SOMEONE once said that before there was the New Deal, there was the Wisconsin Deal. In my home state, the University of Wisconsin was an early hotbed of progressivism, whose goal was to reorder society along lines other than those of the Constitution. The best known Wisconsin progressive in American politics was Robert LaFollette. “Fighting Bob,” as he was called, was a Republican—as was Theodore Roosevelt, another early progressive. Today we tend to associate progressivism mostly with Democrats, and trace it back to Woodrow Wilson. But it had its roots in both parties.
The social and political programs of the progressives came in on two great waves: the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s. Today, President Obama often invokes progressivism and hopes to generate its third great wave of public policy. In thinking about what this would mean, we need look no farther than the health care reform program he is promoting along with the leadership in Congress.
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Tags: great waves, health care reform, Obama, progressivism, robert lafollette, theodore roosevelt