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In Seach Of Human Liberty And Equality, The Constitution Is Inherently Progressive

Progressives disagree strongly with tea party views on government, taxation,  public spending, regulations and social welfare policies. But we credit the  movement for focusing public debate on our nation’s history, the Constitution  and the core beliefs that shape American life.

This conversation is long overdue — and too often dominated by narrow  interpretations of what makes America great.

Since our nation’s founding, progressives have drawn on the  Declaration of Independence’s inspirational values of human liberty and equality  in their own search for social justice and freedom. They take to heart the  constitutional promise that “We the People” are the ultimate source of political  power and legitimacy and that a strong national government is necessary to “establish justice, … provide for the common defense, promote the general  welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.”

Successive generations of progressives worked to turn these values into  practice and give meaning to the American dream, by creating full equality and  citizenship under law and expanding the right to vote. We sought to ensure that  our national government has the power and resources necessary to protect our  people, develop our economy and secure a better life for all Americans.

As progressives, we believe in using the ingenuity of the private sector and  the positive power of government to advance common purposes and increase freedom  and opportunity. This framework of mutually reinforcing public, private and  individual actions has served us well for more than two centuries. It is the  essence of the constitutional promise of a never-ending search for “a more  perfect union.”

Coupled with basic beliefs in fair play, openness, cooperation and human  dignity, it is this progressive vision that in the past century helped build the  strongest economy in history and allowed millions to move out of poverty and  into the middle class. It is the basis for American peace and prosperity as well  as greater global cooperation in the postwar era.

So why do conservatives continue to insist that progressives are opposed to  constitutional values and American traditions? Primarily because progressives  since the late 19th century rejected the conservative interpretation of the  Constitution as an unchangeable document that endorses laissez-faire capitalism  and prohibits government efforts to provide a better existence for all  Americans.

Progressives rightly charge that conservatives often mask social Darwinism  and a dog-eat-dog mentality in a cloak of liberty, ignoring the needs of the  least well-off and the nation as a whole.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his 1944 address to Congress, “We  have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot  exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free  men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which  dictatorships are made.”

Yet according to modern conservative constitutional theory, the entire  Progressive, New Deal and Great Society eras were aberrations from American  norms. Conservatives label the strong measures taken in the 20th century to  protect all Americans and expand opportunity — workplace regulations, safe food  and drug laws, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, limits on work hours,  the progressive income tax, civil rights legislation, environmental laws,  increased public education and other social welfare provisions — as  illegitimate.

Leading conservatives, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, claim that Social Security  and Medicare are unconstitutional. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) even argues that  national child labor laws violate the Constitution.

They lash out at democratically enacted laws like the  Affordable Care Act and claim prudent regulations, including oversight of  polluters and Wall Street banks, violate the rights of business.

This is a profound misreading of U.S. history and a bizarre interpretation of  what makes America exceptional.

There are few Americans today who believe America was at its best before the  nation reined in the robber barons; created the weekend; banned child labor;  established national parks; expanded voting rights; provided assistance to the  sick, elderly and poor; and asked the wealthy to pay a small share of their  income for national purposes.

A nation committed to human freedom does not stand by idly while its citizens  suffer from economic deprivation or lack of opportunity. A great nation like  ours puts forth a helping hand to those in need. It offers assistance to those  seeking to turn their talents, dreams and ambitions into a meaningful and secure  life.

America’s greatest export is our democratic vision of government. Two  centuries ago, when our Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to craft the  Constitution, government of the people, by the people and for the people was a  radical experiment.

Our original Constitution was not perfect. It wrote women and minorities out  and condoned an abhorrent system of slavery. But the story of America has also  been the story of a good nation, conceived in liberty and equality, eventually  welcoming every American into the arms of democracy, protecting their freedoms  and expanding their economic opportunities.

Today, entire continents follow America’s example. Americans are justifiably  proud for giving the world the gift of modern democracy and demonstrating how to  turn an abstract vision of democracy into reality.

The advancements we made collectively over the years to fulfill these  founding promises are essential to a progressive vision of the American idea.  The continued search for genuine freedom, equality and opportunity for all  people is a foundational goal that everyone — progressives and conservatives  alike — should cherish and protect.

By: John Podesta and John Halpin, Center For American Progress, Published in Politico, October 10, 2011

October 13, 2011 - Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Democrats, Equal Rights, GOP, Human Rights, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Teaparty | , , , , , , , ,

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