While Kevin Drum continues to embarrass himself, Ross has another good post on one particular angle of the debate over the designation “progressive.” The “meme” of progressives as supporters of eugenics and sterilisation comes from the history of early 20th century progressivism. (Or you can try the short version: just watch Gattaca and see whose politics seem to have prevailed in that world.) You can merely glance at this period and find progressives who endorsed or upheld either segregationist or sterilisation or eugenics policies: Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell “Three Generations Of Idiots Are Enough” Holmes, and Margaret Sanger. Sanger saw birth control as a means to reduce the reproduction of undesirable populations. Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born. Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.
Those three are not minor, fringe figures in the history of American progressivism. They are part of the legacy that progressives today call to mind when they use this name. Today, I assume progressives would abhor state-coerced sterilisation and overtly racist and eugenics rationales for birth control, but it was not always so. Now there are those on the left who favour a “positive” eugenics that is supposed to be qualitatively different from the bad, old eugenics. If Kevin Drum doesn’t know about that, that’s hardly Ross’ fault.