Donald T. Critchlow is the Barry
Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University, editor
of the Journal of Policy History and general editor for Cambridge Essential Histories (CUP).
His new book, Takeover: How the Left Corrupted
Liberalism in the Pursuit of Social Justice (co-authored with William
Rorabaugh, published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012), is an
indictment of the leftist radicalism that persists in American politics today.
For Critchlow, this radicalism has led to unprecedented attacks on religious
liberties, a looming financial crisis, abortion on demand, and a redefining of
freedom. Recently, in late 2012, CWR contributor Christopher White spoke with
Critchlow about the political and cultural challenges that will significantly
shape the future of the United Statesand why Catholics should be both aware
Takeover, you refer frequently to
the "New Progressives." Who are the New Progressives and how did they
Donald T. Critchlow: Takeover: How the Left Corrupted Liberalism in the
Pursuit of Social Justice answers an
important question that many Americans began asking with the ascent of Barack
Obama to the White House: How did the
Democratic Party become so radical? Takeover shows
that liberalism underwent a profound transformation with the rise in the late
1960s and the early 1970s of a radical political formation the authors describe
as the New Progressives.
the early 1970s, the New Left’s anti-Vietnam War protests and other street
activism had faded away. But the radicalism remained. The activists simply
changed their tactics for remaking American society. After fighting against the
establishment, radical leaders discovered that they could achieve much more by
working within the system. They learned to harness politics and the courts to
pursue what they thought of as social justice. Becoming lawyers,
professors, journalists, consumer advocates, union leaders, community
organizers, and even politicians, left-wing activists morphed into a new
movementthe “New Progressives.” Takeover examines how the New Progressives colonized many
areas of American life in creative and powerful ways.
CWR: You note that the
civil rights revolution introduced “moral politics.” What do you mean by moral
politicsand do you consider this a positive or negative development?
struggle for black civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War inspired the
generation of radicals who came out of the 1960s. Yet while the civil rights
movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. sought racial integration and equal
opportunity for all Americans, radicals sought a revolutionary transformation
of society. At first these radicals were hostile to electoral politics. Liberalism and the Democratic Party were seen
activists wanted to radically transform American societyby pursuing militant
environmentalism; tearing down corporate power; crusading for population
control, abortion, and euthanasia; pushing for nationalized health insurance;
and more. They brought to these movements a moral fervor of the earlier civil
rights movement, but their moral passion was translated into a visionoften
based more on sentiment than a coherent philosophyto remake American society through
the expansion of the federal government to control, through sheer political
power, and through the courts.
CWR: Social justice is a
frequently used phrasewhat do you interpret it to mean?
Progressives seek to control American consumption from health care, energy use,
the cars we drive, the light bulbs we use, to what we eat and drink. All in the name of social justice. Their
vision of social justice is not based on a systematic ideology; or a well-developed
doctrine of social justice found in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It based on
sentiment and rhetoric. Their use of the term social justice is ill-defined
intellectually. It is no less radical
and transformativeand illusive politically. At issue is an understanding that
Americans are confronting something never witnessed before in our historya
direct challenge that seeks to transform the political and economic order. This is an unprecedented threat to the
free-market economy and to those who believe in constitutional government, a
balance between federal and state power, individual rights, and freedom itself.
have never defined the exact meaning of “social justice.” The concept appeals
to the heart and to good intentions. It has allowed New Progressives to form
alliances, at various times, with concerned Americans who would resist being
called radicals. Even some activists drawn to the New Progressive banner have
been well-intentioned reformers who sought answers to legitimate problems
related to poverty, environmental pollution, health care, and corporate abuse.
reliance on governmental power, the faith in elites to be able to determine the
collective good, and the suspicion of free markets are all the New
Progressives. Takeover does not dismiss the
importance of moral passion, either in religion or politics. What wemy
co-author William Rorabaugh and Icriticize is moral passion based on a single
goal of gaining political power to serve elite and special interests.
CWR: Can you describe
the origins of the “rights” movement, and specifically, the “right to choose”?
