Judd Gregg: The problems with progressives

“I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment,” Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas history curriculum to emphasize that slavery played 'central role' in Civil War Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Texas education board approves restoring Hillary Clinton in history curriculum MORE announced at the Democratic debate last week in Las Vegas.

This statement was the most crucial declaration made during that two-hour forum.  

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It was more important than the discussion over emails — even though that issue will not go away, since putting national security at risk for personal gain is not an issue that can be dismissed via a friendly debate exchange.

It was more important than the question of who is tougher on guns. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Entrepreneur touts big solutions, endorsements in discussing presidential bid Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators MORE (I-Vt.) actually got that one right. The country is deeply divided on how to approach the issue and part of the divide is rooted in the very different cultures of rural versus urban life in America.

It was more important even than the issue that Hillary is so fond of pointing out: That she is a woman and we have never had a woman as president. Both those facts seem rather obvious.

The “progressive” quote and its implications set the parameters for the next presidential election.

Folks who want to define themselves as being further to the left than orthodox liberals now use the term “progressive.” If this were Denmark, they would be calling themselves socialist. But only Bernie has the courage and integrity to do that, so they refer to themselves as progressives.

Progressives — and Hillary specifically — very much aim to carry forward the ethos and legacy of President Obama. His aims are theirs. The only difference of any consequence, as Hillary said in the debate, is that the progressives want to go further.

This presidency has built itself around a few core elements of the progressive cause.   

One such element involves developing a culture where class identity, and the envy it inherently infuses, is the driver of policy. 

We are not one country, in this view. Progressives have no sense that the United States has created one people out of citizens with many disparate roots.  

Instead they see a country divided — and one that needs to be further divided — by race, wealth, education, geography and identity.  The American dream has been redefined according to the European experience of class confrontation.  

It is of course ironic that the progressive movement seeks this goal, since most people who arrived here came as immigrants seeking to escape the concept of class. For most of America’s history, we have sought mobility, not class confrontation, as a keystone of our way of life.

Another element of the Obama legacy is of course the massive expansion of the federal government. By this means, the few exert their influence over the many, in part through federal regulations that are activist-driven.   

Whether the figures behind the curtain are the environmental elite or the labor union bosses or the teachers’ cabal, we have seen a massive expansion of the federal bureaucracy as a result of their influence.

This fulfills the belief of most progressives that they simply know better than ordinary Americans when it comes to how people should live their lives.

It is a fundamental tenet of a socialist society that the State knows best. Hillary has always been vested in this view, as was most aggressively on display when she developed the massive healthcare proposal commonly known as HillaryCare during her husband’s administration.  

Obama has expanded the infrastructure of government, and now Clinton hopes to seize the reins so she can advance her progressive views with relish.

Another key element within the progressive worldview is the idea that we simply do not need to worry about the cost of a massive expansion of government programs.   

Debt, according to this school of thought, is more of an inconvenience than a problem. And a tax burden is not stifling if you do not have to pay it.  

Bernie has again been honest. He has offered $18 trillion in new spending programs as a way to move forward the progressive agenda: Free college, free healthcare, free this, free that.   

Hillary Clinton is matching him, if not dollar for dollar at least in her overall stance. An explosion of debt would be inevitable under either a President Sanders or a second President Clinton.  

Then there is progressive foreign policy. It is based on the premise of “see no evil — and, if you do, just ignore it.” 

The problem for progressives is that there are typically no good answers to confronting evil that do not in some way involve the use of significant force. Force, by progressive standards, simply is not an option. 

America — the strongest nation on earth, the country which has stood between tyranny and evil time and time again to the betterment of our own lives and people around the world — has been reduced to almost a sideshow of inconsistency and tentativeness in the most threatening parts of the world, especially the Middle East.  

Progressives are comfortable with this, for they cannot countenance answers that violate their inherent aversion to the use of force.  

Passivism and progressivism have gone hand and hand for a long time and have lead to some staggeringly horrible outcomes for democracies when confronting nations and movements that are not democratically structured or ruled.

Progressivism is now the call to arms for the Democratic Party as it seeks to retain the White House. Republicans need to meet this challenge, by pointing out that this approach produces neither prosperity nor a safer world.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.