A spirited defense of a progressive vision

A SPIRITED DEFENSE OF A PROGRESSIVE VISION…. As heartening as it was to hear President Obama’s full-throated condemnation of the House Republican budget plan — he didn’t pull any punches — what made his remarks this afternoon especially satisfying was his defense of the progressive vision.

The point of the remarks was primarily to advance two goals: explain why Paul Ryan’s radical proposal must be rejected and present a “balanced” alternative towards long-term deficit reduction.

But along the way, the president made a point of reminding his audience that government, the institutions of the modern welfare state, and the modern social compact are worthy of a spirited defense. Indeed, to hear Obama tell it, the progressive vision is the American vision.

“[T]here has always been another thread running through our history — a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

“Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments. […]

“The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. This is who we are.”

There’s a word to summarize this approach to government. It’s called “liberalism.”

Jonathan Bernstein put it this way: “Liberals have wanted a full-throated affirmation of why government is a good thing? Obama delivered, with perhaps his strongest case for a liberal vision of government that he’s given so far during his presidency.”

The “sellout of the left” this wasn’t. What we saw today was an unapologetic defense of a progressive vision of government, cased in terms that were equal parts moral and pragmatic. America doesn’t hear it often enough, and Obama delivered it with passion and conviction today.