When Jeffrey Isaac calls for chastened political expectations, I can’t help but agree. Given the political blockages and intellectual disarray of the moment, who wouldn’t? As I write this, in early July, the New York Times reports that federal cutbacks may necessitate the partial privatization of the National Park Service—one of the most successful and least controversial legacies of the original Progressives. If the parks cannot be sustained in the name of the common good, what can? At moments like these, the old spirit of Progressivism seems as dead as a doornail. But then again, I have my better moments, too—when I think about Newt Gingrich’s astonishing fall from public grace or about the growing divisions within what once looked like an impregnable Republican coalition.
Of course, the political situation now is worse, in some respects, than it was in, say, 1910, when radicalism and reform crackled across the headlines. But in other respects t...
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