Robert Reich takes a stab at dividing Americans into one of two camps: Progressives and Regressives. He makes a case that the Regressives (i.e. conservatives) are looking to erase nearly a century of "progress" in the name of economic freedom for the wealthy and institutions of our nation. Notice that "progress" is part of Progressive, the antithesis of Regressives.
If you take Reich's view, I would absolutely fall on the Progressive side. Furthermore, I believe that many of our conservative politicians fall staunchly on the Regressive side. But beyond that, I think the argument enters a vast gray area. Surely, most Americans would favor a country where the people are protected from the oppression of government and private industry, right? If that's the case, it requires a blending of these two ideals.
The Progressives are often criticized for their support of a "nanny state," where government takes care of the many and those people no longer have to work, instead rely on the government for everything. In this view, the wealthy and the workers would be forced to support these non-working individuals through their tax dollars.
On the other side of the coin, Regressives believe aggressively in the theory of Social Darwinism, saying that the wealthiest, best-connected individuals will survive and flourish while the rest will "die out" socially. In this view, the poor are left to squander and the super-wealthy are given every incentive to grow, while those in the middle constantly strive to reach the upper group while continually falling into the lower.
Most people subscribe to something in between these two extremes, but generally leaning toward one. I happen to lean toward the progressive view, and believe that when one group suffers, the whole system suffers. This is evidenced by studies that have shown that, when the middle class is vibrant, our entire economy is vibrant. The poor need support, but not enough to become completely dependent. Things like Food Stamps are used by many to get basic necessities, but are used by some as their only means of food income. It is important for us to try to find a way to support the poor without making them dependent. The best way to do that is to encourage them to work, when they can, and to encourage them to make smart choices with their own money and help them to keep more of their own money.
For example, why not encourage the poor by starting a program that pays them back 50% of what they spend on certain items? For example, when they spend $100 on groceries, they get $50 from the government. This would be in place of food stamps, and so would cost the government less since they would no longer have to pay the full amount for groceries. The poor would struggle at first, but may eventually cut their costs and learn to use their money wisely.
No matter what you do, however, there will always be poor. There will always be those who cannot afford, who don't make enough, and who struggle to support themselves. There will always be those who are less fortunate, who can't make ends meet, and it is the duty of a 21st century first world society to support those who have less. There are ways to support the poor without making them dependent, such as asking thos who are unemployed to volunteer a certain number of hours a week to earn certain supports.
The Progressive idea of supporting all for the good of all is especially important and something we should strive for. If we allow regressive policies to bring us back to a time when the poor and underprivileged were oppressed and silenced by the wealthy and well-connected, the country we have forged in the last century will be gone, and we will be at the mercy of the rich and powerful once more.