Progressives want and need to believe that the voters are tuning them out because they aren’t progressive enough. But it’s impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators. They don’t just distrust and fear the bureaucratic state because of its failure to live up to progressive ideals (thanks to the power of corporate special interests); they fear and resent upper middle class ideology. Progressives scare off many voters most precisely when they are least restrained by special interests. Many voters feel that special interests can be a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power of the upper middle class.
The progressive ideal of administrative cadres leading the masses toward the light has its roots in a time when many Americans had an eighth grade education or less. It always had its down side, and the arrogance and tin-eared obtuseness of self assured American liberal progressives has infuriated generations of Americans and foreigners who for one reason or another have the misfortune to fall under the power of a class still in the grip of a secularized version of the Puritan ideal. But in the conditions of late nineteenth and twentieth century America, the progressive vanguard fulfilled a vital and necessary social role.
The deep crisis of the progressive ideal today is that it is no longer clear that the American clerisy is wanted or needed in that role.