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Friday, October 12, 2007

Honoring progressive leadership

Today the "former next President of the United States" joined such great leaders as the 14th Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Albert Arnold (Al) Gore, Jr., along with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was awarded the prize for "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Al Gore is not the first "politician" to win the Peace Prize; far from it, as many of the winners have been U.S. and world politicians. What is notable for me, in light of the direction this country has taken in the past three decades, and most dramatically since Bush's "election", is that only two Republicans have been awarded this most important honor. And of the two, only Henry Kissinger (1973) could be considered a Republican in the modern sense of the GOP. The other, President Theodore Roosevelt, was a progressive reformer who endeavored to move the Republican party into the Progressive movement. This put T.R. into the same company as his cousin F. D. R. and solidly into modern liberal territory. (I purposly say "liberal" and not "Democratic". The U.S. ideology has shifted right since Reagan to the point where very few Democratic politicians, at least in Federal government, represent the traditionally diverse, liberal issues espoused by the Democrats in the past.)

[P]rogressivism made great strides under American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Progressivism historically advocates the advancement of workers' rights and social justice. The progressives were early proponents of anti-trust laws and the regulation of large corporations and monopolies, as well as government-funded environmentalism and the creation of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

"Old-school" Democrats are well represented in the Peace Prize, with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson, 2002 and 1919, respectively, and George Marshall, originator of the Marshall Plan winning in 1953. Most striking, however, is the realization that post-Goldwater Republicans, the so-called conservatives of today, consider peace and promoting peace a sign of weakness. (Today's conservatives are better termed "neoconservatives" with all the justly deserved negative connotations associated with the label "neocon".)

As with all dark periods in world history, this too will end. I can't help but feel that Mr. Gore's Nobel Prize is yet another sign that the Reagan legacy is losing strength and that true progressive ideas will soon take root. Republican Senators are retiring en masse, the Democratic party is millions of dollars ahead of the GOP in fundraising, and concepts like global warming, alternative energy, increasing fuel economy, and reducing consumption are being discussed by more and more people.

We may yet survive. . .

(Okay, I derailed my Nobel Peace Prize essay and turned it into a political statement. That happens. To read more about this year's award see the story at the BBC News website.)