The making of a progressive

What makes a Republican? We have some clues but it’s still largely a mystery.

I recently saw a story on the CBS Evening News that may offer a significant hint as to what makes a progressive. It was a segment of Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” series. For those old enough to remember, this feature on CBS is a follow-up to Charles Kuralt’s series from 1967 to 1992.

This segment features a middle school football team in the town of Olivet, Michigan. The clip is three minutes and 42 seconds long. The moment when we see the early development of a possible progressive occurs at the three minute mark. Please excuse the thirty-second ad in advance of the clip.

The final words from wide receiver Justice Miller are, “He’s [Keith] has never been cool or popular, and he went from being nobody to making everyone’s day.…..I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cares about myself and my friends and went to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day in everyone’s life.”

What happened to Justice Miller was the beginning of what could be a profound new perspective in life. He is now able to look beyond himself and his friends and include in his thinking the wider world. The evolution was enough to bring him to tears.

In the empathetic wing of the Democratic Party, when people are questioned about what are the important characteristics of being a progressive, with few exceptions the answer is: empathy. We are talking about the ability to look beyond one’s needs and to look at the world as if you were in the shoes of someone less fortunate.

It is important to clarify that there are several ways that  empathy is expressed in a global sense by Americans. One is through charity – giving to causes and other people by choice, because one sees them having an important need. The up-side of this is that it’s often personal, and it directs resources to where Americans feel the most need is. The downside is that it provides less than ten percent of what is needed to address our problems of poverty, health care, education, environmental clean-up, etc. Only the federal government can provide the resources that are needed for a large-scale effort to empathetically address key problems. Charity is no match for that.

The second point is that making a commitment to being part of a society that is firmly committed to eradicating as many economic and social maladies as possible is an act of justice. It can be a societal norm rather than an individual act as with charity. Progressives can be charitable, but their primary goal is to expand justice. Who can better inform us of this than a young man named Justice.