Of Calgon and Candidates (or, Peter Pan, Part II)

Transitional wry observation: how ironic that an insurance company, a business which we pay to assume risk on our behalf, should call itself Progressive…
Most Halloween costumes are not scary precisely because they are obviously that: costumes. This is so not because the costumes are poorly executed, but because they disguise us as things which, for the most part, we cannot be. They scare children because children (and postmoderns) still exist in the magical marches between imagination and reality, where imagined things become real simply in the imagining.
Progressives are frightening because they actually exist. Not only exist, but like Canadians, they walk among us undetected. Or maybe I should say that we walk among them.

Because in the last several elections, the one constant in the winning party was how Progressive a platform it had. Back in the old days, Democrats (modern liberals) favored using government to spend your money for you, but not for telling you how to live your life. Republicans (conservatives—to prefix “modern” would create an oxymoron, wouldn’t it?) wanted to use government to tell you how to live your life, but not spend your money. Progressives were elitist populists—they wanted to use government to do both, because they were smarter than you (populists were just more numerous).
Bill Clinton won because he promised to be a tough-minded liberal—not just spend money, but spend it wisely. Similarly, George W. Bush won by promising to be a compassionate conservative—not just cut spending, but spend it wisely. And by wisely both meant “for moral purposes.” Both used rhetoric about government caring, it being government’s job to make us more moral, defined as caring about our fellow humans. Government is the tool, they are the artist, we are the medium.
Now, the median voter theorem tells us that in a plurality system, there will tend to be two parties (though Duverger also tells us that), and those two parties will look one very much like the other. Because the candidate with the most votes wins (whether the office or the electoral votes), voters will concentrate their votes on two parties, and those two parties will position themselves to maximize their share of the vote—close to but equidistant from the median voter.
This seems to explain our last four elections rather well. In fact, the only substantive difference between George Bush and John Kerry in their first debate was who should get to be the one to do what they proposed. But if candidates have won by appealing to the median voter, and they have won based on Progressive rhetoric…that means the median voter in the U.S. is…Progressive. Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush lost to Clinton because they ran as conservatives, and Clinton ran as a “postmodern liberal.” Gore lost to Bush because Gore ran as a traditional, modern liberal—for the working man!—while Bush ran as a “modern conservative.” (So Bush is at least an oxymoron.)
Note Gore’s refashioning of himself as a true Progressive since the election. He’s all about the environment, because he knows more about it than you do, so you have to give him power to make you a better person. Nothing could be more Progressive than the Precautionary Principle—“we can’t let the lack of evidence stop us from acting to correct a problem” because we don’t like risk or uncertainty; we want government to make them go away.
Or, more cynically, we don’t like independent thought, and want government to make that go away. Don’t believe me? Question your garden-variety environmentalist. You won’t get evidence—you’ll get moral outrage and indignation. Which finally explains why Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. The world is never so peaceful as when other people do your thinking for you, when government takes all of your cares away.
So I’m watching this election with interest, and a fair amount of trepidation. Not because the winner might do horrible things to us, because we can use our institutions to shield us from that. But if the contest is between Fred Thompson (a Goldwater conservative) and Hillary Clinton (the poster-being for neo-Progressivism), the identity of the winner will tell us something about the electorate. Then again, if the contest is between Hillary and Rudy Giuliani, I fear that too will tell us something about the electorate. And that something may be that we won’t use those institutions to protect ourselves, but to better ourselves. (For the Tolkein fan who might be reading: oh, the folly of Saruman repeated!)