Colorado Progressives Reject Elitism
by Bill Vandenberg
March 24, 2004
Thanks for your writing. Your weekly updates always provides a broad look at a wide variety of issues from a perspective that I do not often receive.
As one who could be labeled a "liberal" (I consider the term dated and one which seems to exist solely within a Democratic paradigm and thus is much more confining than "progressive") and who represents an organization (Colorado Progressive Coalition) that could also be labeled such, I read with interest your update on Mark Hillman and his charges of liberal elitism being practiced by the new Rocky Mountain Progressive Network (RMPN).
I grew up in a very small (1,800 people), rural town in a single parent family, in a trailer park for some years, and our family was, for a brief time, a recipient of social safety net services. Because of this, I am acutely attuned to elitism and stereotyping of rural, low-income folks by conservatives and liberals alike. After sharing my experiences in the past I've even heard the "but you speak so well" type of remark from others who clearly have lowered expectations of the intellectual capacity of people from rural and low-income backgrounds.
The remarks and the faux country speak linked to Senator Hillman, who represents a rural district, on the RMPN web site do reveal a liberal elitism that is not representative of most "liberals" with whom I and my organization work. We work with low- and moderate-income people in an intentionally multiracial environment and we include people who have traditional education as well as those who've been educated through life experiences and not necessarily in the classroom.
I find that most real progressives understand -- or at least show true concern for -- issues of inequality in this society and believe that it's essential to open up access to equal educational and economic opportunity for all. The negative stereotyping you report on and that angered Senator Hillman seems to be most in practice by liberal leaders who don't have a lot of contact with people in the community.
We don't have to look too hard to identify how this hurts the broader progressive movement as this type of liberal elitism prompted Ben Nighthorse Campbell to shift parties and has led to a reality that the Democratic party cannot compete in rural America despite what I believe is a pretty clear intersection of economic interests between rural folks and a more liberal political ideology. Until more Dems. get comfortable going door to door in small towns, mobile home parks, housing projects, and farming communities this reality will never change.
Thanks again for your writing.
Bill Vandenberg Colorado Progressive Coalition
Ari Armstrong Replies
March 31, 2004
It has been my pleasure to work with members of the Colorado Progressive Coalition on such matters as reforming asset forfeiture and curbing police abuses. I know Vandenberg and his associates are sincere in their respect for rural communities and in their desire to foster positive social change across the state.
One important reason the so-called "progressive" or modern "liberal" ideology so alienates most rural residents is that the "progressives" often take the profoundly anti-liberal stance of civilian disarmament. Of course, gun ownership is common (and crime is uncommon) in rural areas. Add to this the "liberal" war against property owners -- and especially against ranchers -- often under the guise of "environmentalism," and it's no mystery why many rural residents despise self-professed "progressives" and "liberals." (I grew up mostly in Palisade on Colorado's Western Slope.)
The progressive preoccupation with economic inequality reveals a lasting love affair with Marxist dogma. Yes, free markets allow economic inequality -- and that's a good thing. In socialist equality, Abe and Ben might each make the same amount of wealth -- let's say $1,000 to throw an arbitrary number into the example. In capitalist inequality, Abe might earn $5,000 while Ben earns $30,000. Capitalism works; socialism doesn't work. That is, capitalism allows for the efficient production of goods and services; socialism makes that impossible and ensures universal poverty (except for the political class, of course, which will always enrich itself at the expense of the rest). In a free market, income inequality serves the essential purpose of signaling which economic activities are most valued. Of course, part of the capitalist system is the network of voluntary charities that serve to help out the few who truly need a helping hand.
Vandenberg wants "educational and economic opportunity for all," yet he remains committed to socialized education, which manifestly screws the poor. Not only do American children have unequal educational opportunities, most have relatively poor ones.
The socialist utopia of equality is fundamentally hostile to true progress. Those who advocate socialism, either in the field of education or in the economy generally, in fact support a regressive economic system. The only progressives worthy of the name support free markets and individual rights.
I don't expect to convince Vandenberg of this view, at least in the short run. And so I look forward to working with CPC when possible to achieve mutual goals, and to keeping open the lines of respectful dialogue.