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Robert S. McElvaine Headshot

Let's Start Calling Them 'Regressives'

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It has been about three decades since self-identified "conservatives" pulled off the remarkable feat of turning liberal into a four-letter word. Now they're trying to do the same to progressive.

At the recent CPAC convention in Washington, television screaming head Glenn Beck wrote the word "Progressivism" on his traveling chalkboard and proclaimed, to howls of approval, "This is the disease. This is the disease in America... It is progressivism."

Beck attacked Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, while praising Calvin Coolidge. "After the progressives got into office with Woodrow Wilson," Beck noted, "he gives us the income tax. Teddy Roosevelt was the first one to say we should have universal health care."

Beck told his salivating audience that progressives are the equivalent of Communists and Marxists. "Progressivism," he proclaimed, "is a cancer in America, and it's eating our Constitution -- and it was meant to eat our Constitution." (His "evidence" for this ludicrous contention is a very obscure 1938 book by Communists in Rhode Island who said the Constitution was "fast out-living its usefulness" and listed the progressive movement as one of their allies.)

Nor was Beck alone at CPAC in making such absurd associations. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) lumped together progressives, "Che Guevarians," Castroites, socialists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Stalinists, Leninists, and Marxists.

Mitt Romney's contribution was "liberal neo-monarchists." Michele Bachman was... Michele Bachman.

It's time to fight back in an appropriate manner.

I have for several years been urging progressives to stop calling these people "conservatives," which they plainly are not, and instead to call them what people who long for the bad old days of the Robber Barons, William McKinley, and Calvin Coolidge really are: regressives.

It is time for everyone on the progressive side to heed that call. Let's see, in a nation whose people have, throughout our history, fondly seen the United States as synonymous with progress, which side wins in a contest between "progressives" and" regessivies."

Here are a few key points about the Regressives' beliefs:

Regressives are American revolutionaries who follow the slogan "No taxation and over-representation for the super-rich."

Regressives believe there is only One Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Tax the Rich."

Regressives support a healthcare system in which it is necessary to be well-heeled in order to be well healed.

Regressives want to cut taxes to reduce deficits. Apparently they are going to push for a constitutional amendment repealing arithmetic.

So, from this day forward, whenever you find yourself about to say or write the word "conservative," replace it with the accurate term, "regressive."

{Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. A 25th anniversary edition of his classic book, The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941, with a comprehensive new introduction comparing circumstances then and now, has just been published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.}

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