a mature political progressive movement made its first serious appearance in the 1912 election:
“It has been said, that mankind are always divided into two parties, one of which may be called the, stationary party, the other the movement party, or party of progress. Perhaps it is so; if so, all of us who have any just conceptions of our manhood, and of our duty to our fellow men, must arrange ourselves on the side of the movement. But the movement itself is divided into two sections,--one the radical section, seeking progress by destruction; the other the conservative section, seeking progress through and in obedience to existing institutions. Without asking whether the rule applies beyond our own country, we contend that the conservative section is the only one that a wise man can call his own. In youth we feel differently. We find evil around us; we are in a dungeon; loaded all over with chains; we cannot make a single free movement; and we utter one long, loud, indignant protest against whatever is. We feel then that we can advance religion only by destroying the church; learning only by breaking down the universities; and freedom only by abolishing the state. Well, this is one method of progress; but, we ask, has it ever been known to be successful? Suppose that we succeed in demolishing the old edifice, in sweeping away all that the human race has been accumulating for the last six thousand years, what have we gained? Why, we are back where we were six thousand years ago; and without any assurance that the human race will not reassume its old course and rebuild what we have destroyed.”