As I have written before, nothing makes me happier in politics than being attacked, because you know by the reaction you are getting that you have hit pay dirt with what you are doing. When Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) took the ideas from my book The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be and used them in a floor speech in Congress, and when the reaction from far-right-wing Congressman Steve King from Iowa was a bitter, rambling tirade about socialism, I knew we were winning the argument. And yesterday, when I posted about the July 4th holiday being the embodiment of the progressive values of equality and democracy, three different conservative bloggers (here, here and here) saw fit to attack. That's a very good sign.
What bothers these conservatives so much is the idea that progressive values are at the heart of the American ideal. They love wrapping themselves in the flag, and going on and on about the founding fathers, and really hate the idea that anyone else might lay claim to that history. Their arguments -- that the issues were very different then, that classical liberalism has a different definition than modern liberalism, that American revolutionaries must have hated big government because they hated King George, etc. -- mask the fact that the fault lines in American history, from 1776 on, have always been about expanding equality and democracy, and that progressive-minded thinkers have always been for that, and conservatives have always been against it.
Conservatives have always argued that tradition should be revered and change should be feared. They have always argued that too much democracy is a dangerous thing. They have always opposed expanding the idea of equality -- to blacks and women and the poor, to immigrants and migrant workers, now to LGBT individuals. They have always argued these things, and they still do. And progressives from Jefferson and Paine to those of today have always fought for more democracy, more equality of opportunity, more investment in regular people as opposed to giving everything to the elite and letting them run things.
When Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, he argued that this nation was "dedicated o the proposition that all men are created equal" and that our government was founded on the idea that it should be "of the people, by the people, for the people." His speech stirred great controversy at the time with conservatives outraged at the idea that, as the Chicago Times editorialized, Lincoln "misstated the cause for which they died and libel the statesmen who founded the government." Those ideas of equality before the law and equality of opportunity for all of us, of government of, by, and for the people instead of government of, by, and for the wealthy elites have always been progressive ideals, and will always be opposed by conservatives.