“rights” movement came out of the earlier (and justified) civil rights
movement. Coinciding with the black civil rights movement there emerged
movements for women’s, Native American, Asian, and gay rights. Identity
politics emerged full-blown by the early 1970s, reinforced by the
implementation of federal affirmative action under the Nixon administration.
feminist and pro-abortion movement seized upon the term “right to choose” as
essential to their call for abortion on demand. Actually, Roe v. Wade
limited constitutionally the absolute “right to choose” by women by declaring
that in the last two trimesters of pregnancy that physicians and the government
had a say in when a pregnancy could be terminated.
CWR: How did the new
progressives use the language of individual freedom to promote their
involvement in family planning and international population control?
origins of family planning, as your readers know, had historical roots in the
eugenics and population control movement. The Nazis gave eugenics a bad name,
but even after the Second World War when John D. Rockefeller III established
the Population Council, with the goal of controlling global population growth,
he wanted to include in its mission a eugenics statement. He was talked out of
this by his advisers. The rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and the
environmental movement in the late 1960s advanced the language of individual
freedom related to family planning. Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe v Wade before the Supreme Court in 1971, was closely
associated with the women’s liberation movement in Austin, Texas. These
feminists were strong advocates of population control. Her then husband, Ron,
was a fervent advocate of population control. He was not alone. Many of the
leading advocates of abortion saw this as an instrument to control population
growth. Harriet Pilpel, a skilled lawyer who worked for Planned Parenthood, saw
abortion as a women’s right and as a means of population control. She declared
that to cut down on population growth abortion should be made easy and safe,
while developing other methods of family limitation. She was joined by many
others who feared an approaching population crisis.
euthanasia movement also took up the rhetoric of rights. This language of
rights was used in the passage of assisted suicide in Oregon in 1994. Advocates
of euthanasia, such as Derek Humphrey, the founder of the Hemlock Society, used
the rhetoric of individual freedom to promote assisted suicide. The forces
behind the Oregon law effectively used the language of individual choice,
contrasting it with the “unique” theology of the Roman Catholic Church, to win
public approval for the passage of the first state assisted suicide act in
American history. The appeal to individual rights argument ultimately
functioned, in effect, to advance elite goals of controlling demographic
outcomes. In this way individuals are offered apparent choice, while
elite-controlled government extends its powers to manage individual lives.
CWR: How did
Planned Parenthood acquire its untouchable status that is has today?
Parenthood’s “untouchable” status became apparent in this last presidential
election. Any answer to this involved
question needs to begin with the vast cultural changes we have seen since the
1960s’ sexual revolution. That many women believe the right to contraception
means a right to have the federal government fund contraceptives, without
distinction to income or ability to pay, is an extraordinary extension of the
rights argument. It comes at a time when the nation is in debt to the tune of
$16 trillion and the government is running an annual deficit of $1 trillion.
It’s another entitlement at a time when Medicare and Social Security are going
broke. Yet any attack on Planned Parenthood, a major proponent of free
conception on demand, or Obama’s executive order extending free contraception,
was seen as part of a “war on women.” In a secular age, calls to protect
religious freedom, however justified, simply did not persuade many unmarried
women. It might be added that the contraception revolution has coincided with
an out-of-wedlock birth rate today of over 40 percent. This is hardly healthy
for a nation.
CWR: What are the
historical origins of Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act?
New Progressive agenda to control American consumption finds its fullest
expression in national health insurance. When Barack Obama signed the Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act of March 23, 2010, he fulfilled the
long-term dream of progressives to move the nation away from private insurance
into a government-regulated and government-controlled national health care
system. The dream was not fully realizedit was not socialized medicine per
sebut a major advance toward it. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress
enacted a national health insurance system mandating that all Americans carry insurance
through their employers, state-run health insurance exchanges, or Medicaid.
the costs and fiscal damage ObamaCare will cause the nation once fully
implemented. We explore exactly how the New Progressives mobilized unions, hospital
associations, and big health insurance to support ObamaCare. Unions such as the
United Automobile Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union
proved critical in this mobilization. By 2007, the SEIU had formed an alliance
with the Kaiser Foundation, Kaiser Hospitals, and Catholic Health Care West to
promote health care entitlements.
labor was organizing its troops, other activists were rallying the base in
support of nationalized health care. Especially important was the Association
of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a grassroots radical group
closely aligned with SEIU. In Chicago, SEIU Local 880 was ACORN. They shared
the same office and same staff. Although ACORN received national notoriety
after Obama’s electionand ultimately would be forced into bankruptcythe
importance of this organization in the New Progressive agenda should not be
underestimated. Formed in 1970, by former New Leftist and welfare rights
organizer Wade Rathke, ACORN grew into a major activist organization. It became
a major advocate of national health insurance.
