I read this article this morning after a friend posted it on my Facebook page. I like Walter Russell Mead generally, but this piece is so deftly done, so logically framed, that I may come to be more of a loyal reader. In it, Mead takes us through the fateful Lifecycle of Progressivism, from Great White Hope to Great White Father to Great Elephant to Great White Shark to Great White Whale. Creative and literary, yes. But also logical and incredibly well-written. His identification of the process through which good intentions become government programs promoting dependency and corruption is brilliant. One group that didn't come in for the criticism it should in this piece? Unions (he does touch on public sector unions). One can see in the rise of the union movement in the United States elements of all five stages Mead cites--from a force to rectify what were truly horrific and indentured work conditions to what we have now, a bloated, bureaucratic, politically connected patronage program that artificially inflates wage scales, even as the public code of the nation enshrines worker protections that no union organizer in the early stages of the movement would have thought possible.
The question Mead's piece leaves one with is--what is to be done? I'd really love to see a progressive criticism of Mead's piece--the logical gyrations necessary to contest it would be breathtaking to behold. Mead sees a need for reform--but what kinds of reforms? Can we as a people be trusted to vote in ways that may impact our short term benefits, but which are good for the nation in the long run? Are we ready as a nation to concentrate on the truly needy and deserving--who presently comprise just a portion of the entitlement class (look around folks, we're all in it)? I think we're moving in this country toward a great debate, one in which someone who tells the truth will be pitted against someone who protects the status quo. I know which side I'd like to be on.