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Opinion

You want a more 'progressive' America? Careful what you wish for.

Voters should remember what happened under Woodrow Wilson.

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Under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, Wilson's administration shut down newspapers and magazines at an astounding pace. Indeed, any criticism of the government, even in your own home, could earn you a prison sentence. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn't want to buy Liberty Bonds.

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The Wilson administration sanctioned what could be called an American fascisti, the American Protective League. The APL – a quarter million strong at its height, with offices in 600 cities – carried government-issued badges while beating up dissidents and protesters and conducting warrantless searches and interrogations. Even after the war, Wilson refused to release the last of America's political prisoners, leaving it to subsequent Republican administrations to free the anti-war Socialist Eugene V. Debs and others.

Now, obviously, none of the current crop of self-described progressives are eager to replay this dark chapter. But we make a mistake when we assume that we can cherry pick only the good parts of our past to re-create.

Today's progressives still share many of the core assumptions of the progressives of yore. It may be gauche to talk about patriotism too much in liberal circles, but what is Barack Obama's obsession with unity other than patriotism by another name? Indeed, he champions unity for its own sake, as a good in and of itself. But unity can be quite amoral. Mobs and gangs are dangerous because of their unblinking unity.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, often insists that we must move "beyond" ideology, labels, partisanship, etc. The sentiment is a direct echo of the Pragmatists who felt that dogma needed to be jettisoned to give social planners a free hand. Of course, then as now, the "beyond ideology" refrain is itself an ideological position favoring whatever state intervention social planners prefer.

In Senator Clinton's case, the most vital intervention is intruding on the family. Mrs. Clinton proudly follows the "child saver" tradition of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Jane Addams. In 1996, she proclaimed "as adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn't really any such thing as someone else's child." In her book, "It Takes A Village," she insists that children are born in crisis, requiring progressive government intervention from infancy on. She seems to subscribe to Wilson's view, when president of Princeton, that the chief job of an educator is to make children as unlike their parents as possible.

In a Democratic debate, Clinton famously rejected the word "liberal" in favor of "progressive." Shouldn't we at least ask what that means? If Mike Huckabee proclaimed that he prefers the label "confederate" over "conservative," pundits would rightly denounce his association with such a tainted legacy. But when it comes to progressivism, there's no such obligation to account for your ideological heritage. It seems progressivism is never wrong.

Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online's editor-at-large, is the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning."

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