The simple truth is that virtually every significant and lasting progressive achievement of the past hundred years was achieved not by patient, responsible gradualism, but through brief flurries of bold action. The Second New Deal in 1935–36 and Civil Rights and the Great Society in 1964–65 are the outstanding examples, but the more ambiguous victories of the Obama era fit the pattern, too.The writer is sly, setting himself up to deny the "significance" of any achievement which was achieved by "gradualism", with the fallback position of "virtually". Incrementalism often works by getting a piece of the pie now, another in a few years, so the argument is weighted. And the examples suggest that only legislative achievements count. Wrong again.
One hundred years goes back to 1916, so here goes:
- Nineteenth Amendment (women's suffrage) 1919
- Brown versus Board of Education 1954 (the greatest example of incremental progress by liberals)
- Twenty-Fourth Amendment (poll tax) 1962 (so long a battle the ultimate victory became meaningless)
- Americans with Disability Act 1990
- federal aid to education (a long battle beginning in the 1950's to establish the principle and expand the pot)
- Equal Rights Amendment (a battle in which liberals were defeated, but the victory is being won incrementally)
- gay rights.
- Medicare, Part D, and CHIPS.
IMHO what's right is this: sometimes liberals/progressives win victories by slow and patient work; sometimes we win victories by a breakthrough, a popular movement. And sometimes we "win" something history shows was the wrong way to go. Does anyone remember the progressive cause: public power, building hydroelectric dams?
[Updated: Kevin Drum seems to take a similar position here. ]