Obama’s election in 2008, ACORN launched a vigorous campaign on behalf of
national health insurance. Tamecka Pierce, a member of ACORN’s national board,
was the leader in the national Health Care for America. This 46-state coalition
was supported by more than a thousand organizations. Included in this coalition
were progressive unions, community activists, civil rights groups, feminists,
pro-choice groups, health activists, church groups, and physician and nursing
organizations. Following the election, this alliance rallied to fulfill the
long-sought dream of progressives: national health insurancethat is, the
federal government’s takeover of the nation’s health.
CWR: What is likely to
be on the progressive second term agenda for the Obama administration?
Democrats have proclaimed the results of the 2012 election a mandate to go
forward with their agenda. Two things
stand in the way of fulfilling this agenda. No, not the 48 percent of Americans
who voted for Romney or the Republican-controlled House. The two things are a
financial crisis and the potential of a foreign affairs crisis. The financial
crisis this country confronts means, whatever else, that federal spending is
going to have to be cut. This means addressing entitlement programsincluding Medicare,
Social Security, Obamacare, welfare costs, student loansand many, many other
“stakeholders” in these entitlement programs are demanding that cuts not be
made. SEIU and AARP have been running television commercials not to cut entitlements
until a full national conversation can be held. Cuts in spending threaten to
divide congressional Democrats, special interests such as Democratic-aligned
unions, and constituent groups from the administration. The Obama coalition is
loose and fragile.
began his 2008 campaign as an anti-Iraq War candidate. In his reelection, he
claimed to have ended Bush’s wars. The United States is still keeping 10,000
troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Obama might wish a world of peacebut given
the world financial crisis, the rise of our enemies, this next four years won’t
be tranquil. We should pray for peace and world understanding between peoples,
leaders, and nations, while preparing for the worst.
CWR: For advocates of
religious freedom, what do you predict will be the future of the now infamous
is a tough question, especially knowing that the majority of Roman Catholics
voted for Obama. We can dismiss these voters as not regular church-goers, but
their votes reveal the weakness of Catholic vote. In the end, the Church needs
to stand on principle, not just political expediency. In an age of growing
secularism, religious arguments have less power. In the end, however, the
Church is answerable to God, not public opinion. We can only hope that in the
meantime standing on principle will maintain the respect of the faithful and
ultimately win over those repulsed by the language of religious belief.
of HHS faced immense media hostility in this last election. Nonetheless, the
Catholic vote went up for Romney in the last election from 2008. It was not
enough to win the election, but it’s a positive sign. The US Supreme Court
recently ordered the Fourth Circuit Court to review arguments for the exclusion
of religious organizations from the ObamaCare mandate in a case involving
Liberty University. The fate of this mandate and other federal mandates remains
uncertain at this point.
CWR: What is the likely
future of the New Progressives? How can conservatives compete with them?
are historians, so it’s easier for us to predict that past than the future. We
can say that our study of American political history shows that one party
cannot maintain power forever. Republicans and conservatives need to develop a
language of freedom and liberty that appeals to a larger electorate. This is
especially true for young voters and ethnic voters. Yet political rhetoric and
public policy can only go so far. In the end, many political issues are
cultural issues, and it is here that we are most concerned. We need a spiritual
reformation at this point in our history. It has occurred in our nation’s past,
so it’s not wishful thinking to believe that it can occur again.
is room for optimism in these difficult financial and political times. We are
experiencing an unprecedented threat to our constitutional government, a
balance between federal and state power, individual rights, and freedom itself.
It is a challenge to preserve what our founders created and our forbearers fought
and died to protect. We must be no less
heroic and equally determined to ensure our experiment in democracy is
continued for our generation and for future generations of Americans to come.